Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Listening to the Wrong Voice

I'm unabashedly a huge fan of the LEGO games. There are absolutely some problems with them, such as re-spawning you on the edge of a platform after you miss a jump, a location where your character will slide and fall off the edge if you don't immediately move, but overall, they are just good fun.

LEGO Star Wars has been my favorite of the series. Once two games, each with its pluses and minuses, they were made into one game, and it's the best use of the Wii remote speaker yet. Pulling the trigger on your Wiimote and hearing that familiar laser blaster sound emanate from the controller makes me feel like a 6 year old running around outside with a Han Solo blaster in my hand.

The LEGO games have taken their lumps when it comes to reviews, with each new game getting lower review scores than the last. This is partly due to reviewer fatigue and partly due to the developers getting a little of sequelitis. (that's the need we feel to make the next in a series somehow bigger and better than the previous)

LEGO Batman is a game that I just got through GameFly and it's been interesting. The theme is wonderful. As someone who worked at a comic book store through high school and has a big geeky collection, LEGO Batman hits the spot more often than not.

Unfortunately though, it misses the spot a lot more than it should. A few of the problems:
- The game is more complicated than it should be
- The game is more difficult than it should be
- The game tries to be different from other LEGO games more than it should

The LEGO games are great co-op games. I have no idea if they are good as a single-player game, I have never played them alone. Before getting any further, I want to say I think LEGO Batman is also a great co-op game. Good enough that we'll probably get a copy.

The problem with Batman is that it really needs two 'core' players. It's as though the developers decided that they were tired of the nitpicks from reviews and decided to make a game for 20 and 30 somethings instead of a game that kids and adults could play. Within the first 30 minutes, it was clear that my son, who had played through LEGO Star Wars and LEGO Indiana Jones with me wasn't going to be able to play through LEGO Batman without a lot of help.

He runs into problems with platform jumping and Batman is full of jumps, and not just any kind of jumps, but often very difficult jumps. Batman has a power-up that lets him 'glide.' However, it doesn't work like R2-D2 in the Star Wars series, instead he moves with big turns, which makes it hard to change directions. This makes the long glide jumps for Batman often a huge pain.

Added to the gliding issues is the commonality of needing to jump in 3D to small platforms. 3D jumping is at best difficult for the average person. My wife, father and father-in-law have all tried playing 3D games with us at our house and when it comes to having to jump, they immediately hand the controller to someone else. LEGO Batman has this problem in spades, partially because the levels are so dark that it is really hard to see your shadow when jumping, which makes it hard to orient yourself. The other cause of this problem, again, is that there is just a ton of jumping from platform to platform or to safety zone in the middle of giant puddle of deathly goo to the next safety zone. It's something a 'core' player will find challenging and a young or casual player will find impossible.

A new addition to the series is the batarang. This is always available to players and works into many of the puzzles. Holding down the 'B' button and then pointing at the screen will allow you to highlight objects to throw at if they are available. This set-up is clunky and I often forget about it (while my son can't even get it to work). It is a part of why the puzzles in this game get a little frustrating at times (which actually is still probably a step up over Indiana Jones where they felt tedious, but it's still a step in the wrong direction for anyone but a 'core' player).

Overall, it feels like the developer decided to make a game to address the critic's points with previous games in the series, but I think that was a mistake. How many 20 year-olds are bragging about playing a LEGO game? LEGO games aren't made for 20 year-olds!

The critics don't represent the audience of LEGO games. My son does. All changes and improvements should be made with him in mind, not the critics and the people they represent and speak to.

Again I think we'll probably pick up the game, so it's not all bad. In fact the motion controls for fighting are surprisingly satisfying. However, LEGO Batman is a great cautionary tale for developers. A good critique is valuable, but only when the critique represents your audience.