Games: Play Well? You Can’t Go Wrong With Lego Games
There’s a new Lego video game on the way this autumn, this time based on the Marvel Comics superhero universe. That’s right, the guys from last year’s Avengers Assemble movie, plus around a hundred or so of their chums from the comics (A HUNDRED! All playable!) are getting their own brick-based puzzle-filled adventure, and anyone who enjoys fun, laughter, and good-time gaming should be beside themselves with excitement.
TT Games have been releasing Lego games since 2005, and Lego Marvel Superheroes will be the thirteenth in the series. The games all follow a similar format: take one of the intellectual properties that Lego have licensed for their building sets (usually a movie series like Star Wars or Indiana Jones) and create a puzzle-laden action-adventure game based on it, with the world and characters transformed into their Lego counterparts. The games tend to follow the plot of their source material closely, with levels based on key movie scenes interspersed with animated cutscenes to help fill in the plot. Players can swap between dozens of different characters, each with unique powers necessary to solve various puzzles (usually involving smashing various Lego items, and rebuilding them into different Lego items).
It sounds like a rather simple formula, and really it is, but something magical happens in that Legofication process; cast through the prism of plastic bricks, dramas like the Harry Potter series and even epic tales like The Lord of the Rings are shifted into hilarious comedy spectacles. Bar the two latest, the games are mostly voiceless, with characters communicating through mime and simple grunts or shouts, giving the games a classic silent-movie feel. The cutscenes tend to play out as double-act comedy sketches, with the central character playing the straight man who drives the plot forward while a companion clowns about in the background, pratfalling, playing with props and getting into ridiculous jams, to the exasperation of his cohort. Even the most serious scenes can be played for laughs, as in Star Wars, where the grim scene of Darth Vader slicing off Luke Skywalker’s hand is punctured by the sight of Luke simply picking it up and plugging it back in to the hole in his arm, ending up with the two fighting over the plastic appendage like two children squabbling over a toy.
While the games bring a sense of whimsy and humour to the stories, their mockery is never snide or disdainful, but is always loving, if tongue-in-cheek. Indeed, the developers’ love for the source material is evident in the incredible amount of detail that goes into the games. A game that lets you play as obscure DC Comics characters like Bizarro, Katana and Killer Moth (a villain who commits crimes dressed as, no lie, a moth) is clearly made by people who love the original comics.
The gags are appropriate for all ages, too. There’s no smut or toilet humour here, just clean, honest fun, as you’d expect from Lego. Indeed, everything about the games is aimed at family-friendly fun. There’s no face-stabbing violence or blood-splattered grim ‘maturity’ here; defeated enemies just explode into their constituent plastic pieces, with a comedic wail of dejection. The player characters are effectively immortal, with unlimited lives, and the only penalty for death is the loss of some coins. The Lego games are ones that I’d be happy to let my kids (were they real) play. Or rather, they’re games that I’d happily play with my kids. The co-op mode on the Lego games is magnificent; combining your powers with the person beside you on the couch to solve a puzzle, wading into a gang of thugs together to deliver quirky plastic justice, and occasionally throwing them off a cliff, or into a fire to their temporary, hysterical death is a social experience on a par with a bout of Mario Kart, or a session of LittleBigPlanet. The name Lego derives from a Danish phrase meaning ‘play well’. In the case of these games, playing well translates as playing together. And aren’t the best toys meant to be shared?
While the basic formula is simple, TT do add subtle innovations with each new title, be it buildable vehicles or real-time strategy minigames, and while some work better than others, they never feel as tacked on and irritating as some of the desperate new features of other long running series (hello, Assassin’s Creed‘s guild defence, you bastard!). The most recent tweak to their recipe, and perhaps the most fundamental ever, was the inclusion of a full voice cast in Lego Batman 2: DC Superheroes. While many worried that this would undermine the slapstick comedy of the series, in fact it proved to be a fantastic addition. Allowing characters to speak opened up all sorts of new comedy avenues, and allowed for a more intricate story to be told (difficult otherwise, since the Batman games didn’t follow an existing movie plot, and couldn’t rely on the audience already being familiar with it). At the same time, the slapstick antics of Robin and other more minor characters continued unabated in the background, losing none of its surreal charm. Plus, having Clancy Brown reprise his role of Lex Luthor from the popular Superman and Justice League cartoons was another example of TT respecting the source material of their games, even as they poked fun at it. At least one new feature for Lego Marvel Superheroes will be the ability to play as massively oversized character The Hulk. If the idea of wandering around a Lego New York as a jolly green plastic giant, gleefully smashing all around you doesn’t fill you with joy, well then we don’t know if anything ever can. Play well…