On consoles, the Lego series of platformers has grown into a fairly major franchise over the last couple of years. Starting with the Star Wars movies, and continuing through Indiana Jones and now Batman, the formula for these games is always the same–easy, accessible platforming action; scads of unlockable characters to play; and humorous Lego pantomimes of famous scenes from the flicks. The console Lego Batman is actually a bit of a departure for the series, since it’s based on the Batman comics license at large instead of the Batman movies… but Lego Batman: Gotham City Games isn’t even in the same ballpark. This diverse collection of minigames has its moments, but its haphazard quality control doesn’t cut the mustard.
There are a couple ways to play through Lego Batman: Gotham City Games. The Story Mode jumps around a typical crime-ridden night in Gotham City, setting up the minigames with little cartoon vignettes about the Dark Knight and his Rogue’s Gallery. We enjoyed reading through these funnies, but we also missed the console game’s hilarious animations, infeasible though they may have been on the iPhone. The Free Play Mode lays out an isometric view of Gotham City, allowing you to choose your minigame at leisure; it also reveals which minigames and other content (such as iPhone wallpapers) have yet to be unlocked.
Unfortunately, most of the additional games are just reskins of the standard-issue games (with a Batman theme replacing the Bane or Penguin theme, for instance), and many of those standard games aren’t any good in the first place. Let’s go down the list. The bowling and pinball games have egregiously bad physics. The boxing game is a dull memorize-and-repeat affair. The shell game is a slow-witted version of 3 Card Monte. And we have no idea what to make of Killer Croc’s “Plug The Leaks” game, which has you putting your fingers all over the touch screen to staunch leaky pipes.
There are a handful of much better minigames–like the top-down shooter where you pilot the Batplane against a sky full of the Scarecrow’s nasty tricks–that puts those sad-sack activities to shame. We were also partial to Mr. Freeze’s “Frozen Shot” shooting gallery, and the two Arkanoid clones weren’t bad, either. But even these games have problems. For instance, the accelerometer sometimes fails to initialize when you choose the top-down shooter, sending the Batplane to permanently roost in a corner of the screen. We further noticed that the game wasn’t unlocking games correctly during Free Play, or keeping track of our high scores.
At least Lego Batman looks and sounds the way it should. The game’s music is straight out of Danny Elfman’s historically awesome soundtrack to the first two Batman movies, and it’s clear that a lot of effort went into the graphics as well. Even the lamest minigames are rich with detail and buffed to a professional sheen.
No amount of polish is going to disguise the fact that Lego Batman: Gotham City Games isn’t worth $5.99, though. There may be Lego blocks and rivets flying all over the place, and you may be trying to fill up the same “Lego meter” when scoring points, but the truth is that this game doesn’t fit into the Lego Batman canon–and since so many of the minigames are forgettable, we’re not sure we’d recommend it even if it did.