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April 19, 2014

Xbox One Review – The Lego Movie Videogame (2014)

by Master Pillow

The Lego Movie Videogame isn’t exactly as “awesome” as the movie it is based on as the entire experience feels incredibly less-ambitious than previous titles but there is still fun to be had although the franchise really is in need of a large injection of what made the film so beloved – creativity.

The best way to describe The Lego Movie Videogame is this – your level of enjoyment is inversely proportional to how many of these games you have played.  Novices to the Lego videogames might find this to be the bee’s knees and happily devour every second without question while long-time veterans who have played many Lego titles might come away feeling a strong sense of déjà vu as there’s nothing here they haven’t seen before.

In The Lego Movie Videogame, players take control of a steadily increasing roster of characters from protagonist Emmet to Wildstyle, Batman, Benny and Vitruvius.  Each character comes with special moves that are unique, meaning players will need to constantly switch who they are controlling in order to solve the game’s many simple puzzles.  As an example, being a construction worker, Emmet is always equipped with a drill so he can break open cracks in the wall or plough through concrete sidewalks.  In comparison, Wildstyle has the ability to jump higher as well as being able to access certain wall mounts that allow here to essentially climb vertically.

While these special powers allow each character to be distinct the puzzles themselves are far too easy to solve with only one obvious solution.  If there is a crack in the wall players have to use Emmet and if a computer needs to be hacked it has to be Benny.  In other words, there’s precious little thought involved in solving anything and though this approach works for young kids it becomes rote and mundane for more experienced gamers.

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In fact the entire Lego series of games is obviously geared to younger players but what initially made the series well-loved by all was the overall sense of humour as well as the way in which it properly utilized the license.  The movie totally nailed presenting the IP because it understood what made it so universally loved and incorporated that into every frame of the film.  The videogames did this as well by emphasizing certain elements in the toy line like purposely wrecking Lego objects so that characters could build something new.  However, in terms of level design or puzzles the games are anything but creative as the lack of multiple solutions or different paths is incredibly constricting.

Puzzle solving is only one aspect of gameplay as most of the time players will be tasked with simple platform jumping or merely running around each level trying to pick up small Lego pieces that count as the game’s currency.   Make no mistake, The Lego Movie Videogame, like other Lego franchise titles is filled with tons of collectibles and much of the fun comes in exploring every nook and cranny to discover hidden objects.  Newcomers will find that this adds immensely to the overall game time but it has to be said that this mechanic is really starting to age as this marks the umpteenth Lego game that forces players to spend hours essentially grinding by picking up bricks or discovering hidden items.

Finding items and picking up bricks allow new characters or vehicles to be unlocked but aside from their physical appearance, none really adds any unique abilities as these are all features of the main characters.  Finishing the campaign should take about 10-12 hours and most gamers who rush will end up with about a 30% completion rate.  That means that there’s a massive 70% of the game left to complete and it will take many additional hours to finish which gives the game a ton of replay value although the bulk of this time will be spent merely revisiting levels over and over again.

The game’s low level of difficulty carries over to the actual combat as the heroes face off against Lord Business’ forces including a ton of robot cops as well as flying micro-managers.  Most characters are only really armed with their fists and engage in melee battles with the enemies while others like Benny at least come with some sort of pistol/laser.  However, there’s no real danger at all as players can’t “die” as losing all health will only result in a Lego character disintegrating into its component parts only to be magically resurrected a few moments later with no detrimental after effects besides losing a few bricks of currency.

In other words, The Lego Movie Videogame plays it incredibly safe, taking the core gameplay concepts seen in the gaming franchise and merely glossing them over with graphics inspired by the film.  Those gamers expecting something fresh, like what is considered to be the best Lego game ever, Lego City Undercover, will be incredibly disappointed.  Gone is the huge Grand Theft Auto-inspired open world of that game as well as the superlative narrative that pokes fun at many cultural pop icons.  The Lego Movie Videogame is therefore, guilty of being like other movie tie-ins by essentially following the film’s plot to a fault and it leaves very little room to the imagination. The hallmark Lego game humour is certainly diluted here and the witty banter between characters often misses the mark.

The game was released day and date with the feature film since it contains a ton of cutscenes lifted straight from the film.  Those who have not seen the movie should be warned that playing the game will certainly ruin your experience as it contains virtually all the relevant plot points and twists.  However, the use of real film footage is indeed a hit or miss affair as it allows developer Traveler’s Tales to get a bit lazy and instead of organically connecting the levels together they merely throw footage on screen in an attempt to connect the dots.  As an added bonus, these various cutscenes from the film can be accessed and re-watched later in the game at any time.

To their credit, Traveler’s Tales attempt to at least try and expand on the narrative by showing certain sequences that did not take place in the film but by and large these don’t really work as well as intended.  For instance, one level has Emmet, Wildstyle and Vitruvius attempting to escape Bad Cop’s forces in the Wild West.  In the movie this was an action highlight as the trio utilized their creativity to build Lego vehicles and equipment to thwart Bad Cop and the same is true in the game but it does so with an incredibly tensionless manner as the level just drones on far longer than it should essentially letting the pace sag.

This incredibly uneven rhythm really comes to the fore in a later undersea level where developer Traveler’s Tales decides to mix up the usual gameplay with what amounts to be a rote underwater sequence where characters need to breathe oxygen from bubbles while avoiding electric eels.  Not only is this rather unoriginal but the actual swimming is slow as molasses making traversing the entire board feel like a giant slog.

Considering that The Lego Movie Videogame released on every imaginable gaming platform available from the Xbox One/PS4 to the PS3/Xbox 360, Vita, 3DS and PC one expects that massive compromises had to be made to ensure the game made its debut with the movie and that is exactly true.  Though the game certainly sports clean, crisp textures on the Xbox One there’s absolutely nothing here beyond those elements that scream next-generation.  It would have been good to see some added effects for the Xbox One, PS4 or PC over the Xbox 360/PS3 versions but alas there’s nothing readily apparent.

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At the same time there are a few points where it becomes obvious that the game is not at all optimized for the Xbox One as there are numerous bugs where characters become stuck in the environment and even some dreaded slow down.  Yes, slow down.  This is easily seen in a Pac-Man inspired minigame where a brick with Benny’s face needs to “eat” other Lego blocks while avoiding a few enemies.  There’s absolutely nothing here that should in any way impact the Xbox One’s hardware yet the entire minigame is prone to slowdown for no apparent reason.  This is totally exasperating since one might expect this to occur on a huge open world area where the player can see far into the distance yet this is essentially a Pac-Man clone that in no way should cause issues.

As for the bugs they aren’t game breaking but it’s also frustrating when characters inexplicable latch onto the environment with no avenue of escape.  Oftentimes a simple switch to another character allows gamers to progress but there were also a few instances when I was left with no choice but to restart from a checkpoint.  Hopefully, the game can be patched to remove many of these annoyances.

Movie to video game adaptations have always had an awful reputation as being nothing more than cheap cash-ins that suffer from a plethora of reasons chief being the much shorter development schedule that is beholden to the film’s release date rather than to making a quality product.  The Lego Movie Videogame does manage to buck that trend just because it utilizes the core gameplay that has long since been pioneered and iterated upon in countless previous entries in the series.  That’s certainly a good thing but the game’s extreme linearity really does betray the shortened development cycle especially when compared to Lego City: Undercover.

To accentuate this point, while the entire movie’s voice cast seems to be here in the game, the musical score is not from film composer Mark Mothersbaugh but is instead replaced by awfully generic tunes that really feel like they are streaming from the worst elevator muzak station.  The lack of the original soundtrack is actually very noticeable as it renders many of the film’s cutscenes rather emotionally inert a fact all the more pertinent as the movie sound effects are also noticeably absent.

Developer Traveller’s Tales really showed what they could do with the Lego license in Lego City Undercover when they weren’t shackled with short development times or being beholden to a set narrative but alas The Lego Movie Videogame has really placed them in a creative straightjacket.  Although the gameplay remains solid it doesn’t really set itself apart from other entries in the franchise and though this might be good enough for many fans of the film it clearly comes nowhere close to being “awesome.”

**1/2 out of ****

Developer: Traveller’’s Tales (TT)

Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

Released US: 02/07/2014

Released EU: 02/14/2014

© 2014 The Galactic Pillow

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