Batman rides a gorilla. Robin builds a rickshaw and trundles around the parking lot. Clayface and Hush– Who? Clayface and Hush are in here. Lex Luthor’s hovership is defended by impenetrable electrical fields, yet there are convenient spawn points for Batman’s electricity suits next to every electrical field. There’s no room for Robin in the Batmobile, so he runs along behind it as if you were riding a horse in Skyrim. But Robin can roll around inside his own personal hamster ball. The Batcave explodes. You’ve just unlocked a mime. That’s right, a mime. He approached you on the chaotic and panic-riddled streets of Gotham City and offered to sell himself into your collection for 25,000 Lego studbucks. Of course, you accept. Then you smash a row of hedges to earn a golden brick, which will finally let you buy whatever’s for sale inside the as yet unlocked front door of Wayne Manor. Wait, what’s over here? A little man throws a pie at you.

You might ask, “Why?” You have asked the wrong question. The overriding question of Lego Batman 2 is always and only “Why not?” This is as ridiculous and ridiculously effective an open world game as Saints Row 3, but whereas that game was driven by action movie excesses, Lego Batman 2 is driven mostly by the two things all boys love most: breaking things and collecting stuff. And then playing with them. If you have a toy gorilla and a Batman action figure, Batman will naturally ride the gorilla.

After the jump, toy story

The first and most important thing you need to know about this latest Lego videogame is that you get to run, fly, and drive around a pretty lively Lego version of Gotham, brimming with stuff to do and places to see, and not as insufferably kiddie oriented as Hogwarts. Because, you know, Batman. He’s all, like, grim, even when he’s cute and tiny. The game’s 15 missions move you through his non-grim adventures, where Superman pretty much gets so much time that you wonder if he doesn’t have his own game to go to. It probably got canceled.

You mostly just smash stuff, but sometimes you have to change suits to solve things that are supposedly puzzles. Calling them puzzles is a bit of a stretch, since Lego Batman 2 is wonderfully mindless. I grant there are occasional sticking points. I was certainly stuck a few times, sometimes because the game had glitched and I had to restart a level. A few times I was stuck because I’m just a little dense. Oh, so that’s a socket for Robin’s goo gun! Ah, so I have to break these crates to get to a lever! Mostly you’re going to get stuck because you didn’t realize that you had to smash everything. Everything. Even in public. Even in the Batcave. These superheroes are little terrors. Vandals, really. No respect for property.

But Lego Batman 2 moves forward, ever forward, a bit like Diablo on normal difficulty, but minus any sort of skills or loot or meaningful combat. You just break stuff and move your superhero toys forward, ever forward, through a rain of glittering Lego studbucks, like all those glorious bolts in a Ratchet & Clank game, unlocking stuff, always unlocking stuff, on your way to collecting new things, always forward, ever forward. Did I say forward? Sometimes you just move laterally, faffing about in Gotham to get more gold bricks which are the ultimate determinant for how much progress you’ve made. Did you know Clayface and Hush are in here? Don’t you want to unlock them? Not really? Okay, how about Flash and Aquaman? Do you want to unlock them? Sure you do. So you might as well grab Clayface and Hush, too. The subtitle of this game is DC Super Heroes, and it certainly earns it, primarily by cramming that invulnerable blowhard Superman into the action. But anyone who buys a Batman videogame is barely a Catwoman whisker away from collecting virtual action figures. That he can play with.

Funnily enough, the story in Lego Batman 2 is actually pretty good, inasmuch as a series of missions pitting superheroes against villains can be good. What could have been just a string of puzzle rooms nicely sprawls out into memorable scenarios across the open world. Remember how absurd the Batman TV show was? This is like that, but with charm where the camp used to be. And with a lot of extra heroes. Does Superman really have nowhere else to be?

Real world Legos were historically about building things and using your imagination. The Lego videogames, ironically, are about breaking things and collecting licensed doo-dads. Developer Traveller’s Tales has made a science out of optimized breaking and collecting, with each game better than the last. Since boys of all ages (and genders!) love breaking things and collecting stuff, it really doesn’t matter that this is the polar opposite of what once made Legos great. I’m not complaining. If I want to build things and use my imagination, I have Minecraft and books. But if I want to break stuff and collect things, there no way quite so mindlessly obliging as Lego Batman 2.

4 stars
Xbox 360