This review is based on the Xbox One version of The LEGO Movie Videogame.
Movie tie-in games with movies (and less frequently, television series) are generally a mess for video game developers. There is a huge opportunity for businesses financially and gamers on the narrative and entertainment fronts to get more of a world that interests them, but it often ends up as a creatively damaged and critically panned mess: the gaming industry has reached a point where even blockbuster movies have a mobile or free to play game at most as an interactive entertainment companion piece of content, rather than rush out another fully priced but under developed game.
The LEGO Movie Videogame is the first game in a very long time that has impressed me as a complete entertainment experience in and of itself, that also enriches the movie experience. There were a lot of circumstances in its favour: a long standing game premise and base mechanics that originated nearly a decade ago with the first LEGO Star Wars, an even longer history of affinity for the LEGO brand of brick toys with millions of fans and substantial use of the content and talents behind the movie in the game.
If you have played a LEGO adventure game before, you know what’s going on here. The player gets to control one or more characters from level to level with a variety of objects to build, destroy, activate and use to navigate from point to point while fully immersed in the LEGO world. Single round studs are still everywhere as the in-game currency, a huge selection of characters reside in every level for collection and a bunch of powerful upgrades such as red bricks which can multiply collected stud values or detect hidden collectibles can be acquired by completing a variety of challenges. Basic actions such as jumping, climbing and swinging around the levels are paired with the ability to construct tools such as ladders, switches and launching pads to get past a series of checkpoints. Special character abilities like Batman and Wonder Woman’s grappling hook/lasso for various hooks or a robot’s ability to hack computer terminals will also come in handy, and the new distinction between regular and master builders (a shout out to the real folks at LEGO who design and create their most ambitious designs) place an additional importance on using the most powerful building minifigs such as Vitruvius to get through the levels.
What sets this game apart from the tried and true format is the vast variety of intellectual property used for the broadest set of characters ever: the stars of the movie such as Emmet and Wyldstyle are paired with the heroes of the DC universe, classic philosophers and artists, seemingly randomly selected figures from smaller sets (shout out to Ice Cream Mike!) and more with all of the major voice actors from the movie providing their talents for custom dialogue as well. The combination of movie clips used before and after each chapter keeps the narrative consistent with the movie, and the surprisingly deeply library of voice work from the likes of Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman and Will Ferrell add a lot of life to the game specific narrative and jokes.
I want to be careful about describing a plot that ties in directly to a movie that just came out in theatres, but it definitely takes the same journey as the film while streamlining it to pace the game. It nails the careful balance of allowing the brilliant, charming and delightful film to take the narrative lead while keeping the game moving at a brisk pace from level to level and giving it the freedom to add levels and boss battles that aren’t in lockstep with the movie. More than any of the previous LEGO experiences from TT Games, this game draws upon its audience’s history with and reverence for the Danish toy maker’s brand of interchangeable bricks as well as its modern renaissance with licensed sets, paired with a childhood fondness and/or an adult appreciation for the different types of fun that the toys can offer. In my case, it speaks to me deeply as a gamer who has loved their toys my entire life: I still buy new sets on a semi-regular basis so that I can pair them in the kind of pseudo-fiction that singular officially licensed sets will not provide (LEGO HULK SMASH PUNY SUPERMAN), but this game comes awfully close when you get to create fun pairings like Green Lantern and Gandalf or Shakespeare with a rocket launcher carrying robot SWAT officer. If this game really takes off and TT Games continues to acquire additional licenses to its overall group of creative worlds who buy into the LEGO video game universe, I hope to one day get the kind of dream pairing like Michelangelo the artist (already in the game) and Michelangelo the Ninja Turtle (a joke made in the movie but not currently possible in the game) as additional downloadable content!
The LEGO Movie Videogame faced the same challenge as its movie tie-in: can it create an interesting and worthwhile experience on its own, while tying in to the mass market movie that it connects with? On that front, it delivers a satisfying experience by creating a pragmatic and fair balance of corporate interests and an authentic gaming experience for those who know and love the LEGO style of games from TT Games. There’s nothing here that creates a sea change in video gaming or even substantial changes to the longstanding franchise paradigm, but fans of the movie or the previous games will have an awesome time with a game designed both by and for passionate LEGO fans.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars