Wot I Think: The LEGO Movie Videogame

By John Walker on February 10th, 2014 at 9:00 pm.

Traveller’s Tales have been on a real run lately, knocking it out of the park with Lego Marvel Super Heroes, Lego Lord Of The Rings and Lego Batman 2. So a game based on a movie about people made of Lego? What more could they want? Well, a lot more movie, perhaps a trilogy, for a start. Here’s wot I think of The Lego Movie Videogame:

The Lego Movie is a wonderful film. Bursting with joy, and a near-angrily passionate desire to implore the audience to listen to its message of imagination, it manages to be extraordinarily funny while also utterly sincere. I adored it, for its combination of a message that means so much to me – cling on to your imagination with every bit of your strength, and don’t let adulthood take it from you – with jokes that made me laugh until I hurt.

The Lego Movie Videogame is perhaps the first time in a long while I’d suggest skipping a Traveller’s Tale Lego game.

As far as direct games of movies go, it’s up there with the best. Because there are about four of them in all of history that aren’t utter bumguts. But in the lineage of TT’s infinite series, it’s not one of their best. And that’s not wholly their fault.

When TT gets hold of a juicy trilogy, like The Lord Of The Rings, Star Wars, Harry Potter, or a fictional world with decades of content like Marvel or DC, then they are like kids in a ball pit, flying things everywhere. But as fantastic as The Lego Movie is, it’s 100 minutes of one narrow storyline. It really isn’t the sort of pool from which the studio draws their best.

But wow, they work hard with what they’ve got. Massively embellishing on the film, scenes that might last ten minutes at the cinema can offer two or three complete levels of half an hour each, and a fully explorable hub section. And it really doesn’t feel like they’re stretching things thin to do it – instead, they’ve just invented a bunch of new events, new sequences, that the film doesn’t have. And to make that work, they’ve gathered themselves an exquisite collection of soundalikes to seamlessly throw in huge chunks more dialogue. (With perhaps the exception of whoever is doing Will Arnett’s Batman, who misses the mark a touch. Although whoever’s doing Will Ferrell sounds more like him than Ferrell himself, who’s oddly subdued in the film.) They even manage to work a “shark repellent” reference in for the Batser.

However, the game is certainly at its weakest when it is replicating the film. Using a really quite surprising amount of direct footage, for some reason presented in grainy, low res cutscenes, they attempt to match every moment of the movie between their imagined fleshing out. And here you end up with things like overlong chase sequences, or the most misguided attempt at a rhythm action dance sequence, awkwardly trying to bend the already limited engine into scenes it can’t quite deliver.

There’s another weird response I had to the stretches of film footage. (Which, it should be said, is very poorly edited to shorten various scenes.) It made me realise what the TT Lego games are not: Legoey. While people certainly moan that they’d like a Lego game that lets them properly build out of Lego blocks, TT’s games have done a lovely job of creating smashable and buildable words, crafted from the stock of recognisable Lego pieces. But what The Lego Movie does is show how much better it could be done. With its faux-stop-motion style, and realistic-looking plastic, it made me yearn for TT to update the design they’ve been running with since 2005.

But more importantly for me, the game worryingly abandons the main thing that makes the film so special. A story of an ordinary guy becoming a hero is one heck of a cliché, making it all the more stunning how differently it’s delivered by this film. The Lego Movie approaches the topic with a hefty amount of satire, featuring a central character for whom the script shows genuine contempt. His blandness, his blank-faced acceptance of banality, loving the ghastly music his radio station tells him to love, watching the pisspoor sitcom his television tells him is great – you can almost hear the sneer. Emmet, the poor thing, is a dullard, brainwashed by the mediocrity of modern life. The Lego Movie is an attempt to reach out of the screen and shake you by the collar and shout, “WAKE UP! THINK FOR YOURSELF!” (Which is no small feat for what really amounts to an hour and ten minutes-long Lego advert.) A theme that has been meticulously extracted from the game, to the point of concern.

The Lego Movie is about tearing up the instructions that come with a box of Lego, and making something that represents you from the pieces. The Lego Movie Videogame has hidden instruction booklets in every level, that must be gathered in order that they can be used to create the devices needed for progress. The irony of this is pretty galling. It’s fairly tragic. Here there’s no criticism of Emmett, beyond what couldn’t be extracted from included scenes due to other major plot points. And entirely gone is the Man Upstairs, which if you’ve seen the film, you’ll understand to be a fairly devastating reveal and core element to exclude. It’s almost as if the film managed to get away with its maverick messages, but the game couldn’t share the same fortune. While I imagine all the decisions were made purely to make the game run smoothly, it feels like an act of censorship – where the film was telling kids and adults to abandon the instructions given to them, and to write their own, the game just says: follow the instructions until it’s over.

Perhaps you won’t care about that as much as me. But I think everyone will be more likely to care about how long it takes for the game to find its feet. The first couple of hours are Lego games at their weakest, horribly like those worst Lego Indiana Jones levels. But by the time you’ve got through the really generic Wild West section, and reach Cloud Cuckoo Land, it really does come to life. Here their imagination becomes very impressive, far outstripping even what the film did with such a berserk and surreal exaggeration of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic and its ilk. Also by this point you’ve got some of the best characters from the film under your control, most especially the deranged Unikitty, and my favourite character of all, Benny the spaceman. Sadly, after this peak, it does start to slide back to mediocrity, right to the main story’s end.

Although, of course this is a Lego game, so the end is not the end. I was told after the credits rolled that I’d reached 31.2%, with of course the other two thirds of the game found in the Free Play modes, and the hidden puzzles and challenges in the numerous hubs. But despite this, despite offering loads, it’s still a significantly smaller game than we’re used to. This is developed by TT Fusion, rather than TT Games, and while I’ve no idea what that means, I wonder if they’re a smaller team. That’s not to say the game isn’t packed with details, far more involved than anything else you could consider purchasing for kids. It’s just, in its own lineage, this is one of the poorer efforts. And by any measure, a few of the levels – most especially the abysmal underwater sequences – just aren’t interesting or entertaining. That’s an odd thing to even have to think about when playing a game from this series.

On its own, out of nowhere, I’d likely be pleasantly surprised by a not-terrible game-of-the-movie, especially one aimed at kids. But in context, I can’t believe you’ve played every single TT Lego game, and would far more strongly recommend you go fill in one of the gaps. Especially if it’s either Lego Harry Potter, or Lego Marvel Super Heroes. But whatever you do, go see the film. It’s something special.

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46 Comments »

  1. TheIronSky says:

    The book was better.

    • arccos says:

      I preferred the original cuneiform tablets.

      • Seraphim2150 says:

        I quite enjoy the oral tradition of the story, being told around the fire in the cave

    • Shuck says:

      Isn’t the movie heavily influence by the games? So this is the Lego Game Movie: the Game.

      • treat says:

        And here I thought it was heavily influenced by a toy.

        • Darth Gangrel says:

          The toy that became a video game, the video game that became a movie, the movie that became a video game. The circle is complete, now I am the master.

    • JanusForbeare says:

      Aw, fuck, the bots just logged in.

  2. Premium User Badge

    The Sombrero Kid says:

    TT Fusion is an old dev that developed the portable lego games and got bought & renamed, I can’t remember what they used to be called but they have a long PC heritage.

    • Premium User Badge

      The Sombrero Kid says:

      Checked Moby Games, It was Digital Anvil

      • The_B says:

        They were Embryonic just before being bought by TT, but yeah Embryonic was made up of some folk from Digital Anvil as you say, which was Chris Roberts’ old studio.

    • xp194 says:

      TT Fusion also made Lego City: Undercover. Which, in terms of openworld stuff and collectibles is probably the ‘biggest’ Lego game out there.

  3. Premium User Badge

    RedViv says:

    Good gods, it’s full of colours!

  4. Premium User Badge

    Martel says:

    Good to hear the movie is good, been thinking about taking my daughter to it in a matinee or something. Guess I’ll have to pass on this one as I own a good chunk of Lego games I haven’t finished yet, a few I haven’t even started.

  5. Koozer says:

    “The Lego Movie is about tearing up the instructions that come with a box of Lego…”

    My god, what kinds of monsters are they turning people into? LEGO manuals are a thing of beauty in and of themselves.

    • Jawn says:

      Actually, the movie seems to say that, whether you follow the instructions or build free-form, all types of play are valid. One of the major plot points relies on the fact that sometimes you need to follow the instructions to succeed. In fact, the main thing that the movie rejects is inhibiting other people’s creativity. The villain (spoiler?) Yes, spoiler – Ed

  6. Kodeen says:

    So is the movie 100 minutes, or an hour and ten minutes? Or am I confusing metric time and standard imperial time again?

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      Rikard Peterson says:

      I haven’t seen the movie, but by my calculations, the two statements mean that there are 30 minutes of the movie that isn’t a Lego ad.

      • Premium User Badge

        melnificent says:

        That would be the previews and adverts for other films and products then

  7. Kilibob says:

    So for folk like me who *have* played every single TT LEGO game, this one is, what, summat better than Indiana Jones 2 but don’t expect something akin to the last two or three?

  8. Premium User Badge

    Jackablade says:

    You’re not making the traditional Arbitrarily-Making-Australia-Wait-Months-For-Good-Kids-Movie period any easier.

    • bill says:

      They do it because they’d rather people watch it for free online than pay in the cinema. I guess.

      Still, could be worse, you could be in the “we insist that all western movies must be released LAST here” Japan. Did you get The Hobbit yet? I’m still waiting…

      (and if it’s a kids animated movie, it’ll be only available dubbed here anyway… so I guess there is no reason for me to wait… )

    • tnzk says:

      Staggered releases are actually not arbitrary. The last time I checked, there are around 200 countries each subject to their own rule and law, more or less.

      Working in the film industry, a lot of people don’t realize just how difficult it is to get films released in other countries. Not only is it laborious, it can get very expensive. A wide release is super fucking expensive, even, and it’s why only the biggest blockbusters do it.

      And sometimes it’s not about legal issues. It’s about market. Lego is popular, but a Lego movie not based on any other famous IP is untested. Over the last weekend, they cleared the first milestone. So when the inevitable Lego Movie 2 comes out, more territories will get it at the same time for quicker returns.

      If I do sound snarky, I apologize. But I’m not at all happy with the internet being naive about these matters. I mean, when it comes to video games (especially indie games), it helps knowing the business side of these things.

  9. bill says:

    I read the first half of the review, and then decided to skip the rest as I don’t want to spoiler the movie. Which sounds wonderful.

    I only tried the first lego star wars, and I didn’t find it that great. Maybe that was more because it wasn’t legoey enough, rather than because it was a bad video game.
    It was a good star wars parody with a cute style, but the Lego part seemed mostly incidental.

    • TWChristine says:

      I just got back from seeing it, and so as not to spoil the movie for you I’ll just say “It’s awesome.”

  10. kwyjibo says:

    Why haven’t Lego just ripped off Minecraft wholesale yet?

    • Stardreamer says:

      Because if kids have the opportunity to own one $40-50 video game that lets them build to their heart’s content, parents might not be so willing to pay $20-170 dollars a pop for the individual Lego playsets?

      • Jason Moyer says:

        They’ve had a program that lets you build whatever you wanted for ages. It even lets you print out a list of pieces to take to a Legoland store (is that what they’re called? I’ve never seen one) so you can build whatever you design when you’re done. Or, at least, it used to have that functionality. I honestly haven’t touched it in something like a decade.

        http://ldd.lego.com/en-us/

      • Koozer says:

        They also made Minecraft before it was cool: LEGO Creator

  11. death_au says:

    As someone who likes to watch the movie then read the book to fill in the details the movie missed, should I play the game first, then go watch the movie to fill in the details?

  12. Premium User Badge

    Phinor says:

    RPS reviewing games that have no release date, again! Happens with nearly every Warner Bros published game.

    Ah, but considering the ticket prices, I’ll just have to save my money for the movie anyway.

  13. Snids says:

    At least it looks Legoier. As in, more Lego-y.

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