LEGO Star WarsLEGO Indiana Jones.  Now, LEGO Batman.  I’m going to get the obvious statement out of the way:  What’s next?  LEGO RoadhouseLEGO Once Upon A Time In The WestLEGO Rashomon?

Now that we have the obvious joke out of the way, we can get around to saying that there has been a marked proliferation in LEGO branded games, and this isn’t entirely a bad thing.  The LEGO games have been pretty good.  They have a sense of humor about themselves, the gameplay is really solid, and they’re perfect for all ages.

However, LEGO Batman comes right on the heels of LEGO Indiana Jones.  With so many LEGO games now in play, is there enough here to justify purchasing LEGO Batman?

By now, Traveller’s Tales has the graphics on the DS down to a science.  They do only what the DS can handle and nothing more.  Batman and Robin look good.  The villians look great.  There’s never any confusion on what can be destroyed and what can’t.  There’s also no confusion regarding where you can and cannot go.  Overall, the characters and animations are among their most crisp and clear efforts thus far.

However, by nature of this being a Batman game, everything is darker and more bland than in other LEGO games.  Batman does all his work at night, and as much as they try and make things look bright when they can, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s all dark and at night.  It causes all the levels to blend in to one another, and while there are some wrinkles thrown in to the graphics from time to time, it’s nothing you haven’t seen before.

Another complaint I have rears its head during the Batplane levels.  While the other games recognized that you want to focus on the action instead of the background, they lost track of that in LEGO Batman.  Below you, you see buildings whizzing past, which is a great technical feat for the DS.  The problem is you can’t see which ones are obstacles and which ones are not.  You also can’t see where special items are because it’s so cluttered with buildings below.  It looks awesome, but at the same time doesn’t help the gameplay.

I wondered what theme they were going to use for Batman, but they pulled the theme straight from the Batman Animated Series.  Instead of using it frequently, they pull it out only when necessary, and the restraint is excellent.  The music ebbs and flows as the game picks up, which means you won’t be running around stacking bricks while a bombastic theme is making the proceedings sound more exciting than they really are.

The game sounds good, but we’ve heard the click of bricks coming together.  We’ve heard the sound when you pick up special items.  We’ve really heard everything before.  It might be time to mix up the sounds before they get totally stale.

Control has also been sharpened significantly.  One of the most annoying things of the LEGO series has been precision jumping.  Your partner always decides that a tiny little platform is the best place to cuddle and get all clingy.  Next thing you know, he’s nudged you off of the platform while asking why you never talk about your feelings anymore.

Thankfully, LEGO Batman has fixed this, for the most part.  Your partner is a lot less clingy, so precision jumping doesn’t turn into an exercise in frustration.  Still, the same things apply with LEGO Batman that apply across the board:  Can we mix it up a little bit?  Sure, the control has been ground into a fine point, and that’s fantastic.  But can we have some more options?

There are a few things that use the touch screen, but they’ve scaled these back considerably.  While some of the other LEGO games had you moving your finger all over the screen for some moves, LEGO Batman just has you tap the screen from time to time.  I kind of like the new direction, especially because I never really used the touch controls.

If you’ve played a LEGO game before, you know what the gameplay is like.  Progress until a bunch of LEGO bricks appear, build them to make a platform/staircase/place where a character can use a special move, and then continue.  The DS versions of the LEGO games have always been more focused on this “puzzle lite” gameplay than its more combat-focused console brethren, and LEGO Batman continues on this path.

The big wrinkle in LEGO Batman is that once you complete a level as Batman and Robin, you’re able to play it as the villians.  Honestly, Batman’s rogues gallery has always been more interesting than Batman himself, at least in my book.  You get to play as the more common villians, from The Joker to Clayface to The Riddler on down.  It’s a really neat idea, but in practice it just means you have to cover similar ground twice, once as Batman and once as his villians.

Once again, familiarity rears its ugly head.  We’ve done all this before.  Sure, it looked a little different, but whether you’re playing as Luke Skywalker or Indiana Jones or The Penguin, you’re doing the same couple of tasks.  That’s not to say that the gameplay is necessarily bad, per se, but just familiar.

It’s a shame this game came so hot on the heels of LEGO Indiana Jones.  I assume they pushed it out due to the success of The Dark Knight, but I have a feeling this would have been a much more enjoyable experience if there would have been some more time between releases.  As it is, the only reason to play LEGO Batman is if you’re really jonesing for some hot Batman-on-Joker action.  If not, there isn’t value for you.