October 1, 2008

Review: ‘Lego Batman’ is All About the Villains

By Gieson Cacho

Although his name is on the marquee, Batman has never been the reason we watch the films. When it comes to the Caped Crusader, it's the villains who are the real stars.

I can tell you who played the Jokers (Heath Ledger, Jack Nicholson), the Riddler (Jim Carrey) and Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer). But when it comes the actors who fought crime, I couldn't care less.

That's because the villains are always more compelling, and the actors who play them seem to have more fun.

In "Lego Batman," Traveller's Tales picks up on this. Its latest project adds the Lego franchise's brand of humor to "Batman" as the Dark Knight rounds up Gotham's smarmiest villains after they escaped Arkham Asylum.

The adventure takes place across three story lines that are each headed up by their own major baddie: the Riddler, the Penguin and the Joker. Each arc has its own set of subvillains such as Mr. Freeze, Killer Croc and the Mad Hatter, all of whom Batman has to fight.

As for the gameplay, there isn't much players haven't seen before from the Lego franchise. Players beat up henchmen, grab Lego studs (the world's currency) and figure out simple puzzles.

Batman and Robin have different suits that grant them special powers. They also have projectile weapons that are helpful, but feel tacked on.

Finishing the game with Batman and Robin is fine and good, but the villains' chapters offer the best gameplay.

In these acts, "Lego Batman" is played from the bad guys' perspective as they try to cobble a plot to steal money or take over Gotham. It's the backstory to the hero's main adventure.

Usually, one of three main villains takes center stage, and it's here where Traveller's Tales seems to have fun with the franchise.

The villains have their own special powers. For example, Killer Croc can run through toxic areas and has super-strength. Meanwhile, the Riddler can control foes.

Wreaking havoc on the poor denizen feels strangely liberating. Maybe it means I'm a criminal at heart, but causing chaos and using their powers was tremendously enjoyable compared to the predictable crime-fighting of Batman.

Should players feel bad about preferring the denizens of Arkham rather than Gotham's hero? No. Bad guys and girls know how to have fun.

MUSIC TO OUR EARS: "Samba de Amigo" was ahead of its time.

Before there was "Guitar Hero," Sega's maraca-shaking monkey was the star of the best music-rhythm title on the planet. The Dreamcast game used real music. It had its own set of peripherals (a plastic set of maracas).

The only reason that we're not playing "Samba de Amigo 8" is that the price was too costly for the era, and samba isn't nearly as cool as rock.

But with its return to the Wii, fans can finally check out this classic. In the latest version, Wii remotes and nunchuks replace the maracas, but the gameplay remains the same.

Players will have to shake the controllers in six different positions that are arranged in a circle: two on top, two in the middle and two at the bottom. The timing is determined by balls that roll out from center.

Each time they hit one of the six positions, players have to shake the controller in that direction. Do it right, and they'll hear the sound of maracas. Do it wrong, and fans will hear nothing. Make another mistake and players will continue to hear nothing.

Although Sega and Gearbox Software bring "Samba de Amigo" back to the future, the team failed to fix a few flaws in this update. Without the negative feedback, it's hard to tell whether players have poor timing missing beats or if the system can't read the gestures.

At times this can be frustrating, especially when experts raise the difficulty, and the developer punishes miscues harshly. Players can perform perfectly and trigger a seizure-inducing technicolor celebration, but if they mess up twice, they can be in danger of failing the level.

"Samba de Amigo's" 45-song soundtrack is full of up-tempo beats. There's plenty of Ricky Martin for children of the 1990s. Fans can expect classic tunes like "Hot, Hot, Hot" by Arrow. The game also sports downloadable tracks.

Years after the music genre has come into its own, "Samba de Amigo" may not be as impressive as its contemporary counterparts, but it still manages to stay in tune with old-school gamers.

Reach [email protected] group.com. Read his blog at www.ibabuzz.com/video games.Video game reviews-- WHAT: "Lego Batman"- - PLATFORM: Multiple systems, Xbox 360 (reviewed)-- RATING: Everyone- - GRADE: B-- n n-- WHAT: "Samba de Amigo"-- PLATFORM: Wii-- RATING: Everyone-- GRADE: B-

Originally published by Gieson Cacho, Contra Costa Times.

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