LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes

A familar LEGO Batman, a familiar LEGO Robin, and an unfamiliar way of seeing a LEGO game.

LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes

Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Format: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PlayStation 3
Price: $59.99
Players: 1-2
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+
Developer: Traveller's Tales
Release Date: 2012-06-19

In the past, two things have occurred when one of the LEGO franchise games appears in my house for review: 1) my daughters suddenly also appear to help Dad out with his review and 2) there's usually a whole lot of yelling.

The first part is much appreciated and much of the fun that I derive from the series. While I am not in love with the LEGO games as games themselves, they bring me and my kids together around the television, uniting two generations with a game that offers a little something for everyone. For me, the Gen X gamer, many of the franchises (Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Batman) are loving tongue-in-cheek homages to the media that consumed my childhood. For them, it is fun to collect the chubby little versions of that same media that I have also shared with them through DVDs, old television episodes, and even my old comic book collection.

The second part, of course, is less thrilling, and the yelling is unfortunately due to a problem that has existed since the beginning of the series, specifically the problem of having two players playing co-op together, both of whom that need to see themselves on a single screen. Much anxiety and ire is raised when my kids play as they shriek at one another to stay close to “me” so that “I” don't get trapped at the edge of the screen or “I” don't fall into a pit as a result of the other one “pulling” the screen too far to the right or the left.

Luckily, the first part of the equation, enjoying the funny LEGO versions of much beloved super heroes, is present in LEGO Batman 2. This new Batman game, though, sees the first effort in the series to resolve the second part of the problem, the limitations of a single screen for co-op play. The results are mixed.

LEGO Batman 2 is a game that features split-screen play. No more dragging someone into a bad guy or over the side of a cliff and no more getting caught behind LEGO scenery. However, the screen is split into what is basically two vertical segments. The dividing line that exists between the two sides, though, can rotate at times, so that players can see more to their right and their left by sometimes moving almost to a diagonal position between the two. Saying “at times,” though, is a bit of an understatement. Throughout story mode the line moves pretty constantly. As a result, the general chaos that ensues in a LEGO game, which consists largely of madcap punching and shooting, LEGO blocks bursting in showers of LEGO studs, and other visual insanity is made all the more difficult to respond to.

The yelling has been replaced with a lot of “I don't know where I am,” “I don't know what I'm doing.”

Worse, though, is the experience of the franchises first LEGO open world, which offers a LEGO version of Gotham City to explore, finding new puzzles and unlockables spread throughout what is a pretty robust game space. Like the previous installments of these games, LEGO Batman 2 offers a great many additional characters from the Batman universe to unlock by collecting LEGO studs during Story and Freeplay mode. Unlike those previous installments, though, there is no hub world that exists between levels in which you can just buy these new figures. Since Gotham City is populated with Batman's rogues gallery, you have to track each of them to various lairs around Gotham, beat them up, and then pay the fee to unlock them.

This is a neat idea and much related to what is good about Traveller's Tales approach to these various franchises. While the core gameplay of LEGO games, participating in crazy beat 'em ups and building gadgets and doodads with LEGOS to proceed, is pretty much the same from game to game, they do still consider the franchise that they are working with and tailor bits of those core elements around the intellectual properties that they are playing with. LEGO Indiana Jones, for instance, features far more puzzle solving through LEGO building than the LEGO Star Wars games do -- appropriate enough given the nature of those two media properties. In this instance, playing a LEGO Dark Knight Detective, I love the idea of going one step further to track down Batman's usual assortment of anatagonists. However, that split screen mucks things up even more here.

Since there is a lot more space to traverse in the open world, Batman travels by Batmobile and Robin travels on his motorcycle. Other characters, like Superman, can fly around the city. In the open world Gotham, though, the split screen is always just two vertical areas, and not being able to see much to your right and left (only largely up and down) is really, really tough when you are trying to drive or fly. The Twisted Metal series featured co-op split screens for years and the default was always two horizontal areas. There's a reason why.

Here, though, much like in story mode, there seems an obvious need to provide a sense of scope for the player as most of the LEGO titles feature large and complicated set pieces. Favoring allowing the player to see all the grandiosity of the scenery is simply impractical, though. The only real way to reasonably experience the open world is by having the second player drop out so you can actually see the whole screen, which defeats the central appeal of the game: that unifying of generations over one game or two siblings or friends playing along together.

All that being said, I am not exactly the essential target audience for the game. While the Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Batman brands are supposed to get me to plunk down some cash for something that “I know” my kinds will like because “I know” they're great is the most essential part of the marketing surrounding these games. It is really the kids who want to hang in there for the full “collectathon” that these games become. And as usual, mine did. Despite verbalizing some similar criticisms of the camera, my 10-year-old and 12-year-old daughters had to collect enough studs to unlock Catwoman and Poison Ivy.

They were still hooked. The charm and humor of the games is still there (the interactions between the peppy, helpful LEGO Superman and the grim, standoffish LEGO Batman are especially hilarious -- clever stuff). So, I can't fault the game for still being a fundamentally good experience for kids.

I do have one other complaint, though, that I think is notable enough (given the subtitle of the game) that I should bring itup. Story mode features mostly Batman and Robin with a little Superman sprinkled in. The other DC super heroes (The Flash, Cyborg, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman) don't show up until the last couple of brief levels, which kind of bummed me out. I wish there was some way to fit a few more appearances into the plotline just to change it up a bit (as the Star Wars games do, for instance). Certainly, you can play as these guys in Freeplay mode, but they don't get unlocked for awhile, and I guess I was expecting them to more in the spotlight in a game subtitled DC Super Heroes.

The girls (and my wife) all wanted to play more as Wonder Woman much sooner and not just as Batman's goofy sidekick. However, once again, they were just happy to bust and build in the LEGO universe once again.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.

8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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