The Games: In LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, PC, Nintendo DS, 3DS, and PS Vita), you can play as most of the major DC characters — Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, etc. — as well as the famed Dark Knight and his trusty Boy Wonder, Robin. The reason all hands are on deck: The Joker has teamed up with Lex Luther for a diabolical plan that involves both Batman and Superman. LEGO Lord of the Rings (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, Nintendo 3DS) is much more straightforward: It’s Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, but in LEGO. (Batman 2 is out summer 2012; LOTR’s release date is TBA.)
What We Played: Much of the opening sequence of LEGO Batman 2, after the villains of Arkham Asylum crash a banquet honoring Bruce Wayne (much to Lex Luthor’s chagrin), and Batman and Robin have to subdue them one by one. In LEGO Lord of the Rings, I played the sequence in The Fellowship of the Ring when our heroes must battle a cave troll, up through Gandalf’s standoff with the giant, flaming Balrog and his subsequent mid-air battle with the beast as they plunge into the inky black depths of Middle-earth.
The Good: Both games maintain the LEGO franchise’s great family-friendly humor, with everything from witty jokes about Batman: Arkham City to silly jokes about the Balrog’s smelly burps. And both look spectacular — Batman 2 features a gorgeously rendered open-world Gotham City, and LOTR has come up with some inventive ways of transforming Middle-earth’s more outré creatures into LEGO form. The biggest innovation in both games is that the characters all talk for the first time — LOTR even draws directly from the audio in the film’s themselves — which breathes new life into the storytelling possibilities and the humor.
The Not-So-Good: Beyond the fact that the LEGO games remain an acquired taste, there were a few times I got stuck playing Batman 2 with no clear idea of how or where I was supposed to go next. LOTR has a more fundamental issue: In the early stages of the game, all nine members of the Fellowship battle together, and keeping them straight — including when a specific character is necessary to advance the game — can quickly get confusing.
Excitement Level (on a scale of 1 to 10): Full disclosure: Though I’m not anti-LEGO (unlike some), I’ve never been a giant devotee of the LEGO franchise. But I was pleasantly won over by both games’ thoughtful puzzles and expansively detailed level design. I’d give both games a 7.