LEGO: Legends of Chima - Laval's Journey
It's been about seven years since the first LEGO game came out - LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game. I remember not being able to afford the game myself so I'd play the PC demo level over and over until I finally received the game on my birthday. It was cool, it was interesting, and it was fun. Little did I know that the series would then go on to spawn approximately seventeen more games spanning all different kinds of franchises. I canít help but ask whether or not Travellerís Tales are starting to tire of the LEGO line of games since I am most certainly getting to that point too. To be entirely fair, I donít think the publisher expects you to buy and complete each game that comes out as if they were sequels of one another, but as a reviewer I have to and it becomes easier to see the general template that these games follow. But regardless, here I am, with another LEGO game, and no, itís actually not as bad as my rather grim opening paragraph might suggest.
LEGO Legends of Chima: Lavalís Journey takes place in the world of Chima. Chima is inhabited by anthropomorphic animals that are at conflict due to a long running and historical civil war. There are eight distinct animal tribes Ė Lion, Eagle, Raven, Wolf, Crocodile, Rhino, Bear and Gorilla. Each have their own unique traits and they all fight for control of a natural resource known as CHI. CHI is the source of life but also quite easily abused if amassed in large amount (like any energy source in fiction, I guess). The crux of Lavalís Journey follows Laval as he tries to stop Crocodile Prince Cragger from discovering the legendary Triple CHI Armour. Iíll be entirely honest Ė the story of Lavalís Journey is pretty lacklustre but does its job at pushing the action along, albeit with little surprises.
LEGO games have long been quite formulaic. You have an open world hub, which connects several levels and a whole bunch of collectibles. This kind of stuff is to be expected in LEGO games, and makes a return in Lavalís Journey. The way everything comes together has somewhat changed, however. There is still a large amount of exploring to do, but levels feel a lot more concise and donít drag out for too long. Laval and his buddies can explore the world around them, though only certain parts of the world will open up after Laval obtains a new buddy with a new ability. Itís a simple way to encourage exploration but never reaches the level of design that other games like Castlevania or Metroid might. Thereís even a few puzzles scattered throughout the main game, though I could swear there isnít any more than five, so they arenít a major inclusion.
Quite a few things seem to have changed with the move into Chima, however. The way Laval and his crew traverse the environments has changed quite a bit Ė expect the scaling of walls, sidling across thin footing, swinging across vines and even wall running among many other methods of transport. It feels a lot more varied than previous LEGO games and breaks up the typical running, destroying and rebuilding formula of previous games. Combat feels quite smooth now too Ė with many weapons making their ways into the fray and despite the combat commonly amounting to nothing more than button mashing, it still feels varied quite enough. On top of this, there are also ďfinishersĒ that require either a button press or the mashing of a button. They donít happen often enough to be annoying but also appear regularly enough to keep the combat feeling a little bit fresh. Itís still extremely simple and child friendly, but at least it feels less repetitive.
The value for money, as with all LEGO games, is still here though of course depends on how much of a completionist you are. Extra characters provide a great way to open up new, optional areas of the hub area. Side quests are also provided for players to fetch items, usually from a different world that the quest giver resides in. These are nice ways to flesh out the game a little bit, and provide more optional content for those who love exploring their surroundings, but amount nothing more than glorified fetch quests. Still, most players should take anywhere between eight to ten hours to complete the game. As per with most LEGO games, total 100% completion can be around the twenty hour mark. Those looking to take their journey on to the road can also select items and characters to exchange via StreetPass. Some items are even obtainable through linkage with the LEGO website too.
Despite the advances that Lavalís Journey has made in gameplay, the gameís graphical presentation is rather rough. Characters are poorly detailed, environments are very barren feeling with incredibly short draw distances and thereís this kind of pervasive white fog that makes the world feel much smaller than it actually is. Itís strange to see LEGO games go from 60fps to an unstable 30fps on the portable consoles, but itís actually happened with Lavalís Journey. We should be up front here and mention that a patch is available that makes the game perform a little bit better as well as load faster, but we have to question how much of this gameís audience will bother to download it. The game also uses 3D, as expected, and it adds a bit of depth to the environment but also drops performance significantly when compared to leaving it off.
Pre-rendered cinematics are also used during key moments, but they look a little bit weird and slightly off with a very weak 3D effect to boot. Theyíre not super detailed, but at least give the game a much more cinematic quality. This is compounded by a very epic and (for lack of a better word) inspiring soundtrack that gives the game a feel of a Disney epic or Saturday morning cartoon. The soundtrack works well. The voice acting, on the other hand, while welcomed over written dialogue, is incredibly cheesy and poorly written. This isnít the writing youíd be familiar with in previous LEGO games like Undercover or Batman 2.
LEGO Legends of Chima: Lavalís Journey is an enjoyable romp through a unique world that manages to right most of my issues with previous LEGO games. Itís quite telling that the first traditional LEGO game in a while that isnít based on an already established franchise is quite possibly the most well realised vision of the LEGO game design yet. Itís just a shame that itís presented to players so poorly and is generally so unoptimised for the 3DS. Regardless of its improvements and/or shortcomings, Lavalís Journey isnít going to win many players over to the LEGO games. But I get the feeling that if the team continues that weíre slowly on the right track to something that almost everyone can enjoy and play.