It wasn't as good as the first one, was it? The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part was one of those films we'd been counting down the days to, even if we did know it had a pretty much impossible act to follow. The first film was just so good, so quotable, and with such great characters, it was always going to be hard to top it. And oddly, that "difficult second album" effect seems to apply to the game, too.
That's not to say The LEGO Movie 2 Videogame is bad - in fact, far from it. It's just very different to what we were expecting. Perhaps most unusually, The LEGO Movie 2 doesn't actually follow the standard LEGO game format. There are no proper, structured levels here, no true red bricks, and no collectible mini-kit pieces - the characters don't even have their own abilities. While all that may sound like sacrilege to those who've grown up with the LEGO games, there's an easy enough reason to explain it, as The LEGO Movie 2 Videogame is actually built on top of LEGO Worlds. Think of it as a more structured, slightly more story driven take on LEGO Worlds - only, perhaps inexplicably, with less of a focus on building and editing - and you'll be half way there. On the plus side, we should note the game is still playable in its entirety in split-screen co-op - and it runs a lot better than LEGO Worlds did, too.
It's certainly not the first time we've seen TT Games take a more experimental approach with their film tie-ins, as the last few film-related games have been both getting gradually shorter/smaller in scope (thankfully reflected in their price), and more experimental in their design. LEGO The Incredibles replaced unlockable characters with a kind of virtual "blind bagged" system that saw you unlock them at random; The LEGO Ninjago Movie Videogame merged its levels and open world hubs into one, letting you play through the level first, then go and explore the bits you've missed for extra quests on your second run, while even LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens toyed around with new ideas, like co-op vehicles, although that was much more traditional a game.
What you've got here is a game that very loosely takes you through the events of the film, putting a bit of a different spin on it as it goes. Rather than Emmett having to go and rescue Wyldstyle and co, you instead play as Wlydstyle and Emmett, trying to rescue the rest of the gang. Disappointingly, there's no actual clips from the film here (unlike in the original LEGO Movie game), but the gameplay itself feels fresh. Rather than proper levels, the game's instead divided into worlds, each of which is essentially a mini-hub themed around a section from the film. On your first visit to each world, you'll have to play through a series of main story quests first - usually unlocking some door, collecting some important things, or fighting a dastardly boss - before the world begins to open out, extra quests become available, and you need to find ten purple bricks in order to continue on your journey (again, much like on LEGO Worlds).
Though the quests themselves may not be up to much, there's more of an emphasis on experimenting and puzzle solving here, as you can sometimes get past obstacles in more than one way (even if you're not meant to). Drawing its inspiration from LEGO Worlds, building plays a huge part here - and while you can't actually delve in and build your own creations on a brick by brick level (which is a genuine shame), you do start to collect a number of useful quick builds you can throw down anywhere in the level. From generators that power buildings, to sprinklers that water plants, and giant crushing arms that smash through dirt to uncover lost treasures, figuring out where to use these is a key part of the game - although the fairly subtle coloured tiles on the floor will give younger players a hint at what they need to put where. Outside of the quick builds, there's a huge number of other items, buildings, structures and objects you can lay down as and when you see fit - and a lot of quests involve building things for the hapless residents of each planet, too.
In fact, the similarities with LEGO Worlds don't stop with the building. You can whip out some scanning binoculars to discover new items in each world (and can then build them anywhere you want, including your own sandbox world); you can collect a huge range of items and weapons, from pie launchers to rainbow longswords; and you still retain the ability to build almost any construction, almost anywhere. As you smash LEGO items up on your way through the levels, you'll start collecting dozens of specifically coloured bricks. With each brick build requiring a number of specific colours of brick, the idea is you'll have to collect the right bricks to build the stuff you want - but in reality, the requirements are so low, you'll end up overflowing with the things if you play through like us.
Outside of the seven main story worlds that make up the Systar System, you'll also get to head off to the (actually kind of cooler) Rex-plorer System, where the worlds are themed around the first film instead. With Classic Bricksburg, the Old West, Middle Zealand, Planet Unikitty, Planet Sparkles (which is actually based around the spa where Richmond from the IT Crowd works in the new film), and a mystery sixth world, some of these worlds are actually more impressively designed, and certainly have stronger themes than those that make up the main worlds - although that's perhaps a reflection of the film rather than the game. In addition, at the bottom of the world map screen is a third galaxy, where a trio of new worlds will be added as time goes on as free DLC. Free extra levels? We're not gonna say no to that...
Another reworked system is how you unlock new characters. As there are no true levels to complete (and no stud counter either), rather than unlocking characters at the end of each level, you instead collect "relics" from treasure chests that litter the land. With item relics, character relics, and construction relics on offer, all you need to do is head to a shop to hand them over and "open" them, in a kind of loot box like style (although without any actual money being spent, thank God), to find out what random item you've unlocked. Duplicates give you fragments towards one of two types of uber-relic - a super item relic, or a mega relic. The super items are essentially your cheat-unlocking red bricks from the normal games, only on a much naffer scale - almost everything here just basically applies an instagram-style filter, or plays some music, while the mega relics guarantee you new items rather than duplicates. Either way, collecting everything here is going to take a long, long time - especially when you include finding all the items you have to scan.
The problem is, while you can unlock hundreds of characters, buildings, and vehicles, you hardly ever have an excuse to actually use them. The levels are so small, the vehicles are rendered almost entirely redundant, as you barely manage to start moving before you've reached the end; the buildings are so large, there's barely anywhere to put them (bar the one "make your own" world you'll unlock through the story); while the characters may look nice, but as none of them have their own abilities any more, you never really have a reason to change. With items and power ups instead being controlled through a special menu - and one that's accessible to all characters (OK - almost all, as Unikitty can't use some), the chances are once you've found a character you like, you'll stick to it, and never change. Maybe we're just disappointed that Duplo Wonder Woman didn't make the cut.
Having spent a few days chewing over what to say about this, the issue seems to come down to one of scope. When the LEGO Batman film happened to coincide with the dark LEGO Dimensions days, we were cursing the toys-to-life game for denying us our shot at a proper LEGO tie-in, like the awesome LEGO Movie game. Now Dimensions has gone the way of the dodo, we had our fingers crossed this would be a true love letter to the film - but instead, what we've got is a game that's definitely fun, that's certainly original - and more experimental than any LEGO game since Worlds - but which doesn't quite live up to the lofty standards set by its predecessors. If anything, it ends up feeling like the plot takes a backseat, as rather than retreading the best bits of the film, you just kind of skip over them. There are hardly any cutscenes, what little dialogue there is seems to mostly be throwaway stuff (and oddly, is almost completely devoid of any humour), all of which has us suspecting the game has been put together on a much smaller budget than your usual LEGO game, forcing the feature set to be squeezed. With more time (and budget), a LEGO Movie themed take on LEGO Worlds sounds like the sort of thing that should be genuinely incredible, especially as letting you actually build things fits perfectly with the film, but the LEGO Movie 2 Videogame never got the chance to have that kind of scope. What you've got is a game that genuinely isn't by the numbers, yet which still somehow sometimes feels like it is. There is still a tonne of fun to be had here, and those with a collectible addiction (that's all of us then, right?) will be coming back to this for weeks trying to find those last few items or characters, but you can't help but be left wondering how it might have turned out with a bigger budget, and a little more time.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo Switch