Friday, May 31, 2019

LEGO Games Were Better Back When They Were Simple

Developer Traveller's Tales deserves a lot of praise for addressing criticisms with its massive LEGO game franchise and trying, and succeeding, to make the games bigger and better. People complained that they were too simple and boring and small and short and not "real" games and Traveller's Tales has turned the franchise into big beefy fully-featured games you can buy with confidence that you're getting a lot of value. Somewhere along the way, however, they stopped being fun. For all of the polished presentation featuring full voice work and better graphics, deeper gameplay, and bigger levels, the heart and soul of the LEGO experience has been lost. Continue reading our thoughts on why LEGO games just aren't fun anymore.

I used to really, really love the LEGO games. Back in the LEGO Star Wars, Pirates of the Caribbean, Indiana Jones, and Lord of the Rings days. Back then, the mechanics were simpler, the levels were shorter, the puzzles were more organic and clever, and the games were just good clean simple fun. They were charming as all get out, too, because back then the characters didn't talk and had to rely on exaggerated pantomime and a distinct LEGO sense of humor to convey the story. I happily poured 30 or so hours into each of them to get 100% completion and as many achievements as I could get.

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Not everyone loved them, though. They were seen as too childish and simple and repetitive and the same thing over again with every release - which was never actually true, by the way - so Traveller's Tales took a big swing at the franchise to make the games better. The presentation was polished up. The levels got much longer - some are an hour+ long and have to have checkpoints these days! The gameplay got more complex with new abilities and required character swapping. The puzzles got more complex too - a little too obtuse in many cases. The games absolutely 100% got better and can only be considered "good" games now by just about any metric, but they aren't fun anymore.

Fully voiced characters just sucked all of the charm out of it. The puzzles are so complicated now that even adults struggle with some of them, which is just utterly baffling considering that these games are ostensibly still supposed to be kids games. The gameplay is too complicated with far too many abilities and things to switch between and keep track of. The levels themselves are too long and full of too much "stuff" all in the name of holding the attention span of "hardcore" gamers that weren't supposed to be the intended audience in the first place. 

All of this adds up to games that are just a chore to play anymore. You used to be able to jump in and out and have fun because the levels were short and the games were simple. Now playing a new LEGO game feels like a full-time commitment until you finish it because if you move on to something else you'll almost certainly forget how to do anything. I just can't anymore.

The strange thing about all of this is that almost every review for LEGO games still call them out for being too simple and boring and repetitive even though that clearly isn't the case. They've always been seen as "kid" games and that is what they always will be in the eyes of many even as the franchise has, even if it isn't in a direction I personally enjoy, greatly evolved over the years. People that didn't like them 15-years ago still don't like them but can't explain why so they rely on the same old complaints. 

I was a fan, though, and I have seen how the franchise has changed. And it just isn't enjoyable anymore. The last one I truly enjoyed was LEGO Jurassic World, which even then was based almost entirely on my blinding love of the "Jurssic" franchise than the actual quality of the game itself. LEGO games are technically very good now, better than they have ever been, but I just don't want to ever play any of them anymore. That makes me sad because, dammit, I sure used to really love them.