Video game tie-ins have been haunting films since the inception of the interactive medium, especially when those films are deemed "kid friendly." Essentially used as a marketing ploy, video games based on motion pictures are usually ill-fated projects that never stood a chance from the very beginning. From Disney cartoons to sci-fi adventures, no genre of film is safe. Following in the steps of so many disappointments that came before it is The LEGO Movie and its 3DS adaptation.
If you have't yet pieced it together, The LEGO Movie Videogame follows along the plot of the titular film, straying only slightly to extend the length of the game beyond the movie's 100 minute run time. Starring Emmet Brickowski, an average construction worker living in Bricksburg, and his motley crew of new friends known as Master Builders, this game tells the story of a regular guy who is suddenly responsible for saving the universe. It's a tale that's been told countless times, but thankfully this one has the humour and charm of the LEGO franchise to back it up and breathe fresh new life into the otherwise stale plot. If you've seen the film, then you've already witnessed this plot and know exactly what to expect. The fact that this game follows along with the pre-existing plot is great for those who enjoyed the film, but can also be considered detrimental as it becomes entirely predictable and lacks the humorous element of surprise.
Gameplay is nearly identical to that found in LEGO Marvel Super Heroes for 3DS, with most stages providing an isometric top-down view of the area. Characters are controlled with the Circle Pad and lettered buttons while certain actions, such as switching characters and executing special attacks, are linked to virtual buttons on the handheld's touchscreen. The action still consists mostly of beat-em-up button mashing with a few simple puzzles sprinkled in between, but you'll be spending most of your time tapping Y in order to destroy your enemies and the environments in search of studs. Missing from this game is the ability to jump, reducing it from a platformer more exclusively to an action game. Despite this, the environments are designed well to not feel entirely flat as your traverse them, adding a sense of depth to the flush environments.
Broken up into 15 stages, each of which are further broken into three different parts, The LEGO Movie Videogame essentially has 45 areas to complete. While the stages encourage multiple plays through in order to find all of the hidden items and collect red bricks and studs which can then be used to unlock new characters and abilities, the campaign can be completed in around five hours when played straight through. Some of the lengthier levels can take up to ten minutes to complete, but others are over and done with in under 20 seconds.
This imbalance presents an issue with the game's pacing, often forcing you to trudge through long stretches in which all you're doing is fighting off enemies, then suddenly setting you up for an exhilarating race that is over almost as soon as it begins. It's unfortunate that some of the most entertaining moments are also the most short-lived, but it's just as easy to jump back in a replay those stages and collect more studs whenever you see fit.
Though the gameplay is decidedly simplified compared to that found in its Wii U counterpart, The LEGO Movie Videogame features many of the same elements found in the home console version. Beyond the plot and major set pieces, the character-specific minigames have made their way over to the 3DS as well, some of which actually work better on the handheld. Specifically, when you've collected enough instruction manual pages for Emmet to construct a vehicle or piece of machinery, the ensuing minigame now takes place on the touchscreen, allowing you to drag and drop LEGO bricks into their proper places rather than relying on the accuracy of the Wii U analogue sticks to select them. This isn't necessarily a huge part of the game, and it by no means will sway anyone's decision whether or not to pick this one up over the home console version, but it is a small improvement that adds to the title's quality and interactivity. Being able to "touch" the LEGO bricks that you're working with makes it all the more real.
As the story follows along with the film, all of the cinematic sequences in the game are taken directly from the movie. While this is an effective way to link the action of each stage together, it's unfortunate to say that this game doesn't do the best job of reflecting the video quality from the film or Wii U game. The cinematics are bearable, and the audio and voice acting that goes along with them works wonders to improve the overall quality, but everything looks like it has been compressed to much, leaving a grainy and somewhat blotchy display.
The graphics in stages looks significantly better than this, however, with vibrantly colourful environments and character models that each boast their own unique and identifiable designs. The console's trademark 3D effect, on the other hand, is not put to any significant use, adding a bit of depth to the environments but not actually enhancing the experience in any way.
It's not exactly fair to compare a game with it's home console counterpart, especially when the gameplay in each version is so different, but The LEGO Movie Videogame for 3DS is a sign that the portable LEGO games are running out of ideas. Beyond the plot and characters, this game is almost identical to LEGO Marvel Super Heroes: Universe in Peril, a game that released no more than six months prior. This isn't a step backwards for the series, but it does have its feet planted firmly where they stand, showing absolutely no signs of moving forward. Fans of the The LEGO Movie and previous LEGO games are sure to enjoy this one as well, but don't seek it out expecting anything that you haven't already seen.