Review: The LEGO Movie Videogame

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I have not seen The LEGO Movie, but after playing The LEGO Movie Videogame I feel like I have. That’s a good thing.

One of the contributing factors behind the diminished quality of many movie-based videogames is how all too often story content is trimmed back from the source material, presumably in an effort to avoid spoilers. This proves problematic for all potential players. Fans of the movie are left with a stripped down version of the story they enjoyed at the theater, while players who don’t necessarily care about seeing the movie first are left with a barebones narrative that lacks meaning and just isn’t worth caring about.

While scenes have been cut down to appropriate size, The LEGO Movie Videogame avoids this common movie-game pitfall by delivering the bulk of the story using a substantial number of clips pulled straight from the film. It doesn’t reach the point of making you feel like you should no longer bother seeing the movie, but there’s just enough film footage to provide a clear understanding and cohesive adaptation of the plot. Continuity is furthered by voice-overs from the movie. The audio mixing could be better as some of the sound bites have noticeable cutoffs and the speech volume occasionally drops to levels that are almost inaudible, but the game does at least capture the wonderful performances of Morgan Freeman as the Master Builder wizard Vitruvius, Will Arnett as Batman, Will Ferrell as the evil Lord Business, and Chris Pratt and Elizabeth Banks’ respective male and female leading roles as Emmet and Wyldstyle.

Sticking to the events of the film, the game follows the childhood dream adventures of Emmet, an everyman construction worker who is believed to be a prophesized minifig known as The Special destined to stop the tyrannical Lord Business’ efforts to stifle all LEGO building creativity using a mystical super-weapon called the Kragle. The story unfolds over 15 levels of tried and true LEGO game adventuring that blends the usual mix of 3D platforming, simple beat-’em-up action, light puzzle solving, and obsessive collectible hunting in a single-player or two-player local co-op package. Instead of a single, large environment to explore, this game’s levels are structured in a linear format connected by a series of smaller hub worlds, each with its own set of additional collectibles and side challenges to play around with in between story beats, or when you’re ready to free play after seeing the story through to climax.

Anyone versed in TT Games’ array of licensed LEGO romps will feel right at home here. Whether you’ve played all of the previous LEGO games or only one ore two, the core gameplay rests within the same comfort zone as the dozen or so other titles. In terms of mechanics, the only new features involve the way different characters use LEGOs to build puzzle-solving contraptions. Some characters, known as Master Builders, have the innate ability to pull objects out of the environment and construct a handy device right on the spot. This involves holding down a button and using the analog stick to paint a cursor over three compatible objects (they glow neon green so there’s no missing which items to combine), triggering an automated animation sequence of the character rapidly stacking bricks together. Non-Master Builders like Emmet, on the other hand, don’t have this gift of imagination, so instead they must gather a specified number of instruction manuals for guidance on how to build something. Once the necessary pages are found and entered into a building console, a mini-game begins which takes you through a speed building construction process in which the instruction manual will highlight the piece needed for the next step and you will have to find and select the proper brick from a radial menu. Completing the build as quickly and with as few mistakes as possible will result in a higher bonus payout of studs.

The Instruction Build mini-games are very simple and easy to follow, but the whole point is to play up the childhood wonder of buying a LEGO set and following the steps that will allow you to turn a scattered mess of different toy blocks into a functional object, like a horse drawn wagon or a water well. This creative spirit becomes even more prevalent as you explore the fantastical worlds and realize that, for the first time in the series, every single piece of every single environment is constructed entirely out of LEGO bricks. Even particle effects like explosions, air bubbles, splashes of water and smoke consist of studs with different filters applied to make them appear transparent or fiery. It may seem like a small detail, but when you play this game and then go back to previous LEGO games where large pieces of architecture are textured polygonal objects like any other video game, you will immediately notice the difference and lament the fact that this engine is the exception rather than the standard. There is even something about the way the world and characters are animated that is more LEGO-like than ever before.

Also adding to the LEGO playroom experience is the diversity of the character cast. Previous games have been tied down to specific licensed playsets so there hasn’t been any room for crossover experimentation. But since the movie is all about the creativity that comes when playset instructions are tossed aside and bricks and minifigs from different worlds are combined, gamers finally have the opportunity to run wild with minifig dream teams consisting of superheroes, legends of fantasy, historical figures, and an assortment of other common figures like firefighters, knights, plumbers, robots, swamp creatures and ninjas. There is just something so magical about running around in a virtual LEGO world switching back and forth between Batman, Superman, Gandalf, Abraham Lincoln, Cleopatra, Shakespeare and, of course, the Unikitty. And as always, each character has a unique ability or two that come in handy for overcoming obstacles. Superman can fly and use his eye lasers to cut through golden LEGOs. Batman can throw his Batarang at targets or latch onto hooks with his grapple gun. Emmet’s arsenal of construction tools allow him to repair broken objects with a wrench or demolish marked surfaces using a jackhammer. Female characters like Wyldstyle are gifted acrobats capable of climbing walls, swinging from poles, and leaping higher into the air. Wizards like Gandalf and Vitruvius can create pole swings with theirs staves or crack open secret doors by following QTE prompts. I think you get the idea here.

While the open world ambitions of recent LEGO games have been dialed back a bit and certain mechanics sort of play down to a younger audience — I’m mainly referring to a grossly overused hacking mini-game that apes Pac-Man with a LEGO aesthetic, as well as a rhythm mini-game that serves no other purpose than to cram the “Everything is Awesome” theme song further down your throat — there is plenty of content here that stands on its own merits as a videogame, apart from the licensed tie-ins. The 15 levels should take the average player at least six hours; however the story alone only amounts to around a third of the total completion percentage. Anyone attempting to achieve 100% completion is likely looking at upwards of 15 hours or more to find all gold bricks, red cheat bricks, instruction manuals and minifig pants, as well as bank the heaping stash of studs it will take to unlock all 90 some odd playable characters. (For reference, I’ve put in nine hours of play time and only have a little more than 40% completion.)

It’s just a shame that there isn’t a centralized level selection menu. Post-story freeplay and collectible hunting is arguably the most fun part of the game, as it often is in the other LEGO titles, but having to retrace steps back to the individual level beacons quickly grows tiresome–especially since the loading screens between hub worlds tend to hang around just long enough to try your patience. Having achieved 100% stud collection on all but a few stages, it has been a total pain backtracking the hubs trying to find the starting points for those levels. Why can’t I simply hit the pause button or visit some in-game console device to see collectible status across each level, and then immediately replay the level of my choosing from there?

Bungled design choices like this are unfortunate inconveniences, but lack of polish, like always, is the game’s greatest flaw. With so many LEGO games under their belt I am once again extremely disappointed in Warner Bros. and TT Games for their seemingly lackadaisical approach to proper quality assurance. Sadly, this game does absolutely nothing to curb the long trend of poorly polished LEGO games. Characters still get hung up on the environment, or stuck in respawn loops over ledges causing multiple deaths in a row until the loop magically breaks. Companions are still brain dead when playing single player (many times they literally will stand around completely motionless), as if the focus on cooperative family play led the developers to not even bother coding functional artificial intelligence. Studs and health pick-ups still routinely splash out of the playing area and become impossible to collect, which is particularly annoying when you miss collecting 100% studs on a level by mere percentage points. Contextual button prompts still fail to register at times, or overlap one another, making it difficult to choose the action you want to. Gravest of all, the game has a strong potential for crashing. The game has outright frozen my PS3 on three occasions, and a couple other times I encountered weird glitches that left the game inoperable until I would quit back to the XMB and boot back in. In all of these instances, I lost progress and had to replay portions of a level.

It’s really unfortunate that the same old technical malfunctions once again mar another otherwise delightful LEGO game. The bugs aren’t serious enough to ruin the experience by any means (the easygoing nature of these games definitely lessens the impact when a bug strikes), it’s just dumbfounding to me that the same well documented flaws have gone unaddressed for nearly a decade and somewhere in the ballpark of a dozen games or more. At this point it just doesn’t even seem like there is any use in complaining because clearly there is greater urgency in pumping out game after game in short development cycles that, in fairness, probably don’t afford TT Games much opportunity to squash all of these bugs.

Even with the recurring glitches, the good news here is that the game itself is an absolute joy to play. The fact that it isn’t limited to a specific playset license means that this is pretty much the only LEGO game that doesn’t require a vested interest in the property it’s based on. The LEGO Movie Videogame isn’t merely a good movie game, it is a true celebration of the LEGO creative spirit and the diverse catalog of the iconic minifigure. While other games in the series have been more ambitious in scale, on pure LEGO charm and authenticity this game has all the others beat.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Game world made out of LEGO bricks from top to bottom
+ Diverse and wacky roster of playable minifigs
+ Tons of footage and voice overs straight from the movie
+ Instruction Build sequences capture the childhood wonder of LEGO construction

Cons:
– Another unpolished, bug-riddled LEGO game
– Hub and level selection could be more intuitive
– If I hear “Everything is Awesome” one more time I am going to vomit

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS3, also available for 3DS, PC, PS4, Vita, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Publisher: Warner Bros.
Developer: TT Games
Release Date: 2/7/2014
Genre: Family action-adventure
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1-2 (local co-op only)
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!