Traveller’s Tales’ Lego games are one of the most consistently entertaining and long-running series in gaming, even with a few notable missteps. While the core gameplay has remained relatively stable throughout the twenty or so titles, the incremental improvements to mission structure and character skills have seen more recent games outshine their predecessors. So, with this in mind, does DC Super-Villains varnish or tarnish the series’ legacy?
The marketing behind DC Super-Villains has successfully bought into the cultural fascination with the anti-hero, the seductive baddie, and the fourth wall breaking observations of the likes of Deadpool in the Marvel Universe. Unlike the increasingly bland and grim-dark DC cinematic universe, however, the Lego setting here is full of colour and vibrancy. Even the characteristically gloomy environs of Gotham and Arkham have splashes of colour.
Outside of the Arkham Batman series, this is the most authentic feeling DC world I’ve played, beating even the excellent Lego Batman 2. The weird stitching together of Gotham, Metropolis, and even Smallville brings the various major settings into one traversable map more successfully than Marvel Super Heroes 2’s somewhat contrived narrative approach and there is a huge amount of fun to be had just exploring the world as your favourite villain (or even hero).
Graphically, everything is up to Traveller’s Tales’ usual high standard. Unlike the sometimes ugly models of Incredibles – Bob Parr still haunts my nightmares – the ridiculously huge range of characters all have an authentic and distinctive look. With 196 characters and vehicles to unlock this is no small achievement. As mentioned above, the world of DC Super Villains is colourful and varied, with the palette and architecture changing to suit the various environments. The narrow, dark alleys of Gotham contrast with the gleaming skyscrapers of Metropolis and the rural cropfields of Superman’s adopted town, Smallville.
The storyline is suitably convoluted, involving different dimensional versions of Earth and the obligatory revelation of a universe-wide threat. Whilst somewhat reminiscent of the earlier Marvel Super Heroes titles, the promised role of the villains here goes a long way to keep things fresh.
The temporary alliances and double-crossing provide more character to the missions than the easy cooperation of heroic figures in previous games. This approach also made the obligatory revenge attacks on your co-op partner for ‘accidentally’ killing you more justifiable. My 7 year old son and I spent rather too long on chasing each other around the map for hilariously inept revenge purposes. Whilst the main narrative is dominated by canonical figures such as Lex Luthor, Harley Quinn, and The Joker, the spread of skills and abilities means that a vast range of other villains are needed to work through the many levels and missions.
Given the huge range of characters from across the whole spread of the DC Universe, it is almost certain that your personal favourite will be present. I spent a lot of time playing as the sardonic Raven from Teen Titans, whilst my son enjoyed trashing stuff as Solomon Grundy and Gorilla Grodd. Alongside the villains, most of the key DC heroes are present and correct, from Batman to Beast Boy. Fortunately, the likes of Superman and Wonder Woman have been altered to be less overpowered than they were in earlier games.
The key difference in DC Super-Villans, however, is that you begin the game as a villain of your own design. The range of options is overwhelming but you can go back and tinker with your design throughout the story so there’s no need to spend hours finessing your character before you get started. I really liked the ways in which standard villains reacted to you and the running gag of you not being able to speak.
Music and voice acting feel equally in keeping with the setting, with Smallville’s take on the classic John Williams Superman theme being particularly memorable. Alongside this the main game theme is the excellent Wolfmother’s rocking ‘Joker and the Thief in the Night’, which is well worth leaving the main menu on to listen to. Central characters such as The Joker and Harley Quinn are voiced well and the script is performed with the right balance of sincerity and silliness. I found myself thinking that some of the casting here was better than the films on which the game draws much of its inspiration. The storyline allows for the villains to have a lot of fun, and this is conveyed successfully to the player for whom the usual Lego approach of smashing everything in sight feel s perhaps its most appropriate.
The twenty main levels and dozens of missions, races, and environmental challenges provide a huge amount to do. One of the main changes in this version is the reduction of minikits hidden in levels from 10 to 5. This cuts down the amount of time spent replaying levels but does have the unintended consequence of there being fewer puzzles within some of those areas. Having said that, the addition of portraits to graffiti on and the return of hub challenges that have finding various items hidden around the map more than makes up for this. The latter in particular has been improved through hints available on the map screen, an approach which encourages exploration rather than chasing icons on a map. Towards the end of the game there is a feel of mopping up icons, but much of this is optional.
The only real drawback of the tried and tested Lego format here is that things can get overly busy onscreen, particularly when playing co-op. The lack of any real negative consequence means that this never becomes overly frustrating, but it can lead to minor annoyances and the occasional need to repeat a race or mission.
There has been a tendency for the larger games to test the engine to breaking point, however, with frequent small bugs and the occasional crash. This was the case at first with DC Super=Villains, but has thankfully been patched out with the most recent update.
Having been disappointed by Lego The Incredibles, confused by Lego Ninjago The Movie’s linear approach, and slightly underwhelmed by the obscure roster of Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2, I am happy to report that Lego DC Super-Villains is a real return to form for Traveller’s Tales. It eclipses Lego Batman 2 to become my joint favourite alongside the first Lego Marvel Super Heroes; this is an essential play for any fan of comics, Lego games, or fun in general! Particularly when played in local co-op, there is so much to do and explore here without even considering the emergent and environmental fun to be had. Being bad never felt so good.
Version tested: PS4
Also available on PC, Switch and Xbox One