It was going to take a lot to impress me after playing the last LEGO video game, LEGO Marvel Super Heroes. Also the alarming number of plastic-brick-themed titles emerging from Travellers Tales (three in under a year) provoked me to find as many faults in LEGO: The Hobbit as possible. Yet despite my honest pessimistic intentions, it was still an enjoyable experience. While it never matched the brilliance of earlier titles - it was fun in a pint-sized package.
Like our hero, Bilbo Baggins, who in this game is even smaller than his usual hobbity stature. Just like in the books (and yes, movies), Bilbo gets begrudgingly caught up in an epic quest filled with dwarves, elves, wizards, and a massive fire-breathing Benedict Cumberbatch. There are only three New Zealanders who haven’t heard of The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit movies, so we won’t go into too much depth about the story. But LEGO: The Hobbit follows the storyline of the latest two movies almost scene for scene.
Which works against the game. While it’s amusing to watch little LEGO minifigs leaping about, re-enacting sequences from the movies - the novelty quickly wears off. Indeed, seeing a small little plastic toy blaring out Sir Ian McKellen’s voice is comedic, but with lines taken directly from the movies, the end result acts like a pantomime copy of the films with some extra comedy injected along the way. It’s not surprising considering the game is based on the cinema releases, but after playing LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, which was packed full of original storylines and clever character developments, it feels a little forced.
However LEGO: The Hobbit adds a lot to the mix when you actually start playing. As usual, all of the fan favourite components that make a LEGO game so brilliant are still in place: You have a massive cast of characters each with their own abilities; infinite lives to make the game fun and accessible; splitscreen multiplayer co-operative play; an addictive ingame currency of collectible bricks to unlock more content; and plenty of quirky slapstick humour that gamers both young and old will enjoy.
It is also one of the prettiest LEGO games to date, matching the attention to detail as Marvel Super Heroes, but really impresses in populating the screen with hundreds of minifig bodies - a necessity considering the epic battles in Tolkien lore. However the visuals in LEGO The Hobbit feel slightly too polished, especially in terms of the backgrounds, which lack the blocky DIY charm of what a LEGO game should be like.
This blandness also transfers into the characters, which again is greatly noticeable after the genius diversity of Marvel Super Heroes. The cast is taken directly from the movies, which is a given - but as most people will know, this consists mainly of dwarves. All of which look and play almost in exactly the same manner, except one is fat and another is bald. Then there is the titular character, Bilbo who is almost identical again. It’s only the elves (there are several of them) and Gandalf the wizard who offer the more inventive, enjoyable gameplay later down the track. It’s worth the wait as firing miniature arrows and casting colourful spells is a blast in battle, especially with a friend by your side.
Which is once again, where this LEGO actioner excels. Travellers Tales have created another sterling example of how to make a family-friendly platformer. There are challenges and puzzles that will test older gamers, and plenty of action for casual and younger audiences. While some of the maps aren’t very well planned out, often leading to random running around until you see the way forward, LEGO The Hobbit is still accessible and fun. However for those who already own LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, or the recently released LEGO The Movie - there is nothing special on offer here, except perhaps for die-hard fans of the Hobbit or the Lord of the Rings.