Hello and welcome to In Too Deep, where I over-analyse a certain section of pop culture.
Now I brought Lego Marvel Super Heroes a few weeks back and, well, it’s a good game. Great game, really. A good game to just plug in and play without having to engage the higher brain cells. Full of great references as well, with quite a clever story on top. But considering the Lego games franchise is going to be a decade old next year, lets look back on this series to see what it’s so good.
Note for this list I’m only going to be listing the games I’ve actually played, so if I miss anything out it’s because I’ve never played it.
Lego Star Wars: The Video Game: It’s odd looking back at the very first game in this series. I first played it in the electronic story and fell in love with the simplicity and cleverness of the game play. The game was mostly about exploration and puzzle-solving over combat and challenge. It was a game where dying was a momentary distraction at best and didn’t hold up much of the main plot, while the controls were simple and intuitive. Of course there were a few things that really made this game stand out.
Firstly it was not only a co-op system that worked, but an A.I system that worked as well. The co-op was pretty fun, if a bit limited to only being able to have one screen at any given time. If one player wandered too far away from the story they’d end up being disconnected and would have to wait for the A.I. to join the fray again. But that A.I. could actually do a competent job. They would do what was required to pass the next level. Sure they couldn’t actually hurt the enemies, but they’d at least try. On the whole they weren’t a useless waste of space but quickly set the benchmark for what A.I. should be like (showing that if they perfected it in 2005 it shouldn’t still be a problem in 2014).
Secondly was the clever puzzles. Sure some of them were near impossible, due to it not being entirely obvious what you were meant to do, but the rest were pretty fun and easy to solve. Add onto that different characters that had different abilities (and a Free Play system that let you effortless switch between them as you hunted out the collectables) and you’ve got a gameplay system that never needed to change.
But probably its biggest strength was the humour. Seeing the first three films of the trilogy being played out in mime is a site to behold, since it’s really quite hilarious to watch. A lot of the humour played off the fact that they were made of Lego, living in a world that could be disassembled and reassembled at will. It helps to know the source material, of course, but if you know that then the in-game cutscenes become quite joyous. They’re silly, irrelevant, but they honestly make a better movie out of The Phantom Menace.
Lego Star Wars: The Original Trilogy: The logical next step in the franchise, it improved on quite a few significant areas. The first was a tightening of the camera controls to make it easier to play co-op, as well as making it easier to use the other characters to build stuff (rather than endlessly switching back and forth between characters). The biggest thing that came from this, however, was the character customization. It’s great fun to muck about, making a strange hybrid character with odd powers. It’s so popular in fact that the latest game has 26 options available, compared to the initial 2 found in this game. So the franchise takes what came before and built on it a good way. Much like the Star Wars prequels to the original trilogy, this game managed to do a far better job of what was presented first time round.
Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures: Released to coincide with the fourth film, the game is once again great. It’s a bundle of joy to play through the Indiana Jones games. But in terms of improvements, they had a few. For one, you could interact with the environment some more (aka picking up an object). For two, you could build and ride in vehicles in the level. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, they introduced the idea that certain characters would be unable to do things when faced with certain obstacles. In this version Indiana Jones can’t move if there are snakes in front of him, an idea carried out into other games in the series. But what worked before in this franchise continued to work in this game as well.
Lego Batman: The Videogame: An odd choice to go next, but one that works at any rate. I mean who doesn’t love Batman? Again, very little was added to these games, beyond a few customary moves for certain characters. The story is good, if a bit difficult to convey without dialogue. Fortunately since it’s mostly riffing on the first three movies it gets a free pass in that regard. So what does this series bring to the table? Mostly just more customization when it comes to what the characters can do, giving them abilities they didn’t have before. However the next game I played really shook things up.
Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4/5-7: I’m putting both of these together for the simple reason that they added the same thing: The ability to roam between levels. Before you were stuck very much in one area, having to access the menu to get to the levels. This game changed that by letting you run around Hogwarts, unlocking levels and generally having stuff to do throughout the castle. Add to that a system that makes it easier to switch between characters in the hub level and you have a game that offers more than what had come before. Add to that the same classic mime humour from the other games and you’ve got another hit.
Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes: Although the spilt-screen had already been introduced in Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars, it wasn’t quite the same as this. In that game you could switch between two stories, where the other character would be in a small bubble at the bottom of the screen. Here the split-screen worked, since you could have two characters go in completely different directions and still have it work. The second big thing was voice actors, which at first is rather jarring. However given that they’re creating an original story, it only makes sense they’ll put in dialogue to make it easier to follow along. While I miss the miming, the dialogue does stand out as being pretty funny. But the biggest improvement to this series was a far bigger world map that really let you go out and explore Gotham, even if it was almost too big at times. But with a lot to do the game kept me entertained for hours.
Lego Marvel Super Heroes: The most recent entry in the franchise I’ve actually played, this one really does have a lot to add to the franchise. For one the story is fantastic, since it mixes the MCU with the comics universe to create a universe that works (since you finally get to see Spider-Man and the X-Men interact with the movie’s style of Avengers). The city of New York is bigger and better than ever, but laid out in a way that doesn’t make it too difficult to find stuff in. Everything found within the first seven years of games is found here, tweaked and improved upon till the game series we have today.
So why do I write this blog? Mostly to show that a game series doesn’t have to constantly evolve to be good. If you managed to do something good right off the bat, you don’t need to fix what ain’t broke. And the Tell-Tale games aren’t broke in the slightest. It’s actually quite clever really. It shouldn’t work on paper since it’s a bad idea. Having a game that primarily deals with an A.I. partner is a recipe for disaster (since when is A.I. ever good in games?). Also puzzle games are so rarely good and so easy to muck up. And yet Tell-Tale manages not only to make it work first time, but doesn’t screw it up with the temptation to do something new. All round great games.
So there you have it. My look at the Tell-Tale games to see how far they’ve come in the last few years, staying true to a formula that’s never steered them wrong. If you disagree with anything, or have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.