Thursday, August 18, 2011

Total Studs and Total Duds: A Review of the LEGO Movie Games

Today's post comes from none other than returning guest writer Neko-chan, who is also engaged to half of the writers of this blog.

As readers will know, Nathaniel and I have been playing through the various LEGO Movie games as a couple. Now, LEGOs are something that he and I both cherish. We both have our respective collections, we both get excited every time we pass by a LEGO store, and he even proposed with LEGOs, so of course we were going to buy and play through each LEGO video game together, especially since these games are based around some of our most-loved fandoms.

To date, we have completed Star Wars I+II, slogged through all of Indiana Jones, and have played a few hours' worth of Batman. You would think that each game would improve upon the last, keeping the things that worked, and touching up the things what needed fixing, but unfortunately that has not been the case.

LEGO Star Wars I+II

Plot: Broken into two sagas (on the GameCube; combined into one complete saga on the Wii), the Star Wars games follow a condensed and oh-my-gosh-kids-can’t-see-violence-let’s-make-it-funny-instead version of each movie from the original epic through the less-than-satisfying third prequel.

Characters: Fans get to play as all of their favorite characters, and even the secondary characters are unique and interesting to look at. Sure, there are a few more Stormtroopers than necessary, but the fact you can play as a Jedi with force powers, an evil Sith Lord, a crossbow-shooting Wookiee, a bomb-throwing bounty hunter, or a robot that can fly, totally makes up for any extraneous characters. You can also use the character editor to customize your own character using costume parts and weapons from any character you have unlocked thus far.

This is a very family-friendly game. Level designs are just interesting enough to offer multiple pathways, exploration, and a decent challenge, but not so confusing that you are often at a loss for where to go. Aside from the usual running around and attacking enemies, there are simple puzzles, a little bit of minor platform jumping, some swerve-and-dodge podracing scenes, and a few chances to blow up starships with other starships. As you play, you can attack plants and other destructible background items to earn “studs” (coins), which can be spent to unlock characters, hints, and game modifications that either make playing the game easier or sillier.

Most moderately-okay gamers should have no problems with the difficulty level, and even the worst players can join in and have fun. You are granted infinite lives, so if your character dies you just respawn in place, losing nothing but studs and pride. Also, the game gives hints in the form of arrows if you are unsure what to do with a particular object you have picked up.

As with all of the LEGO Movie games, there are two modes–“Story Mode” and “Free Play.” In story mode, you get humorous cut-scenes, and can only play through levels with the characters indigenous to that scenario. In Free Play mode, you can replay through levels with characters of your choosing in order to unlock secrets and bonus areas that were inaccessible, or that you missed, on the first playthrough. In effect, this gives you infinite “do-overs” and the ability to keep racking up in-game currency, so eventually players of any skill level will be able to beat the game, having unlocked and collected every secret.

The game is allegedly designed for two-players. Certain puzzles need two characters to simultaneously pull switches or attack targets, and certain boss battles require cooperative strategies to win. Both players have independent control of their characters, so each player has the free ability to attack, interact with objects, or collect studs. However, due to screen limitations, the characters can only run so far apart. This means that if one player decides to explore the far side of the screen, and the other is standing on a platform, the second character will be dragged along and most likely fall into a pit of despair.

Also, the camera angles on two-player mode are awful. For certain levels, the camera is not only skewed, but is zoomed out so far that it is almost impossible to accurately judge platform edges or to distinguish objects from one another. Players must alternately drop in and out of one-player mode to zoom the camera far enough in for detail, and for many sections of the game it is simply easier for the second player to drop out entirely.

Gimmicks: In these games, each character has a specific weapon or ability; for instance, some characters can use Force powers, and others can high-jump or use specialty weapons or computer terminals. The abilities are built-in and inherent to that type of character. Certain secrets require a specific ability to unlock, so if you see a control console in story mode, and don’t have a droid in your party, you know you will have to come back later in free play to get in.

There are also hat disguises that you can get from random hat dispensers, which allow you to sneak through enemy territory and bypass checkpoints. In Free Play mode you will have characters that are automatically equipped with these disguises, but in story mode it can be a pain because a single hit from an enemy removes the disguise, and then you have to wander halfway back through the level to re-equip one.

Bonuses: There are numerous secrets to unlock as you play and replay through levels. Some secrets involve unlocking game modifications, some unlock bonus missions or cut-scenes, and some are merely for fun or decoration. There is a percentage counter that lets you know how much of the game you have unlocked, and you can see at the start of each level which bonuses you have yet to clear. Almost every secret is worth going for, and the rewards you get, either in awesomeness or in laughs, are proportional to the effort you put in.

LEGO Indiana Jones

Plot: I don’t know many American children who didn’t at one point run around the house pretending to be Indiana Jones. He is an iconic figure, and I was super-excited for this game to come out, if only for the chance to play as him and destroy everything on the screen with a whip. However, this game somehow managed to capture the events of the movies while removing any sense of excitement or adventure.

Characters: There are really only a handful of characters in the game. Besides Indy, Short Round, Sallah, Indy’s dad, the female love interest du jour, and the guy with the yak on his head, every other character in the game was a generic thug, a generic thuggee, a guy in a uniform, or a screaming female. There were far more palette-swaps than original characters, and it wasn’t worth raising the in-game currency to unlock them, as they did not add any new abilities or visual interest.

Gameplay: This game had the same problems with camera angles that the first games had, and compounded those issues with non-coherent level pathways that made it difficult to figure out not only where we were supposed to go, but how to get from point A to point B in the first place. This game was also heavily glitched, crashing at random points that caused you to lose an entire level’s worth of gameplay, having places where you could literally fall of the map of the level or fall into areas you shouldn’t have been able to get to...and then there was the infamous “elephant drop.” [Editor's note: Don't ask.]

Additionally, certain sections popped you directly into a cut-scene if your timing was off, making it nearly impossible to collect a few of the secrets. Furthermore, a couple of the boss battles are illogical to the point where Nathaniel and I had to use a walkthrough to figure out what in tarnation we were supposed to be doing. Moreover, it was difficult to determine which of the secrets we could get in story mode, and which we would have to go back and get in free play, because it so often looked like we should be able to make a jump or get to an area when in fact the bounding boxes made it impossible. Finally, this is a poorly designed game that will result in fights and one of you sleeping on the couch.

Gimmicks: LEGO Indy uses a tool system. A character can carry one tool at a time, and certain characters are always equipped with a specific tool such as a wrench or a shovel. During story mode, you must bribe monkeys with bananas in exchange for tools, and sometimes you will find a tool randomly on the ground; however, whatever tool you procure will not be necessary until more than halfway through the level, so if you accidentally drop it, or decide to take your chances by picking up a different tool instead, you must then run all the way back to the beginning to get another one, but most of the time it is no longer available and you are out of luck. Free Play is more tolerable because you can choose to have the proper tool-bearer with you if you know in advance which tool the level requires.

They also added torches, which usually burn themselves out in-between when you pick one up and when you find what you are supposed to use it on, so you have to go back and wait for the flame to respawn. This is a joyful process in battles than require fire, especially when you try to throw your torch and miss.

Oh, and they kept the hat system, but took away the dispensers, because a whole level built around scrambling through piles of random drops that disappear within 10 seconds of hitting the ground is fun.

Bonuses: Most of the useful bonuses require you to beat story mode, go back through each level in free play, find a random block, run to and fro through the level looking for a hidden postal box, mail the block, complete the level, run back to the in-game store, realize you don’t have enough money to unlock it, and cry. Almost all of the other bonuses are not worth getting. There are a few cameos that make you pine for the first two games, there is one cameo that is just strange (and glitched), and the bonus missions are simply not fun to the point that we gave up on achieving 100% completion.

LEGO Batman

Plot: Seeing as there is so much source material to draw from, this game does not seem to be following any particular movie, TV plot, or comic, but rather is extrapolating a plot in accordance with the spirit of the characters and the setting of Gotham.

Characters: You play as Batman and Robin. If you play far enough, you can unlock a few of the villains, but otherwise, you play as Batman and Robin. This should feel limiting, but somehow it wouldn’t feel right to play as anyone else. [Editor's note: Except Batgirl! Maybe we haven't met her yet.]

Gameplay: The camera angles continue to be a problem, and in fact, I think they got worse. Also, the designers made each level dark and foggy to fit in with the feel and aesthetic of Gotham, which is nice in theory, but makes it less playable when you are trying to see the edge of a tiny platform stretching between rooftops. However, this game seems to be easier and more straightforward than the first three as far as level design paths and boss battles go, and ::cross our fingers:: so far it has not been glitchy. It is also really fun and satisfying to wave the Wiimote around and Batarang everything on the screen, which I guess makes up for not being able to see what you are Bataranging.

Gimmicks: Instead of special abilities or tools, Batman and Robin have special suits. Scattered throughout the levels are teleporter platforms that allow you to switch suits, gaining new abilities like gliding, tech panel control, magnetic metal-walking, and janitorial dustbustering. Most of them are fun, and it is incredibly obvious where you are supposed to use each one, but Robin’s dustbuster suit can be annoying when you have to backtrack through the level picking up random blocks, and then backtrack even further to find the machine to dump them into, so you can then build a vehicle that you have to ride halfway across the level with, just to unlock one secret.

We have not unlocked all of the villains yet, but it seems like each one has some sort of ability related to their superpowers, as is to be expected. The Riddler is actually quite fun to play as because they gave him Yoda’s staff-physics in addition to mind-control powers. Good times.

Bonuses: It seems as if there are almost too many things to simultaneously unlock. I’m not sure what the rewards will be for our efforts, but so far we have unlocked a few bonus missions, have access to the villains’ lair, have a couple of less-than-but-not-equal-to-good game modifications, and have picked up a couple of different suits and vehicles. We have also collected a few different styles of LEGO minikit components, but at this point it remains to see what they will build.

Right now, LEGO Star Wars I+II are still reigning supreme. We genuinely had fun on each and every level, despite some bad camera angles. LEGO Indiana Jones had some enjoyable moments strung together by many moments of pain and frustration and boredom, but I’m still glad we stuck with it and gave it a chance, even if it didn’t really deserve one. LEGO Batman is shaping up to be mindlessly fun in that, “I want to satisfyingly smash something after a long day” kind of way, but it doesn’t have the presence or the atmosphere that Star Wars did. I think that is part of it.

As much as LEGO Indy and LEGO Batman try, neither one has really captured the feel of being in the world of its subject, neither one fully engages the imagination. Hopefully we’ll have better luck with LEGO Harry Potter, LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean, and LEGO Star Wars: The Clone Wars, but it seems the more I play through LEGO Batman, the more I want to go back and replay the Star Wars I+II.


JoeReviewer said...

Whatever you do DON'T get the 3DS Clone Wars. That game was incredibly dull, as all the "puzzles" were: Hey, what character does this? The upgrades are kinda lackluster, and basicly just make it so you get more studs. And the only charater worth using to fight is a Jedi, since they are literally invincible as long as you keep tapping the attack button and kill about everything in one hit.

But then again, you two might not even have a 3DS, and this rant would then be pointless.

Flashman85 said...

The fun of the LEGO games is playing them on a full-sized TV screen with another person, so I don't see myself getting the game for the 3DS, or getting a 3DS in the first place, for that matter. I heard good things about the Wii version, though...