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.