With an endless supply of pop culture reference material, licensed LEGO video games were once as commonplace as Madden or Call of Duty releases. Each iteration was a nostalgia trip, taking players on a toy-based adventure through their favorite fantasy worlds, and the LEGO name itself is synonymous with many people’s childhood memories. With LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga set to release later in 2021, these nostalgia trips aren’t over. But hard truths must sometimes be said, and the truth about LEGO games is they simply aren’t that good.
The many licensed LEGO video games are well crafted, with great attention to detail in recreating toy versions of the properties they represent, and there’s no shortage of fan demand for more movie franchises to become LEGO games. That doesn’t change the fact, though, that the core functions of the games don’t always work the way they’re intended, and, at the end of the day, their gameplay can border on maddening.
Take away the theme from each LEGO game, and players are left with an action-adventure game full of puzzles. Some of the best and most popular video games are exactly that, from Uncharted to the Batman: Arkham series. The biggest difference between those games and LEGO games isn’t just the serious narratives and highly detailed, realistic settings; it’s that the mechanics of those games work, whereas the mechanics of LEGO games are often clunky and inconsistent.
Ask any fan of what they like best about the LEGO games, and the answer will almost certainly be something about how fun it is to relive cinematic moments from the films or to unlock their many characters. Seldom, if ever, would someone mention how fluid or fun the combat is – because it’s not. It’s not uncommon to flail around at enemies while accidentally smashing teammates to bits or to constantly get knocked off a ledge because of way enemies cluster and players respawn. More times than not, LEGO game combat is just running around frantically, jumping up and down, and haphazardly playing whack-a-mole.
If the combat is frustrating, the puzzles can be downright infuriating. Players might have to use Wingardium Leviosa or the Force to raise a series of objects, for example, only to have their cursor constantly drift away from each object, sending it back to the floor to start over again. And half of the time, the nearly-always-simple puzzle solutions aren’t evident without aimless wandering. No amount of unlockable, fan-favorite Star Wars characters can change the fact that unlocking them, or sometimes just unlocking the next level, can take hours of metaphorically beating one’s head against a wall. Almost anyone who’s ever played the LEGO games has likely found themselves combing through an area, swapping characters and interacting with everything they can multiple times over, just to try to find a hidden item or the right way forward.
These problems don’t make the LEGO games bad; they can be very fun adventures through beloved franchises. But it’s possible to think pizza is tasty and to recognize that it’s not a balanced, nutritional meal. It’s time to accept that, although the LEGO video games can be fun, they can also be not very good.