The best villains make a case that villainy is a matter of perspective. Who is telling the story? Whom do they represent? Whom takes the brunt of their collateral damage? Flip the POV, and a beloved hero like Batman becomes a destructive menace. In Batman Begins, the hero speeds through Gotham in an armored Batmobile — try taking that thing through inspection — causing car crashes and destroying city structures. And this scene is not unique; it’s one we’ve seen in every “serious” Batman movie. In his singular drive for whatever goal it is this time, Batman causes hurt for a lot of people that have to clean up the mess he’s left in his wake.
Developer TT Games typically aligns its players with Will Arnett’s style of Lego Batman, the designated good guy. (Batman is voiced by Kevin Conroy in this game, however.) While Lego Batman: The Video Game, Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes, and Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham all follow a satirical version of the caped crusader, this latest title, Lego DC Super-Villains, has a new angle. Rather than following Batman and his fellow DC Comics heroes, Lego DC Super-Villains naturally lets players see the world as a range of super-villains.
The cast ranges from the ruthless Joker and Lex Luthor to morally ambiguous anti-heroes, like Mr. Freeze and Catwoman. The full list of playable super-villains is long — more than 80 are playable — with alternative character variations that add new costumes and abilities. TT Games plumb the depths of the DC Games super-villain pool to introduce characters like Granny Goodness, Mercy, Cheetah, Clayface and King Shark to the game. It’s a wider world than any other DC Lego game, expanding from Gotham and Metropolis to Smallville, Gorilla City and Nanda Parbat.
Most villains’ backstories and lore have been toned down from DC Comics’ darker comics and films. In the place of grim motives, we get vague, pulpy goals. The Joker and Harley Quinn want to cause chaos across the city. Gorilla Grodd wants to take over Gorilla City. Catwoman wants jewels. It hardly matters. The rotating crew of characters drop their bad guy motivations to take on one big goal: saving the Justice League after they’ve been banished from Earth by a team of Earth-3 villains, the Crime Syndicate.
Posing as stand-ins for DC Comics’ missing heroes, the Crime Syndicate tricks the world into thinking they’re the Justice Syndicate — keeping order for the Justice League while they’re gone. The villains quickly realize the Justice Syndicate heroes aren’t what they seem to be. Naturally, Lego DC Super-Villains’ cast of bad guys are the only ones who can stop them.
The Justice Syndicate, the Earth-3 group found in various DC Comics stories, is that shared evil for the DC Universe’s bad and good guys. It’s a way for the Lego DC Super-Villains to fight the Justice League without having to justify why they’re fighting the Justice League. Because of it, TT Games doesn’t have to win over players with character complexity in its villains. Though the characters are charming and the voice acting is great, Lego DC Super-Villains isn’t exactly about villainy after all. By making the bad guys kinda good and taking the Justice League out of it, players have no reason to question their bad behavior, because it’s really not too bad after all.
Lego DC Super-Villains is missing the complexity of evil found in DC Comics world; instead, TT Games swapped out costumes and names and forgoed any real innovation in story and gameplay. It’s not something that will be surprising to anyone that’s played a Lego game before. A whole game about villainy is new territory for the developer, but it’s the form of Lego games that holds Lego DC Super-Villains back as a whole.
A dark story would be uncharacteristic of the series. After all, people love the light, Lego-smashing antics in Lego games. TT Games has found a system for the series and hasn’t been willing to break out of its framework. It’s still a delightful romp through a Lego world, one that’s really perfected the Lego formula, but it doesn’t do anything surprising or exciting, either. Aside from a new difficulty mode that makes the notoriously simple game a bit harder and a few tweaks, it’s still the Lego formula.
Lego DC Super-Villains isn’t the place for TT Games to go dark. There are hints of mischief and chaos throughout the game, but they’re fleeting. Open-world portions of the game allow for a bit more villainy, but it doesn’t go much beyond what’s available to do in other Lego games. Smashing things, after all, is a core mechanic of all of the Lego games … and the good guys do that, too. Being bad or good isn’t black and white, and DC Comics has mined the ambiguity of heroism and villainy in many beloved series. But Lego DC Super-Villains does little with the DC canon, its story never reaching beyond, “these baddies aren’t so bad after all.”
Lego DC Super-Villains review was reviewed using a final “retail” PS4 download code provided by Warner Bros. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.