If you're a cynic, you're probably thinking LEGO Batman will just be LEGO Star Wars with less lightsabers and more capes. If you're a LEGO Star Wars fan, you're probably hoping that's the case. Well, there are certainly similarities - expect lots of running and jumping, puzzle solving, collecting and LEGO construction. But as producer Loz Doyle was keen to point out when Warner Bros. showed off the game recently, there's new stuff here too.
There's a whole new game mode, for example. As with the previous LEGO titles, you can replay all the levels in the game as any character you like. However, the new Villain mode also lets you experience the storyline from an alternative perspective. The villains play a big part in LEGO Batman, and there are plenty of them; Joker, Riddler, Penguin and Catwoman all make an appearance, along with less well-known characters like Killer Croc and Scarecrow.
The story goes they've all broken out of Arkham Asylum ("As always seems to happen in Batman," observes Doyle. "I don't know why they don't get a better security system.") Playing as Batman and Robin, you must take them all on and put an end to the chaos being caused in Gotham.
So far, so what, but the Villain mode adds a new twist. Although the storyline is the same as the main game (or Hero mode, as it's being termed), you play as the relevant villain in each level and explore a different part of the environment. "We were having a meeting and we were talking about the villains and what they could do," Doyle says. "We thought, everyone loves playing as the villains, so why don't we have a Villain mode? It's a lot more work but no one disagreed, because the villains in Batman are so cool. We just had to do it."
To demonstrate, Doyle shows us a level set on an old wooden rollercoaster, where Joker and Harley are trying to make their way to Commissioner Gordon so they can kidnap him. Just as when you're playing as Batman and Robin, you must make the two characters work together to progress. For example, Joker uses his taser to operate switches that remove obstacles in Harley's path as she traverses the upper level of the coaster. Next he builds a LEGO rollercoaster car and sends it smashing through a doorway to open up a new path.
Another level sees Killer Croc and Penguin making their way through a network of sewers. They build a giant crocodile-shaped vehicle out of half a dozen piles of bricks - "We think this is the biggest build we've ever done," says Doyle. On completion it starts zooming round the sewer, huge jaws snapping up any enemies in its path. Looks like fun.
The sewer level offers a good example of the visual style Traveller's Tales appears to be going for with LEGO Batman. The comics, TV shows, cartoon series and films have been quite different in their approaches, so which offered the most significant inspiration? "It's a mix of everything. We didn't look at one particular style and say, 'Let's do it like this,'" says Doyle. "It's got its own LEGO Batman style to it..
"When you look at the game you can see some elements of the Burton films. There are some elements of the comics in the environments and stuff like that. But the mini-figures and the LEGO bricks just give it another style all of its own."
That style is an interesting blend of bright, colourful cartoon elements against darker, more realistic backgrounds. The mini-figures are great, even if it's true to say Catwoman has never looked less sexy. There's something incredibly charming about LEGO Penguin floating round on a LEGO umbrella and grinning an evil LEGO grin. They're all cute, but not too cute.
For the environments, it feels like TT has worked hard to ensure you never forget you're in Gotham - and not a happy and jolly cartoon version of it, either. Textures are realistic and clever lighting adds atmosphere. Darkly lit areas are punctuated by spots of colour so bright they're almost sickly; lime-green clouds of gas waft around in the sewers, for example, while neon pink and yellow lights shine on the rollercoaster. The effect is enhanced by the kind of swirling orchestral music you'd expect to hear in the films.
According to Doyle, TT's keenness to ensure the game satisfies fans of the Batman universe extends to the characters' weapons and abilities. So the Joker has a couple of Uzis, Catwoman has a whip, Penguin keeps bombs under his top hat and Killer Croc can smash through walls. Batman and Robin, of course, get batarangs and the like.
They also have a range of suits that give them new abilities. Donning the magno suit lets Robin walk up vertical metal surfaces, while his tech suit allows him to control cars and helicopters. Doyle shows him putting it on to guide a remote control car under a low ledge and over a pressure pad. Batman's demolition suit is useful for knocking down walls, while his flight suit allows him to glide over gaps.
Suits, uizs and batarangs aside, there's good old fisticuffs to be getting on with - though Doyle says LEGO SW fans can expect something new here too. "One thing that makes LEGO Batman different from LEGO Star Wars is the mini-figures have very short arms. When we were making the transition from lightsabers to hand-to-hand combat it was more difficult than we thought it was going to be, so we put a lot of effort into making sure the combat is really fun," he says. "In doing so we've added more complexity, so although kids can just press the buttons and pull off cool moves and combos, we've added an extra layer of throws and grabs and other moves."
These moves vary depend on who you're playing as. "Batman and Robin have a huge amound of different moves they can pull off. Then characters like Killer Croc, who's a wrestler - he can pick people up and throw them around. We've really made the moves suited to the character you're playing as."
You can just ignore all the extra stuff, however, and enjoy a bit of good old button-bashing. "We're still really keen on making the game accessible for younger kids, we're absolutely obsessed with that," explains Doyle. "We want them to be able to do loads of cool moves on a single button, like we did with LEGO Star Wars. But we know Batman appeals to older gamers as well with the films and the comics, so we decided to add an extra layer of complexity to the combat. Older gamers will get a lot more reward out of a little more depth to the controls."
So. A more complex control system, a new story mode and a unique visual style that's different not only to LEGO Star Wars but to all other interpretations of the Batman universe. And yet there's still all the charm, appeal and humour you'd expect from one of Traveller's Tales' LEGO game. Although this one isn't about to revolutionise the series, it's shaping up to be an excellent addition.