Although Lego video games date back to 1997, it wasn’t until 2005’s Lego Star Wars that the franchise really found its wings. Since then, the series has gone from strength to strength, with Lego-themed games based on some of the most successful franchises in the entertainment business.
One of the more recent big names to get the digital plastic block treatment was Lord of the Rings, the Lego game version of which encompassed all three of Peter Jackson’s blockbusting Middle-Earth movies. It was well received both critically and commercially, so therefore it comes as no surprise that Jackson’s latest trilogy of Middle-Earth movies are also being recreated in Lego game form. The first two are being rolled into the upcoming Lego Hobbit, while the third will likely get its own standalone game, assuming that the first one doesn’t somehow snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and fail miserably at retail.
I took a tentative peek at it last week, and while there were only two levels to play through, it was more than enough to convey what we can expect. In the interests of full disclosure, I have mixed feelings about the Hobbit movies. They’re certainly spectacular, and both have some great set pieces – but sometimes it feels like the book’s tight storyline is being stretched to near breaking point between them. I’m also not a huge fan of the movie’s comedy dwarf approach.
However in Lego form, it all works perfectly well. A good example of this is seen at the start of the Goblin City level where the floor collapses, and our intrepid band of heroes fall a considerable distance, creating a near-vertical stack of Lego characters when they land. It's stupid, but it's also funny because the Lego characters themselves are so appealing.
The same is true for the game’s action. During the movie, I found some of the more over-the-top sequences just a little too ridiculous. But in game form, this ludicrous, against-impossible-odds action translates into something that feels kinetic and dynamic. Doing something like grabbing a battering ram and smashing through swathes of goblins is exactly what you want from a game. It's silly, but fun.
So far, Lego Hobbit looks quite promising. Playing out in a largely 3D platforming format, it combines simple action puzzles and button-mashing combat nicely to create a straightforward game that’s fun to play, sometimes perplexing, but never taxing. There’s stuff to collect, targets to shoot, and combinations of dwarves to put together so that they can perform super-moves to achieve important objectives – such as striking a killing blow to vanquish a boss character, or knocking something out of the way so that the heroic adventurers can escape whatever peril is currently threatening them.
All this is nothing we haven’t seen before in a Lego game – but then again, why mess with success? Lego Hobbit has all the makings of a winning, winsome action romp that'll appeal to adults and kids alike – especially when played using the game's highly engaging multiplayer mode that emphasizes teamwork and co-operation. What’s not to like so far?