Tuesday, July 22, 2014

REAL Lego Games Return

Well-over a decade now, Lego, according to some detractors, sold its soul.  Up until that point, the toy had featured entirely original, and often intentionally vague, sets; relying on its reputation as a toy about imagination and building for sales, but in 1999, Lego began taking on famous licenses, and making sets of them.  I was never among the people who objected to this.  The toys were still about the building; we just got some new, cool pieces to use.  I can elaborate on why I like this, and plan to in a future post.  We didn't evens stop getting original themes; indeed, new themes like Bionicle and Ninjago had a wider reach than any themes before them.

There was, however, one tragic casualty to license-driven business practices, and that was in the form of video games.  As Lego was just beginning to take on licenses, a unique video game came out celebrating many of its past, original brands, along with the creative spirit that had driven the toy's image up to that point.  This game was Lego Racers, and it not only let you build a car of  your own design out of virtual Lego pieces, what you build would also affect how it handled.  It wasn't a perfect game, but it was a wonderful step towards a future where more games would entail building things out of Lego pieces, with more advanced mechanics to make them work.  Yet barring a sequel released soon after, Lego never took any more steps.  As licensed brands began to dominate Lego's image, some people in the brass must have realized that these brands alone could sell Lego video games, so construction fell by the wayside.  Most characteristic in those games made by Traveler's Tales, the modern breed of Lego games seems to spam to death Donkey Kong 64 tropes, wherein it is necessary to use different characters to do different things throughout the level, and also to collect plot coupons along the way.  Building, in general, is limited to automated construction done by pushing a button to build a specific model in a specific place to do a specific thing.  I've always been a huge critic of these games, and yearned for this madness to end so someone had a chance to make a Racers-style game again, but for a long time it seemed there was no end in site.

Yet out of the blue, the winds changed again.  The release of The Lego Movie; a widespread success, has altered popular culture in a favorable way.  Not only is Lego "cool" again, but, thanks to the heavy stressing it got in the movie, designing and building things out of Lego is cool again.  To the relatable blank slate that was Emmet Brickowski and to audiences everywhere, Wyldstyle and Vitruvius glamorized the idea of saving the world through slick, plastic MacGyvering. 

Hip again,for the first time in decades.

Initially, I didn't know if Lego video games would live up to this ideal; the game based on the movie itself didn't manage to achieve any gameplay worthy of the film's improvisational theme.  Yet Lego seems to have decided to ride the wave of success to a new, cool idea: Lego Fusion.  These games grace us with a desirable new premise: Instead of having real and virtual Lego pieces compete for time, the two are now one and the same.  People will build things of their design out of real parts, and then scan them with a tablet; on which they can play four games, which incorporate their designs.

My enthusiasm has its limits, naturally.  These games are only on tablets, which I do not own.  At least two of them seem a bit too simple, whatwith the inability to build actual 3D models. (They build facades, which are given depth by the program.  The fact that one of them involves racing is wonderfully nostalgic, but there's not yet enough information to conclude, that it will be as deep as the old Lego Racers games. 

Yet hopefully, this time it's not a fluke.  Hopefully, the Fusion idea will be enough of a success for Lego to decide that it should be expanded to other platforms, and with better mechanics.  Then, perhaps, we'll finally get to the point we should have gotten to a decade and a half ago.  Perhaps, soon, everything will be awesome.

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