Everything is … pretty good. Mostly.
At the beginning of the third act of The Lego Movie: The Video Game, I felt a moment of elation that mirrored the underlying and ebullient message of the game’s parent film. After playing for several hours with acrobats, wizards, talking unicorn-cats and the goddamned Batman, I was placed in command of regular Lego people – a firefighter, Gail the female construction worker and her co-worker, the main character Emmet.
Using the abilities of these three everyday-type characters in tandem felt great. I was analyzing the environment, putting out fires, and building a crane – all while a Lego robot army was trying to destroy the town. We were regular, normal folk using our wits and tools to overcome the impossible – and if that isn’t part of The Lego Movie’s edifying message, I don’t know what is.
The Lego Movie-Game follows the plot of the film to a tee, so for a better grasp you might want to read Andrew’s review on this page right here. To be brief: you play Emmet, a completely unremarkable construction worker in Bricksburg who circuitously finds himself in possession of the Piece of Resistance, something of a holy idol for a band of rebels including Hit Girl/Trinity mashup Wyldstyle and Morgan Freeman-as-sage Vitruvius.
The three join forces with other heroes, misfits, and weirdos against Lord Business, whose nefarious plan centres around freezing every Lego-ite with krazy glue out of his love of conformity and hate of imagination. If Lego and Ubisoft join forces for an Assassin’s Creed crossover, Lord Business would be the top Templar.
What that means is The Lego Movie-Game ends up more traditional than its wickedly subversive fiction might suggest. You’ll be controlling multiple characters throughout the game’s story mode, directly controlling one and switching between them as necessary. You’ll be bonking enemy Lego soldiers and hapless pieces of furniture to bits, solving environmental puzzles and building contraptions in Lego to get to the end of the level.
The game gives you a lot of toys to play with, and you may have up to six or seven characters at a time, each with a different ability. Emmet the skilled tradesperson can repair mechanical contraptions with his wrench; Wyldstyle can jump and climb with Prince of Persia-like agility; and Batman uses his signature grapple gun and batarangs.
It’s pretty impressive how every character’s abilities feel different, although some end up more enjoyable than others. Benny, the vaguely unhinged space pilot, can hack computer terminals by playing a Pac-Man analogue that gets boring after a few tries, but you’ll have to do it a couple dozen times before the end of the game.
Batman fares the best here, since his grapple gun works exactly the same way as in the Arkham Asylum games: target a grappling point, then mash the button to pull a lever or dismantle an enemy’s weak point. It’s a small detail, but the consistency is appreciated. Thanks, WB Entertainment brand synergy.
Near the middle of the game, the multiple gimmicks start to wear thin, since the environments will require you to use everyone’s abilities at some point. That sounds like fun, and it’s pretty great to see the idea of comradeship and teamwork play itself out, but in execution that means while you get to use one new character’s ability for the first time in a level, that also means using every other characters’ abilities, which you’ve used dozens of times in the past, more and more times again.
Later in the third act the storyline throws some things in the air, though, and the gameplay freshens itself up considerably.
It seems like a no-brainer in retrospect, but putting a construction worker front and centre in a Lego game is brilliant. Good with a wrench and trained at following instruction manuals, Emmet’s abilities are frequently used to take apart the environment and build new contraptions. A mini-game has you searching for a single Lego piece to finish each stage of construction, adequately replicating the frustration of searching a pile of real-life pieces for that final bit.
Characters with the Master Builder trait take it to another level, literally ripping apart the landscape and even hapless stunned enemies to build the next crucial plot device for you to advance. Putting so much emphasis on building structures, as well as breaking them apart in chaotic rampages, feels very Lego-like even if in gameplay terms you’re pulling off basic platforming and puzzle elements.
A perfect fit
What more can I say about the storyline? Pulling the movie’s plot and characters wholesale means you’ve got an incredibly personable cast with a fantastic team of voice actors behind them. Areas like Bricksburg, the Old West, and Cloud Cuckoo Land appear just as you’d imagine them, with the added ability to explore and pick apart the bricks they’re made out of.
The levels are bound by several free-roaming sections, so after finishing the game’s story mode you’ve got hours more of puzzles to solve in the hunt for special items like instruction manuals and gold bricks. It’s a toybox in as literal a sense as you can get, allowing the player to linger in the areas you might have seen only in passing in the film.
The amount of unlockable characters, unlockable items and incomprehensibly elaborate puzzles mean you can play for a dozen hours more after finishing the final mission – after playing through the story mode my file only listed 28.1% completion, and I can’t wait to pick apart the entire game searching for its hidden secrets. It’s a particular itch that only a few games in the genre, such as the original Donkey Kong Country trilogy, got right and The Lego Movie-Game pulls it off very well.
From a technical standpoint, the game is competent but doesn’t dazzle. The varied levels and setting all look wonderful but things can get a little confusing with multi-coloured bricks flying in every direction. Voices and sound effects are drowned out by the background music and don’t pop or crunch in the eardrums like you’d expect an exploding pile of Lego to “feel.” Platforming is mostly okay until you try to venture out of the medium-sized sandboxes: at that point a bunch of invisible walls will either box you in or leave you sliding off the side of a pirate ship and to your shark-infested doom.
The Wii U version sadly doesn’t include any integration of the GamePad even though this would have been the perfect game to do so. Highlighting areas of the map for your master builder skill, or picking the right piece when reading an instruction manual could have worked beautifully on the touch screen, and you can’t use the pad’s screen to play: a big static “Look at the TV” message is broadcast instead.
As someone who hasn’t played any previous Lego video games, and has yet to see the related film and franchise tentpole, I am either the worst target demographic for The Lego Movie-Game, or the best one. Because after finishing its story mode, I immediately want to watch it on the big screen and buy between three to six of its related Lego building sets.
It’s fun, doubly so with local multiplayer and without the ruthless competition of the New Super Mario Bros. games. It’s perfect for good-hearted co-operative play with the family, especially if you’ve got young kids to distract from asking you to actually buy the dozens of related tie-in Lego merchandise.