Since 2005, the developers at Traveller's Tales have been mining video game gold with their Lego-themed movie spoofs. It started with Stars Wars and then expanded to Harry Potter, Indiana Jones and Lord of the Rings, with some Marvel and DC comics superheroes thrown in for fun. It was a no-brainer, then, that Warner Bros. would tap the British studio to do a tie-in for its Lego movie. Lo and behold, both hit on the same day: Feb. 7. The game's story follows the movie's closely, beginning with a showdown between the evil Lord Business (voiced in the film by Will Ferrell) and the blind wizard Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) over a mysterious artifact known as the Kragle. With Business dispatching his foe, the scene shifts to Emmett Brickowski, a lowly construction worker in the big city who wants nothing more than to fit in.
To do so, he must "follow the instructions" of his society, which include watching the same TV shows as everyone else – including the apparently hilarious comedy "Where's My Pants?" – and periodically singing along to the insipidly catchy song, "Everything is Awesome" with his co-workers.
Before long, Emmett meets an enigmatic girl named WyldStyle (Elizabeth Banks) who takes him on an exciting adventure where he learns to live life beyond the instruction book. They travel to new, exotic Lego lands, including the Old West, Cloud Cuckoo Land and Lord Business' headquarters in Octan Tower. The duo pick up new partners along the way, including the quick-to-anger unicorn/cat Unikitty (Alison Brie), the ornery cyborg pirate Metalbeard (Nick Offerman) and, of course, Batman (Will Arnett) who, we learn, "only works in black… and sometimes dark grey."
All the elements are fun, and yet, there's something slightly off about The Lego Movie Videogame. While each previous movie-themed game brought with it a fresh cartoonish sensibility that spoofed, parodied and otherwise monkeyed around with its source material, this instalment is extraordinarily straight-laced.
What laughs there are come almost entirely from clips of the movie, which makes it feel like the developers didn't have much time – or perhaps the mandate – to come up with their own take. That would hardly be a surprise, given that this is the sixth Lego game the studio has released since the beginning of 2013. As such, if you haven't first seen the movie, you might not get the jokes.
As with previous Lego games, this one explores the locales of its source material with well-crafted levels full of puzzles that can only be overcome through a combination of the characters' abilities. Emmett, for example, can fix broken machines with his wrench or dig up holes with his jackhammer. Wyldstyle, meanwhile, can jump to high ledges while Batman – besides just being Batman – can hit switches with his Batarang and pull items with his grapple-gun.
In this way, the game fills in some of the unseen moments of the movie, such as when Emmett and crew try to build a submarine to escape from the clutches of Bad Cop (Liam Neeson) and his robot goons, or when they create a giant mech from construction vehicles.
There are a few new features, including the "Master Build" ability. Just about every character can stand on glowing green circles found within each level and visualize how to use surrounding Lego pieces to build new tools or vehicles that can be used to proceed. Emmett is one of the few who doesn't initially have this capability, since he's been trained to only follow instructions.
On the flip side, most levels require players to find instruction pages to build required items, and Emmett is the only one who can interpret those. Doing so kicks off a mini-game where the player must guess the next piece required. Similarly, another mini-game sees Astronaut Benny (Charlie Day) hack computers through a Pac-Man-like interface.
There's further variety too – most of it well done – such as the rail-shooter sequence in the Old West where the heroes are pursued in a stage coach, or a scene where the giant Metalbeard takes on a horde of smaller enemies. If you've played even a few of the many previous Lego games, the feeling of been-there-done-that will be hard to escape. But these small, new additions give this latest entry some degree of differentiation.
The voice acting is also fantastic and amazingly authentic. The game uses sound-alikes of the film's respective voice actors and just about all of them are spot-on (especially whoever is doing Morgan Freeman). It's just too bad the stand-ins weren't given more unique material to work with.
The Lego Movie Videogame is surprisingly short, with the main storyline taking only about six hours to complete. Of course, there are plenty more hours waiting for players who want to seek out all the hidden items and puzzles through each level's free play mode, which is unlocked when it's completed in the main story. But even then, there are fewer collectibles and new characters to find than in previous Lego games, while the open-world hubs in between levels are also much smaller. It seems clear the developers were under significant time constraints to finish this game.
Still, The Lego Movie Videogame isn't a cheap cinematic cash-in. While it doesn't measure up to Traveller's Tales masterpiece, last year's Lego City Undercover for the Wii U, and it doesn't live up to its theme song – where "everything is awesome" – it is indeed a colourful and fun puzzler that's sure to please fans. But you'll probably want to see the movie first.