Boy, have we waited a long time for this. Not that we like to admit that we spend a lot of time dreaming about the perfect LEGO game, but a LEGO/Disney crossover has been right at the top our "dream games" list for quite some time - because we just knew it would work so well. But with the Disney Infinity experiment having been tying up the Disney license for the past few years, the LEGO/Disney dream partnership ended up being just that - a dream. At least, until now.
Led by the team at TT Fusion, who bought us the impressive LEGO Ninjago Movie Video Game tie-in, LEGO The Incredibles is the very first LEGO game to be based on an animated Disney film, and one that follows a familiar format. Telling the tale of both the original Incredibles film, and its yet-to-be-released (in the UK) sequel, you'll get to step into the Incrediboots of the whole superhero family (and then some) as you play through the events of the film, from taking on the dastardly Screenslaver, to the first film's showdown against Syndrome. With over 100 characters to collect and play as, including the full Incredibles line-up - that's Mr Incredible, his wife Elastigirl, baby Jack-Jack, speedy kid Dash, and his sister Violet (the one with a Mercedes and room for a pony) - there's an open world to explore, and some 12 levels to get stuck into, ticking all the usual LEGO boxes. However, those who haven't yet seen the sequel will want to be wary, as the game drops you straight into the events of the Incredibles 2 first, making it majorly spoilerific.
Though Ninjago tried to freshen up the standard LEGO format a bit, by mixing the open world and the levels together, LEGO The Incredibles is a return to a much more traditional form, providing chunky, co-op heavy and collectible filled levels to play through. Putting more of an emphasis on puzzle solving over beating up bad guys, these are levels that rely on you working together with your split-screen co-op partner (or computer controlled team mate - a second human player isn't at all necessary!), much as the Incredibles do in the film. Whether you're using Elastigirl to make a bridge over a death defying drop, so Mr Incredible can tip-toe his way across; or putting up a forcefield as Violet, in order to help lift your brother over some radioactive goo, it's nice to see co-op puzzle solving make a return to LEGO games, after being all but replaced by pretty mindless bad guy bashing in the slightly disappointing LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2. With each level weighing in at around 30 minutes - and with each being impossible to 100% first time through, thanks to locked off areas requiring abilities you don't yet have - they're pretty lengthy affairs, too, with plenty of replay value.
It's worth emphasising quite how much of a difference the co-op puzzles make, too. Though we always love a game that does split-screen co-op, one our biggest issues with most recent LEGO games is that the levels have usually been built in such a way that both players can essentially head off in opposite directions at the start, and you'll hardly ever see each other for the rest of the level. You might spot something the other player can do, and tell them they need to head over to X, but that was about as far as your co-operation really went. Though you may be playing the same game, at the same time, it never really felt like you're playing "together". But by making both players work as a team in order to proceed, LEGO The Incredibles changes that - and it's a much better co-op game for it. As an added bonus, it's also less buggy than some of the recent games have been, too!
Paired up with cutscenes that offer a traditionally daft take on events from the films (with a real penchant for duck cameos, it seems), there's more variety than you may expect if you've never played a LEGO game before too. There's a handful of on the rails shooter sections (where one player drives a car, and the other pilots a drone that blast everything in sight), top-down mazes to navigate (with at least one featuring a Frenchman chucking bombs at you), and plenty of sections where you'll need to swap to a different character in order to make use of their special powers. As in every LEGO game since the beginning of time, each character has their own set of abilities they can use. Mr Incredible can use his strength to tear doors off their hinges (so long as they have orange handles), Violet can turn invisible, while some characters, like baby Jack-Jack are... well, a bit weird.
As in the latest Incredibles film, Jack-Jack's kind of teething when it comes to his powers - and so in game, he has three different forms. In his basic form, he has laser eyes and (new for a LEGO game) can multiply; in his fire form, he can shoot balls of flame from his hands, or turn it into a jet of molten lava; while the his monster form can crawl through hatches, and bulldoze any destructible items, just like his dad.
But while the levels may be great, the open world in LEGO The Incredibles is... kind of underwhelming. Much smaller than that found in LEGO Marvel Superheroes 2, it's also a world that's a lot quieter, with an almost complete lack of quests for you to take on. Boot up any other LEGO game from the past half a decade, and you can't take more than a few paces without someone asking you to do something (beat up some baddies, find a scroll, take a photo for Spiderman's mom), but in LEGO The Incredibles, seemingly everyone's already had all their problems solved by the supers before you got there.
That's not to say that there isn't stuff to do - there's 100 "Incredibricks" to find (which we'll come back to later), a similar number of gold bricks, and the odd kind of "mini-quest", where a character basically hints at how you can get a gold brick, without it being a formal quest (case from last night: Edna Mode's pool cleaner can't get past the lasers to clean her pool. If you can, you get a gold brick) - but it's nothing like those seen in the other games. It all suggests that LEGO The Incredibles has been put together on a much smaller budget than the other LEGO games - which is a shame, as like we said, the levels here are a lot better than LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2.
However, despite the lack of true quests, the open world is still the very first place you'll want to explore - perhaps even before you play through the levels. Why? Well, the open world is where you can unlock all the Pixar cameo characters - and they're one of the highlights of the game.
As it turns out, the Pixar character unlocks have been tied into one of the game's much vaunted (yet kind of disappointing) features, known as "crime waves". When you first drop into the open world, you'll be alerted of a crime wave taking place in one of the nearby districts. Head over there, and you'll get a cool cutscene explaining what villain is at large, before playing your way through three special quests, with these quests, coincidentally, the only quests in the hub. What's more disappointing is that, though they may be samey, these quests are actually really good - whether you're rolling a pufferfish shaped bomb around town to defy the nefarious anchorman, or hopping in a fire engine with your co-op partner, with one player driving, and the other manning the hose as you set off to put out fires, there's a lot of fun to be had here. Once you've solved all of the three quests, the crimewave will be over - and the "Pixar Family Build" will be unlocked.
Each area has (at least) one Pixar Family Build contained within it, and it's by completing these crime waves that you'll unlock it. And as we said we'd come back to it later - it's these Pixar Family Builds that use the Incredibricks you've spent so much time tracking down in the game's open world. Each build requires just five Incredibricks, with the building itself being simply a matter of mashing circle (on PS4). But the characters you'll unlock, well... they're certainly worth the wait.
While we'd always hoped there'd be some sort of crossover, knowing both Pixar and LEGO's love of easter eggs, we thought perhaps we'd get one bonus character - not 13! Instead, an entire "who's who" from almost every Pixar film of all time has made the list, from Wall-E to Woody, from Monster's Inc's Sully to Lightning McQueen from Cars (for the full list, be sure to check out our guide to LEGO Incredibles' cheats, red bricks and Pixar unlockables). Though they may not really do anything special, there's something undeniably cool about being able to play as all your favourite Pixar characters in a LEGO game (finally!), especially with all the nice touches. Leave Wall-E alone for a second, and he'll try to offer his plant-in-a-boot to anyone walking by. While Woody can call on help from Bullseye, Russell can whistle to call in Kevin (the girl?!), and chef Linguini can deploy Remy at the touch of a button to crawl into any tight spaces. It's a really, really strong cast - and one that makes replaying the levels in Free Play (which lets you play as any character) a lot more fun. It's just a shame there aren't more quests to do with them.
And perhaps that's the oddest thing about LEGO The Incredibles. Everything it's done, it's done incredibly (no pun intended) well, with everything going in just the right direction. The levels are lengthier, with more of an emphasis on puzzles; the renewed focus on co-op makes the game feel like much more of a team effort; and the cutscenes are still as funny as before. But with just 12 levels compared to the old LEGO average of 18, an open world that's a lot emptier than we'd like, and a distinct lack of co-op vehicles (the fire engine seems to be the only one...) LEGO The Incredibles isn't quite the world beating package it so easily could have been, had it just been that little bit lengthier - even if it is still a lot better value than the overpriced Disney Infinity Play Sets that came before it. Still, those Pixar cameos haven't half wet our appetite for what might be on the horizon. LEGO Pixar Anthology anyone? We'd settle for LEGO Toy Story, with a 2019 release, and all four films to play through... Make it happen, Disney/Warner.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo Switch