Following the unquestionable success of the various Lego games of the past few years, Lego Battles is something of an oddity in the ever-growing stable of generally very good, solid adventure titles (and one rhythm game) from the Lego brand.
It’s an odd title for a number of reasons, but the main oddity is that for a Lego game, Battles is remarkably "non-Lego-y."
And herein lays the difficulty in reviewing this somewhat "non-Lego-y" Lego game. On the one hand, the game is a very solid RTS with plenty of missions, good multiplayer support and six different factions available to play as. On the other hand however, fans of the Lego brand of humour will find the game sorely lacking, and will be disappointed to find a distinct lack of ‘Lego-y-ness’ when the game is so clearly marketed as a game brimming with Lego-related content.
This review, then, will be of two parts.
Ignoring the Lego element of the game at first, Lego Battles does a remarkably good job of implementing real time strategy on the DS. The game mechanics are fairly solid, and while for the hardcore RTS fans out there the game doesn’t offer the depth of strategy and difficulty level of its PC-based strategy counterparts, for a portable version of the RTS genre, Lego Battles is quite a good game.
At the heart of the game the story mode offers a total of six possible campaigns to play through with six different army "sets" to play as, including the likes of pirates, wizards and even a space set. There are over seventy missions to be unlocked, so there’s definitely plenty here to keep you occupied. As with its adventure-based counterparts, Lego Battles doesn’t disappoint in offering up plenty to do for the completionists out there, with twenty blue studs to collect for each level along with mini-kits and various other collectables that need to be found by anyone who wants to get that all-important "100% complete" tag. Just like its adventure-based counterparts too, Lego Battles offers the now standard Lego "free play" mode alongside the campaign allowing players to customise their army sets with units and heroes they have unlocked from the campaign's story mode. This does of course add an interesting additional element to the game, adding further replayability for the completionists, and offering up the interesting novelty of letting players create their "ultimate" Lego set.
However, this is not to say that RTS element of the game are without flaws. Unit pathing can at times be an issue, while the lack of difficulty settings means the AI leans towards the lower end of Average difficulty and could certainly do with some improvement. While there may be over seventy missions to play, they can certainly become repetitive after a while, and the design of the various army sets is such that they pretty much play in a similar way with only the odd variation between sets. Like so many RTS games out there on the market, the actual "strategy" element really can lose its meaning as the game often descends into a unit spam-fest.
To add some more strategy to the game beyond the somewhat weak AI, you of course have the multiplayer option. Offering a fairly decent selection of maps (though not overly large in size), the multiplayer support for Lego Battles offers nothing overly new to anyone who has ever played multiplayer RTS games in the past, but is a nice addition and certainly complements the Lego set customisation so anyone with a few friends can re-enact there very own fantasy Lego battles on the DS.
It is important to note at this stage that just because this is a Lego game, it isn’t necessarily suitable for younger gamers. Sold as a Lego game, many parents will automatically assume that the brand automatically equates to childishness and simplicity of play. However, the discerning gamer out there will be well aware that this isn’t always the case – and certainly it certainly isn’t here. Potential buyers of this game really do need to take into account that this is a strategy game, and as such requires a certain amount of stylus dexterity and strategic insight on the part of the player. This game certainly isn’t one for the very young DS gamers out there, despite its branding.
We come, then, to the Lego aspect of the game. As an RTS, Lego Battles is a good solid game, but as a Lego game it will no doubt fall short of fan expectations. The core reason for this is that it's a strategy game and as such has a top-down look on what are quite small, simplistic unit models and buildings. If you ignored the upper screen you really could be fooled into thinking that this wasn’t even a Lego-based game at times for all the lack of Lego aesthetic in the main game display.
Only really the campaign intro movies offer the Lego fans out there that classic Lego comedy element that makes the Lego take on Indiana Jones, Star Wars and Batman such charming, imaginative games. These short movies are, it must be said, fairly well done, and look just as good as they do in the Wii adventure games. Unfortunately, there aren’t very many of them, and being as these really are the main Lego-element in the game, the devout brick fans out there will doubtless be disappointed.
As an RTS, Lego Battles functions fairly solidly as a strategy game for the mass market. There will of course be the disappointed minorities – those being primarily the hardcore strategy fans who find the RTS elements repetitive and strategically weak, or the Lego fans who will feel let down by the distinct lack of Lego. Looking past these obvious weaknesses in the title, Lego Battles is nonetheless a good game with lots to unlock and good multiplayer support. But do please be warned: if it’s Lego you’re after, this title probably isn’t for you.