Remember the good old days, when LEGO games were a novelty? The idea of turning established franchises into cooperative sandbox platformers was revolutionary when LEGO Star Wars was first released. Now, however, it’s not only expected, but inevitable that each year will see another batch of at least two to three LEGO games–if not more.
In all fairness, each new game tends to improve upon the one preceding it. The character rosters keep getting bigger, the level design keeps getting smarter, and the padding is becoming less and less noticeable. LEGO The Lord of the Rings is my favorite LEGO game to date, so this game should theoretically improvement. But after almost ten years of LEGO games, is the formula still working?
LEGO The Hobbit (PC, PS3 [Reviewed], PS4, PS Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U, 3DS)
Developer: Traveller’s Tales
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Released: April 8, 2014
MSRP: $29.99 (3DS, PC), $49.99 (Last-Gen, PS Vita), $59.99 (Current-Gen)
The plot of LEGO The Hobbit should be familiar to anyone who has read The Hobbit or seen the first two installments of Peter Jackson’s new trilogy. If not, the game does a good job of handling the storytelling. Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit from the countryside, joins a company of 13 dwarves and one wizard to reclaim their homeland from a vicious dragon. While the game recycles the voice acting from the films, the animators have also added in plenty of extra visual gags and background running jokes to help the plot along. In fact, if you’re not a fan of the Jackson films, you may actually appreciate this approach to storytelling more.
The game covers the first two films of Jackson’s new trilogy, which presents in itself a unique problem. Simply put, there just isn’t enough content from the two films to stretch out over sixteen levels. Most of the time, the developers manage to keep the scenarios interesting, but a few times I found myself bothered. Does the “Unexpected Party” really warrant a whole level? No. Is it a good use of the player’s time to make them spend half a level searching for an apple to feed their pony? Not at all. If this is how things are now, it leaves me concerned about how they’ll fill up an entire second game with just There and Back Again, unless the Battle of the Five Armies takes up eight levels.
Of course, all LEGO games are guilty of this kind of padding. In all fairness, this game is actually better about pacing things in the overworld than others in the series. Similar to LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, NPCs in the overworld have quests for you to perform in addition to the more direct puzzle and platforming challenges. These quests tend to be pretty generic. For example, you’ll fetch animals, dress like creatures, bring people items, kill X number of Y, and so on. However, the NPCs themselves have some pretty funny writing, and the fact that certain questlines interconnect goes a long way towards making the game feel cohesive.
Still, it wouldn’t be a LEGO game without bugs galore. In addition to common issues, like crashing while moving between environments, freezing while trying to switch characters or pull out items, and characters getting stuck in scenery, there are also new problems such as animations and actions not registering, and red brick items flat-out refusing to work.
Those issues aside, it really is a decent package, especially for co-op play. There is a lot to do in this version of Middle Earth, even if it doesn’t feel as well put-together as LEGO The Lord of the Rings. Extra items and characters are great for a laugh, especially the red brick “Carnival Mode” that throws neon lights over the overworld and blares some groan-worthy dubstep (a commendable successor to LotR’s Disco Phial). The visuals were impressive, even on the PS3 version, so I’d imagine you’re in for a real treat if you splurge on the PS4 or Xbox One editions.
As a LEGO veteran, the game took me about 30 hours to complete 100%, but for casual/co-op play, I can imagine it taking much longer. The relative ease of jumping in and out of levels also adds to the already high replay value. Great for the kids, and peppered with plenty of references for keen-eyed adults, LEGO The Hobbit is a fun little gem, though it probably won’t be winning awards any time soon.