It’s getting progressively tougher to talk about the Lego games in a new and unique way. Every few months the Lego machine manages to pump out a new game based on one of the latest big films and more often than not the biggest challenge isn’t the game itself, but trying to figure out just what’s different to before.
The latest effort in the long running Lego series is Lego The Hobbit, following Bilbo’s journey to hunt out Smaug and following the first two films as it does. That’s right, the first two films. From the trilogy. In the same way I looked on the Harry Potter Years 1-6 DVD boxset and thought “why didn’t they just wait?” I can’t help but wonder why this has arrived when it has, instead of waiting for the dramatic final film and releasing a game containing the whole story. Are we looking at a shameless cashing-in opportunity with some DLC, or just a strange decision from the development team? Either way after managing to bundle the Lord of the Rings into a single game I can’t help but be confused about the mechanics here.
Luckily the game itself fares better than the logic of the game’s timing. It’s typically Lego stuff and contains everything you’d expect from a game of its ilk. The idea of using actual dialogue from the film continues, as does the often brilliant visual humour that accompanies it, and although the story hops between being heavily trimmed and dragged out to the most alarming degree it’s a fun ride on the whole with a vast array of characters to toy around with and unlock. There’s also a sizeable open world between levels too with enough extra side missions available to keep you going for quite some time. And yet, despite being a positive experience in these respects, it’s balanced by some awkwardness elsewhere.
When we reviewed the Lego Movie game, one thing I liked was the new building sequences whereby a Lego structure would get built on the screen in front of you and prompt you to select the right piece at key points during the build. In that game you couldn’t do that until you’d found the instructions, something which often became an explicit task at the time. In The Hobbit though it’s a little more akin to a crafting system – you need to gather certain items or materials, usually found by bashing hedges, startling animals and generally being a destructive force around the place. In theory it’s a decent idea, but I spent nearly an hour towards the start of the game hunting round for some silvery blocks in order to start building an important item that I had to put together before moving on to the next level. This kind of grinding in a Lego game doesn’t really feel right, and there’s potential for many players to find this a little too much to bear. Maybe they’re aiming at the Minecraft generation…
There’s also times when there are too many characters on screen at once, making selecting the right one a pain in the arse. Not because the selecting process is tricky, not at all, but because there are too many dwarves making it extremely difficult to work out which one has which special ability. Unlike the Lord of the Rings where the large party was easy to handle due to the obviously different nature of the characters, many of the dwarves look very similar, so it’s often trial and error to find which one can do what you need to do.
But fans of the Lego games shouldn’t be put off by any of this. There are some awesome moments through the game, and making your way through the mountains while the mountains themselves rise up and start beating each other up is just one of many examples of this. These moments when your eyes widen slightly and your concentration focusses on nothing but the action are what lets you forget the problems elsewhere in the game, and if you’re the kind of gamer who like things totally finished with that magical 100% status to show off then you’ve got dozens more reasons to love this.
But for the rest of us Lego The Hobbit takes a little stumble. It’s still a fun game generally, and it carries all of the charm we expect from a Lego game, but things need to take a step back now to see where the series is heading. There are some good ideas here that haven’t quite worked, and with some slight tweaking and rethinking the Lego games will be back on track and rocking again.
So the big question: what’s next?
Reviewed on PS4