The LEGO franchise may be the most successful of the ’10s. It’s starting to become the most omnipresent, that’s for sure. There are no “Uncharted,” “Little Big Planet,” or “Resistance” games yet available for the PlayStation 4 and yet there are a remarkable THREE LEGO games for the relatively young next-gen system: “LEGO Marvel Super Heroes,” “The LEGO Movie Videogame,” and, just released last week, “LEGO The Hobbit”. And, while they’re not all 100% equal (“Marvel” is the best, for the record), they’re all creatively successful to varying degrees. This is a franchise that hasn’t just become a consistent part of the video game marketplace but a creatively vital one as well. “LEGO The Hobbit” pulls a few of the mechanics from the game based on “The LEGO Movie,” puts a welcome emphasis on teamwork, and pushes relatively straightforwardly through “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” and “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” with DLC for the third film to be available later this year. It’s not the best LEGO game on the market but it’s far from the worst and it creatively decimates the traditional movie tie-in game. It makes one wish more movies waited till they got the LEGO treatment before releasing lackluster tie-ins.
As I mentioned, there’s not much in the way of surprises in “LEGO The Hobbit,” especially if you’ve seen the films and played the last game. The mechanic that they’ve cribbed from the movie game released in February is the one in which the player has to quickly match up missing parts from LEGO “instructions”. In this case, the creation mini-game comes after finding elements to use to craft new items from the environments. No more smashing merely for studs. Now, you’ll find wood, copper, bricks, etc. that you need to amass to initiate the mini-games. It’s a clever new element to the LEGO universe even if it does feel a bit unrefined. I was never quite sure what I was collecting or why. It’s really just the stud collection system with a new paint of coat. The general strategy is still to destroy everything and pick up what’s leftover.
As is inherently foundational to Tolkien’s story, teamwork plays a major role in “LEGO The Hobbit”. It’s always been an element of the LEGO games—using the right combination of characters and their special abilities—however, it’s more pronounced here as your parties are often much bigger than the average LEGO game and the developers have been wise to distinguish skill sets for characters who could have blended together. One character has the right size hammer, another a bow, another a slingshot, and so on. The game is quick to help you find the right character for the right puzzle and the gameplay is fluid and fun.
Flaws in “LEGO The Hobbit” come down to flaws of “An Unexpected Journey” and “Desolation of Smaug” in a lot of way—repetitive storytelling and a lack of narrative drive. Personally, I like the LEGO games that have proven they can craft their own stories—“Marvel Super Heroes” being the best example—instead of adhering to a narrative that doesn’t always fit the franchise. I actually found the hub levels in “The Hobbit” more engaging and enjoyable than the story levels. And I think the developers did as well as they look remarkable on the PS4 and feel like the real playgrounds we’ve come to enjoy in the world of LEGO more than restricted by the storytelling of the films.
And, of course, there’s the sense that this game was rushed to ride the immense popularity of LEGO in 2014. They couldn’t wait until after the third movie? Consequently, it feels a bit incomplete. However, any sense that this is a LEGO adventure that leaves one wanting for more goes away when one considers all the LEGO options on the market. It’s hard to complain about a LEGO not offering enough for the player when there are so many other great LEGO games to pick up the slack.
Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.