Version tested Xbox 360
I always used to wish that some enterprising developer would take the openworld template of Grand Theft Auto and apply it to Batman. Not just any Batman, but specifically the wonderful 1960s TV Batman, with his outrageous rogue's gallery of villains, slapstick humour and an appropriately titled gadget for every occasion. Roaming a virtual Gotham, you'd foil plots by villains both famous and infamous by land, sea and air. Heck, you could even get Adam West and Burt Ward to reprise their roles in voiceover.
Of course, Batman is all dour and gritty these days so the chances of that ever happening are lower than Joel Schumacher being asked to direct the sequel to The Dark Knight. I'm not so bothered though, since Traveller's Tales has pretty much given me the game I always dreamed of.
Okay, there's no Adam West voiceover - no voices at all, as is customary for the LEGO games - and the music is taken from the Tim Burton movies rather than Neal Hefti's iconic TV theme, but this is unmistakably a game that draws the majority of its inspiration from the knowingly camp superhero spoof that many Bat-fans have spent decades foolishly trying to live down. From the general tone to overt references, this is a game that remembers when superheroes were fun.
Unlike the previous LEGO titles, which suckled at the twin Lucas teats of Star Wars and Indiana Jones, this latest in the series isn't bound to any rigid movie mythology or pre-determined sequences of events. While it was always appealing to see how favourite scenes would play out in LEGO, the shift away from adaptation towards a broader licence has been most welcome. The story isn't going to keep you on the edge of your seat, but simply not knowing what's coming next makes a huge difference, especially given the fantastic cast of characters the game offers.
The nutshell version is that Batman's greatest villains have broken out of Arkham and formed three evil gangs, each with their own schemes to dominate Gotham. As well as the obvious choices - Joker, Riddler, Two-Face, Penguin, Catwoman - you also get to face the sort of daft foes that have been sidelined in the drive to make Batman more realistic. And so we get the shape-shifting Clayface, Killer Croc, the Mad Hatter and the brilliantly obscure Killer Moth. All it needs to complete the far out escapist tone is for Vincent Price to turn up as Egghead.
In a major shift from the established LEGO format, you'll get to both fight these characters and play as them in their own parallel storyline. After foiling their dastardly schemes with Batman and Robin, you can throw a switch to be transported to Arkham from where you can play the same storyline from the villain's perspective, helping them to build their cataclysmic contraptions and plot their vile schemes. The levels share some locations, but always from different angles, so not only do you get a fun double narrative, it really does feel like two games in one.
The hero side of the equation is obviously less well populated. You can unlock characters like Batgirl and Nightwing, but these are purely for use in the Free Play mode - they have no role in the stories. Instead, to expand the gameplay options for the dynamic duo, the game introduces a series of different costumes with varying abilities. Batman, for example, has a glide suit which lets him sail over larger gaps. His demolition suit lets him set remote charges, while the sonic suit has a gun which shatters glass. Robin can walk up metallic walls in his magnetic suit, as well as vacuum up spare LEGO pieces and deposit them in special machines to build new items.