Thank goodness for Traveller's Tales. Thank goodness for the LEGO games. Or, to be more exact, thank goodness the LEGO games work on a certain relative's six-year-old children during unplanned weekend babysitting duty, because Manhunt 2 was the only other option, and the reaction to a not-as-dusty-as-you-think Rainbow Islands was "this is a game for babies". Hearing this wounds to the core (perhaps the hardcore), but as soon as LEGO Star Wars II is dragged out of the cupboard, suddenly videogames are good again.
The LEGO Star Wars and Indy Jones games may have sounded like matches made in marketing hell, but somehow they've become the best LEGO games ever, the best tie-ins for either film series (at least recently), and career bests for the British developer behind them, delivering more Metacritic points to an otherwise-ailing LEGO franchise than its entire '90s output glued together. The question, as The Dark Knight fades into cinematic memory and LEGO Indiana Jones slips back down the charts, is whether the same will hold true for TT's latest effort, starring the Caped Crusader.
(Speaking of which, and in case you were wondering, there are actual real LEGO sets based on Batman and, having investigated them on the official website, let us be clear to our friends at Warner Bros straight off: we are open to bribery. Seriously. Stick them in the post, see what score you get. [Er, not official Eurogamer policy. Bloody freelancers. - Ed])
On first impression, and not utterly surprisingly, LEGO Batman is the same as the last two (technically four) games, but with Batman instead of Luke Skywalker. In case you're not familiar with the formula, it's a scrolling beat-slash-shoot-'em-up hybrid, with puzzle elements, and a vitally important two-player co-operative mode. Important because without it the game loses some of its appeal, and yet with an attendant friend, or recalcitrant niece, it's an almost constant joy. Death means only a second's wait while you respawn, enemies put up very little real resistance, and most of the puzzles only take a few moments' thought to solve.
It shouldn't work, but somehow the love of LEGO and the various licences is so palpable it's almost a physical presence, from the wonderfully tactile controls, the wry humour that permeates both gameplay and cut-scenes, and the simple joy of hitting LEGO objects and collecting the tiny studs that explode out from them.
Playing through a couple of early levels, we're told LEGO Batman offers all of the above, but that it's more combat-orientated. The first level we see involves Batman himself and his never-popular sidekick Robin, fighting away on the rooftops. As well as a fairly wide range of melee moves (sadly not illustrated with a single bam! or kapow!) and the ability to pick up and throw bad-guys, they also both have batarangs. Holding down a button brings up a little cursor, which you can wave around the screen locking onto targets, before releasing to send flying around smashing bits to pieces in a highly satisfying manner.
Because there aren't many different hero characters (although Nightwing and Batgirl are included) everyone has multiple different suits, which can be changed at a special dais. The ones on show are a pair of magnetic boots for Robin, so he can walk up metal walls, while Batman gets a nifty hand-glider. In-keeping with the game's usual MO, each character also has a very separate set of abilities to encourage co-operative play. This is particularly evident on the second level, which features one person as the Joker, who has an electric buzzer that activates machinery, and the other as Harley Quinn, who can double-jump and swim.
Levels alternate between playing as the good guys and each of the different sets of villains, often illustrating two sides of the same story. The primary influence for the art and stories is the comics, apparently, although the original Tim Burton film theme is clearly audible in places. It isn't obvious whether there's anything from The Dark Knight, but LEGO Batman's accessible enough for even your videogame-hating mum or sister to enjoy. So if you want to knock them around in LEGO form you can at least pretend you're Christian Bale that way.
What's also unclear is whether the vehicle sections have improved. They are in the game, but Warner wouldn't allow us to play any. Hopefully it's because they've been changed significantly, because you can't really get away with a Batman licence and no Batmobile.
One thing that apparently has been decided is that there isn't any online co-op mode, even though there was in LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga. Having being brow-beaten by an angry sister upset at the option's absence from Indiana Jones, we did mention this to our Traveller's Tales handlers for the LEGO Batman event, but to no real avail. If it's simply so they can sell a director's cut somewhere down the road, we might go a bit Harvey Dent.
But let's not leave it like that. Despite worries that the gameplay may now be a little tired, the new comic book setting works a treat and provides a far greater variety of characters and settings than Indiana Jones. All in all it looks a holy acceptable licensed kids' game, Batman.