For almost a decade, the developers at Traveller’s Tales have slowly crafted an annual brand unlike any other. They’ve taken billion dollar franchises like The Lord of the Rings and DC Comics, shrunk them down into brick form, and made compelling, family-friendly fare. You could even argue that they made LEGO cool again, well before The LEGO Movie directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller burst onto the scene.
Even if they got to the brand first however, the folks at TT Games were not above tying back in with their LEGO brethren, and so The LEGO Movie Videogame was born. But, without a strong licensed brand to rely on, does this latest game live up to the legacy of previous games?
In a way, The LEGO Movie Videogame is exactly what fans of the movie will expect, a pitch perfect adaptation from top to bottom. The LEGO Movie Videogame captures the witty tone of Lord and Miller’s film, adapts some of its concepts to suit new gameplay mechancics, and even features actual scenes from the movie. Not to mention, the film’s voice cast includes all the same actors from the film, including Morgan Freeman.
Since the game’s story is almost an exact reproduction of the film, we won’t go into too much detail. In truth, The LEGO Movie Videogame does its best to co-opt various set pieces from the film, and does well to represent them in LEGO form. But the truncated nature of the game’s narrative glosses over a lot of the film’s key elements, and leaves a lot of questions unanswered. The game is more of a companion piece than it is an independent creation, so we’d recommend watching the film first.
In the game, players take control of Emmet, an everyman (albeit in LEGO form) who comes into contact with the fabled ‘Piece of Resistance’ and is entrusted with the fate of the entire universe. His unexpected new status as “The Special” sets him on an adventure that spans 15 well-designed levels that, unlike previous LEGO games, actually give off a handcrafted flair. By that we mean that every element of a level looks like it was constructed from real LEGO bricks, not just the breakable objects.
Emmet is joined on his journey by a cast as diverse as they come, including the spry Wildstyle, the wise sage Vitruvius, and (for a little brand recognition) Batman. Each character has their own special abilities — Wildstyle can jump higher and cling to certain walls, Vitruvius can negotiate precarious ledges, and Batman can grapple up to higher areas — and all will be instrumental towards moving forward. For example, players may need to scale a wall as Wildstyle, assemble a grapple point for Batman, and then construct a path for Vitruvius before moving to the next area. It’s a base formula that Traveller’s Tales has perfected over the last few games, and while it works well here there are also very few new elements, just slight riffs on familiar ideas.
The only elements that could truly be called new are the master builder and the instruction manual mechanics. As a master builder (basically any character besides Emmett), players can highlight specific objects in a level and combine them into new, more useful items. Granted, there’s very little actual input involved in the mechanic, and it only comes into play at pre-determined spots, but it still does well to establish that certain characters are not bound by traditional LEGO building rules. Emmet, on the other hand, must first find pieces of an instructional manual before building new items. Unfortunately, the subsequent building phase is a very rote matching game, where a missing piece is highlighted during the build and the player must select it from a group. It’s a change of pace, sure, but like the master builder mechanic it doesn’t require too much thought or action from the player.
As a complete package, The LEGO Movie Videogame hits all the right notes, but does so without much embellishment. Players still progress through levels in much the same way as past games, either by mixing and matching abilities or building useful tools out of scattered LEGO bricks, but they will do so with little resistance. Challenge has never been a factor in these LEGO games, but without a solid story or compelling mechanics to experiment with the grind becomes all the more evident. Years of practice have honed the LEGO brand into a tight gameplay experience, but that time has also diminished every other element’s appeal.
After having churned out two LEGO games per year for the past three or four years, Traveller’s Tales is showing signs of wear and tear. Their ability to adapt to a brand is still as present as it ever was, but the mechanics they choose to represent certain ideas isn’t what players would call engaging. To develop a game geared towards a younger audience is one thing, but even family-friendly games should try to form their own identity through gameplay.
The LEGO games have reached a point where everything about them melds together into a cacophony of brick-smashing mayhem, and the only thing that stands out is the brand being used. And since The LEGO Movie Videogame lacks recognizable faces like Iron Man, Legolas, or Harry Potter, it needed, at the very least, some stronger mechanics. The idea that one character can jump higher and one can access special areas only works for so long before it starts becoming old hat. Here, everything feels like old hat.
That being said, there will be die-hard LEGO game fans who enjoy this release, doubly so if they loved the feature film. It’s by no means a bad game, it actually runs silky smooth, looks quite nice on next-gen hardware, and the controls are fluid and responsive; it just doesn’t evolve the base formula enough to make it stand out. The LEGO Movie Videogame is better than most movie tie-ins, but for a LEGO game it’s passable at best.
The LEGO Movie Videogame is out now for 3DS, PC, PS3, PS4, Vita, Wii U, Xbox 360, and Xbox One. Game Rant was provided the Xbox One version for review.
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