Warner Bros. Interactive and Hellbent Games' LEGO Friends is a bad game. There's no nicer way of putting it. A squandered opportunity to make another gaming hit out of a popular LEGO property, LEGO Friends feels like a cynical cash-in designed to provide young gamers with a few minutes of mindless diversion before they request the real toys instead. There is nothing wrong with a video game aimed at young girls, in particular — but LEGO Friends is dull, repetitive, and extremely unpolished. Fans looking for a title that appeals to their youngsters should look elsewhere; LEGO Friends is disappointing in nearly every way, with the possible exception of its characters representing multiple backgrounds and cultures.
In LEGO Friends, you play as a girl who comes to Heartlake City for the summer to spend time with your cousin, Olivia, and her friends. By helping Olivia, her friends and the other citizens of Heartlake City with various tasks and jobs, you gain access to new clothing, pets and accessories to decorate your bedroom. In theory, there's nothing wrong with this; Animal Crossing is all about helping other villagers with their problems and players spend hundreds of hours in their virtual village. But LEGO Friends is nothing like Animal Crossing. Heartlake City has five main areas, with characters that will send you on ridiculous fetch quests, such as gathering items for lemonade, finding a pet that's hiding in the vents of the high school, placing posters on predetermined spots and other extremely dull activities. Completing these tasks will raise your friendship level with Olivia and her friends, which can be tracked through each girl's special "book," be it Olivia's Bright Ideas Book, Mia's (private) Journal, and others. We're not sure who thought it a good idea to make young gamers think it's okay to go through your friends' private things, but that's the least of LEGO Friends' worries.
If any of the tasks asked of your "friends" were fun and had personality, this title would be much more easy to swallow. Unfortunately, LEGO Friends is an extremely repetitive experience, with dull task after dull task accumulating and flashing on the bottom screen. To break up the monotony, there are a few minigames present that, while extremely simplistic, offer some kind of variety. Soccer was our favourite; most of these minigames are very easy, which is fine considering the age the game is targeting. Sadly, they are a very small part of the game and will most likely be forgotten among your various jobs. One other positive aspect of LEGO Friends is a light achievement system that features colourful icons to signify that you completed a task or group of objectives; for collect-a-thon fans, this will prolong the experience a tiny bit.
There is little "LEGO" to be found in LEGO Friends. You'll occasionally have to "construct" an item like you would in any other LEGO video game, but other than that and the character models, there's little of what makes LEGO video games fun here. Making matters worse is the borderline-broken game engine. Controlling your character feels floaty and imprecise, and while there's no serious platforming involved, there are times when you may have to jump onto a high ledge to help an animal or get an item. There were several instances where we simply couldn't reach the spot the game was telling us to reach. With an arrow guiding the player to each task; many young gamers will be confused and frustrated when the arrow leads them to a spot that appears to be unreachable. Poor hit detection is present throughout, as well; you'll find yourself bumping into walls that you haven't reached yet and getting stuck behind objects that you didn't think you were near.
Most egregious of LEGO Friends' many shortcomings, though, is the unacceptably choppy frame-rate and loading times. While the visuals are colourful and sweet, the game can't handle too many objects on the screen at once and will slow down, almost to a crawl, for seemingly no reason (you can guess how slow things get when the 3D is turned on). You'll also encounter long — very, very long — loading times as you enter new rooms and areas. The constant loading screens will likely grate on the patience of young gamers (it certainly did for us); since there have been plenty of 3DS games with impeccable performance and GameCube / Wii console-quality visuals, this is truly unacceptable. The sound design, at least, is inoffensive. The voice acting is generally satisfactory and the music, while a bit too peppy, doesn't make LEGO Friends any more taxing an experience than it already is.
Games aimed at children, be it boy or girl, should be crafted with the same care that go into more high-profile titles. Unfortunately, LEGO Friends feels like a rush job designed to make a quick buck and get parents to buy their kids the LEGO Friends figures and sets. We expect more from the LEGO brand at this point; should the world of LEGO Friends be revisited in another game, it will have to do a far better job at presenting a workable experience worth recommending. If you want a game for your daughter or little sister, titles such as Nintendogs and Animal Crossing are infinitely better choices. Stay away from LEGO Friends.