Unless you’ve been living under a rock or have been otherwise indisposed from newspapers, radio, television, the Internet, or any of the other countless forms of communicative devices that the news media uses to infiltrate our lives in 2014, you’re probably well aware that a new movie based on your favourite childhood toy has been released unto the world. Thankfully we’re not talking about the atrocious Transformers or G.I. Joe franchises, instead we’re referring to LEGO. That’s right, LEGO. The film — about the studded little building blocks that cause a tremendous amount of pain when accidentally stepped on — has finally hit theatres and it’s already being reviewed as one of the best films of this fresh new year. Like so many films and franchises that have come before it, The LEGO Movie isn’t without its interactive tie-in. Ladies and gentlemen, we present to you the confusingly titled The LEGO Movie Videogame.
The plot revolves around Emmet Brickowski, an average construction worker leading an exceptionally average life who suddenly finds himself on a journey to save the entire LEGO universe. Along the way, Emmet befriends and works with a rag-tag team of Master Builders in order to stop the evil Lord Business from executing his plan to permanently freeze every living thing. At the sake of spoiling any major plot points, we won’t delve much deeper into the story, but it does follow along that of the film.
Rather than working as a supplemental piece to The LEGO Movie, the videogame is instead an interactive adaptation. The game does take some liberties in order to flesh out the story and extend its own playtime, but everyone should be forewarned that if you haven’t seen the film, this game would definitely spoil it for you. The other side of that argument is that if you have seen the film, then there’s a good chance that you’re going to love revisiting its world and playing as all of your favourite characters.
As is the case with all of the other recent licensed LEGO titles, the gameplay here is a combination of beat-em-up, platforming, and some light puzzle solving, but it’s mostly repetitive button mashing. In any given stage you will have the option of switching between designated characters with their own special skills that help complete any task at hand. Emmet, using his skills as a construction worker, can fix any broken mechanical object or use his jackhammer to break through walls and floors, while Wyldstyle, a decidedly more acrobatic character who is not, in fact, a DJ, uses her ability to jump high to reach platforms and her skills as a Master Builder to construct useful objects out of random piles of bricks. Each character has their own skills to contribute, ensuring that you’ll have to find the right figure to get specific jobs done.
The campaign contains 15 stages that are mostly linear, guiding you along a path that leads directly to your next challenge. Most stages do encourage a small amount of exploration in order to collect studs – the in-game currency – or find hidden objects, though it’s a far cry from the open world antics of LEGO City Undercover. There are small open worlds representative of key locations from the film, such as Emmet’s hometown of Bricksburg and the sickeningly sweet Cloud Cuckoo Land, each of which are full of more collectables to find and side quests to complete.
These areas also serve as hubs from which completed stages are available for replay, and they also help to tie together the sudden changes in the plot’s setting. The load times between stages and before entering the individual open worlds can be a bit lengthy, but once you’re in there isn’t a need for additional waiting. Everything runs smoothly for the most part, and we experienced only slight slowdown in frame rate during some of the more graphically intense scenes. Beyond that, the always-pleasing LEGO aesthetics remain unscathed.
Deviating only slightly from the expected gameplay are new minigames that have been cleverly inserted into the campaign to break up the monotony of tapping Y over and over again. Among the most common of these distractions is Emmet’s game in which he must build objects based on precise instructions. After instruction pages have been collected within a stage, Emmet then enters a mode that tasks players with quickly selecting the right pieces to advance the project. The quicker you find the right fit, the more studs you’ll be awarded. Other characters have similar separate abilities, each in theme with who the character is and what makes them unique. These minigames provide a much appreciated diversion form the all-too-familiar gameplay permeating the rest of the adventure.
A local second player can drop in and out of gameplay at will, utilizing either the Pro Controller or a Wii Remote and Nunchuck combination. The LEGO Movie Videogame uses the multiplayer component well, allowing players to control different characters with various special abilities, alleviating a single player from the need to constantly be switching from figure to figure in any given stage. Multiplayer also supports the series signature dynamic split-screen, or you can choose to have one player view his or her own gameplay on the GamePad's screen while a second player focuses on the television.
The LEGO Movie Videogame supports the full roster of Wii U controller options, with the default predictably set to the GamePad. The controller’s touchscreen helps to simplify character switching, and being able to play off television is a benefit for anyone hoping to play without missing a single moment of Winter Olympics action, but the Wii U’s technology is still being underutilized by the franchise. The quirkiness of the LEGO games perfectly compliments the system's peculiarities, yet – unlike certain stages in Rayman Legends – we still haven’t seen LEGO push Nintendo’s home console towards any type of specialized interaction beyond that in the exclusive LEGO City Undercover. The controls are precise and work well enough, though the aforementioned character specific minigames could easily have benefited from touch integration.
As is par for the course in LEGO games, this one is stuffed full of collectables and hidden objects to be found. New to this game are pairs of pants scattered around the stages. Based on “Where are my Pants?,” the favourite television show of residents of Bricksburg, you are able to find and wear different colourful pairs; it’s a small addition that allows for a bit of character customization disguised as a way to encourage further exploration. From minikits to golden bricks to flashy pairs of pants, you’ll have to use your full roster of characters to successfully find everything that this game has to offer. This is the type of game that strives to keep the completionists among us busy for hours after completing the campaign.
It may be full of the same wit that fans of the LEGO games have come to love, but the fact that this game follows the exact plot of the film presents itself as a double-edged sword when it comes to the humour. The jokes, gags, and cultural references featured in the game follow the series’ trademark wit, but if you’ve seen the movie then you’ve already heard most of it. Knowing what comes next and having a familiarity with the script offers a stagnation that the LEGO games haven’t seen before, a halt in its originality. While titles such as Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes and Lego Marvel Super Heroes take place in universes that players are familiar with, they feature entirely new plots and dialogue that no one has seen before, and being thrust into the unknown is what makes the LEGO games feel fresh with each new title. For those who have already seen The LEGO Movie, this game lacks that all-important element of surprise.
Going directly along the path of its film tie-in, and following in the footsteps of previous LEGO games, The LEGO Movie Videogame doesn’t deviate from what precedes it in terms of plot or gameplay. If you’ve played one LEGO game before, then you know exactly what to expect from this one, with the exception of the new situations and setting. In spite of all this, it’s still an engaging game that provides a lighthearted and entertaining adventure for players of any age. TT Games has successfully tapped into a lucrative middle-ground where it's found a balance between enjoyable gameplay and accessibility, making it no small wonder that it continues to develop games that don’t reach far beyond that.
The LEGO formula may continue working for now, but eventually the series will have to evolve in order to remain fresh. The LEGO Movie Videogame represents a potential tipping point for the series in that it’s the first time its source material actually interferes with what makes the otherwise bland gameplay unique. This is still a very good game and a worthy addition to any LEGO fan’s collection, but the series’ seams are definitely starting to show.