Play with Batman's wonderful toys.
Things are dire once again in LEGO Gotham City. Lex Luthor, hoping to get the Joker to assist him in getting elected as President, breaks him out of Arkham Asylum with the help of a kryptonite-powered ray gun that can disassemble things made out of black LEGO bricks, even Batman's "unbreakable" toys. The Joker subsequently uses the ray gun to break out everyone else, from the Riddler and Poison Ivy to less high profile villains such as Captain Boomerang and Killer Moth. It is up to a diminutive, stumpy-legged Batman and his underappreciated sidekick Robin to save the day, but not without a hand from their super friends.
The story of LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes described above unfolds in a very whimsical and non-violent fashion, as can be expected from a LEGO game developed by Traveller's Tales. It has the same forgiving gameplay the series is known for: smashing structures and enemies with different attacks to collect LEGO studs (currency used to unlock more characters), finding key items that allow you to move forward, suffering no real penalty for dying, and playing cooperatively. The game is skewed for a younger crowd, but like the best animated movies, it has humor that can be appreciated by all ages.
The deadpan way that Batman is played while absolutely ridiculous things are happening around him offers a funny dichotomy, and for a while I was fooled into thinking that the terse, all-business minifigure version of Batman was being voiced by Kevin Conroy, who has been the voice of the character in most of his games and animated series (but in fact, Clancy Brown as Lex Luthor is the only big name I recognize in the credits). The plot initially has the potential of being a good Batman story in its own right, although liberties are taken with the Batman mythos. In between missions, you get the commentary of an ever-cheerful newscaster describing the chaos and destruction that the city is facing, and treating it with all the gravity of a celebrity gossip fluff piece.
The charming cutscene make the complete silence of the characters during missions more glaring. While the in-mission banter in games like LEGO City Undercover or Batman: The Brave and the Bold on Wii went a long way in entertaining the player during repetitious gameplay, the stark silence in this game provides no distraction as you trudge through a level. Aside from giving the game more personality, dialog could have helped establish some sense of purpose to what you are doing. Instead, nothing hides the humdrum flow of the missions. You smash everything in sight until you smash the right thing that will allow you to move on to the next segment of the level where more things to smash await you. Rinse and repeat. Playing with a friend can dampen the tedium, but by and large, the missions are the worst part of the game.
Thankfully, while playing through the missions is necessary to unlock gadgets and new characters to play as (both heroes and villains, each with their own powers), the main campaign is short. Once it is out of the way, you can really focus on exploring LEGO Gotham City. Very much inspired by the Gotham City from Tim Burton's movies, it is dark, twisted, and full of nooks and crannies to explore, complete with an industrial area full of bright green toxic waste spilling everywhere, and the scariest amusement park ever made with rides straight from hell (super heroes ride for free). The whole game is accompanied by Danny Elfman's classic soundtrack, enhancing the terrific atmosphere.
And as is expected now in LEGO games, Gotham is replete with golden LEGO pieces. Many of those are easy to find and collect, but others demand that you complete certain challenges: usually time trials in vehicles or small, fun obstacle courses to wall-jump and platform your way through. The more you progress in the missions, the more gadgets and powers you unlock, and the more you can do in Gotham City. Very quickly, you even unlock the ability to play as Superman, with his invincibility and his ability to fly. As you zip between giant statues designed by mad architects, John Williams' Superman theme plays, giving nostalgic players goosebumps. The Man of Steel is a bit finicky to control but despite this, it feels like the first time he's been done justice in a video game.
No new content has been added to this port of an eleven months old game, so if you have played it before, there is no real reason to revisit it on Wii U. I have had fun sharing the sights of Gotham City on the Miiverse, but the appeal of that is limited. The ability to play cooperatively with one player on the TV and the other on the GamePad's screen is impressive despite the frame rate being instantly halved. Both players can be on either side of the city, doing their own thing independently, until a mission is initiated. The game doesn't perform as well as LEGO City Undercover even when playing alone, and the draw distance is shorter for most objects. The load times, on the other hand, are mercifully short.
It may be too soon after LEGO City Undercover to truly appreciate LEGO Batman 2. Playing them nearly back-to-back accentuates the similarity of the core gameplay, and makes the many-reprised assets, actions and animations stick out. But if you have skipped the superior Wii U exclusive earlier, or you are hungry for more of the same, or you're looking for a co-op experience or if you simply need your LEGO games to be Batman-flavored, then LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes is a solid option.