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Feature: LEGO video game retrospective

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Gaming Feature: LEGO Games Retrospective

It's surprising just how much fun can be derived from a few multi-coloured pieces of plastic brick. Nevertheless, fun and LEGO go hand in hand. With the recent release of its latest title LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4, there is no better time to look at the brief but bountiful history of the LEGO game.

Here, Digital Spy looks at the history of the LEGO video game universe, from ignored early attempts to the clever use of the 'force' and beyond, and asks what's next for the little building blocks of joy.




Early LEGO Games

LEGO Racers
With the dawn of the 21st century, the brains behind LEGO needed a way to keep their product fresh, as well as be able to introduce it to a whole new audience. This is where the LEGO video game came into play. Initial attempts to pixelate the product weren't much cop, and the first batch of LEGO games to appear in the late '90s and early '00s wreaked of childish cash-ins with little identity or innovation to reel the punters in.

Games such as LEGO Chess, LEGO Soccer Mania and LEGO Racers did very little to entice or excite gamers, while it was also at this time that the LEGO universe would begin its flirtation with Harry Potter when LEGO Creator: Harry Potter and a Chamber Of Secrets sequel hit the shelves. Neither game would prove much better than previous efforts; although one thinks that the latest attempt to immortalise Potter will prove more fruitful and fun.




Bionicle Heroes

Bionicle Heroes
The Bionicle titles were the first LEGO games to truly take off as a franchise. Set in a sci-fi fantasy world wrought with technology and danger, the games would appear for a number of years on multiple handheld formats as well as the Wii, PS2, Xbox 360, Gamecube and PC.

The Bionicle series would enjoy a modicum of success, but with fishy FPS gameplay mechanics and only a loose connection to LEGO itself, it wasn't until the LEGO games began to feel the force that the world of LEGO would enjoy a stunning surge of consistently entertaining and inspired games.




LEGO Star Wars

Lego Star Wars
It was greeted with surprise by many, but LEGO Star Wars The Video Game would be the title to spawn a new phenomenon. A simple, albeit strange formula - take the popular hobby of model building and combine it with one of the most famous and loved movie franchises of all time.

The original LEGO Star Wars game came out at around the same time as Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith and featured action from the trilogy of prequels, including Episode III itself, which was only weeks away from release. Although the films it portrayed were far from universally popular with longterm fans, the lure of playing a multiplayer action game with characters such as Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker and more was too appealing to resist and so a new franchise was born.

The game saw players begin from Episode I and unlock new chapters and movies by fighting their way past famous enemies, solving puzzles, racing vehicles and using the force to destroy and rebuild their LEGO surroundings.

Despite a few niggles in gameplay, notably poor AI in single-player and some camera issues, the game was a universal success both with critics and gamers alike. Naturally, the best was yet to come, and the inevitable sequel arrived, which took its subject matter from the original movies and gave players access to Hans Solo, Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leah and a whole host of other favourites. The mixture of humour in the cut-scenes, simple but captivating gameplay and that incredible musical score meant that the game continued the trend set by its predecessor and become another essential multi-format title.

Travellers Tales and Lucas Arts would later release the entire collection on one disc to entice even more gamers to the series, and have gone on to announce a third game, which will focus on the Clone Wars when it is released in 2011.




LEGO Indiana Jones

Gaming Review: LEGO Indiana Jones 2
With a great partner in Lucas Arts, and a franchise that showed no signs of waning, Travellers Tales would later focus on another George Lucas classic trilogy, Indiana Jones. When first announced, gamers salivated over the prospect of another LEGO rendition of a legendary movie, and the thought of cracking the whip as Indy through his original trilogy was greeted with almost as much joy as the idea of wielding a lightsaber before that.

LEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Adventure saw players battle through the first three (and best three) Indiana Jones films, with added gameplay elements that took the customisable aspects of the Star Wars saga to a new level. Playing through Raiders Of The Lost Arc, Temple Of Doom and The Last Crusade, fans were treated to all of the adventure of the movies, complete with those memorable moments and scenes recreated to ensure gamers felt an unparalleled level of excitement. New ideas were implemented which saw certain characters become paralysed by their phobias, while there were more vehicles and combat moves to enjoy.

Once again the title proved popular enough to force a sequel, which, unfortunately, was let down by the fact that the series had become a little repetitive. Released in 2009, the game utilised additional scenes from the first three movies, as well as a lengthy section involving all of the best action from the poorly received Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull.




LEGO Batman

Batman Lego
Following the 2008 release of LEGO Indiana Jones, Travellers Tales teamed up with DC Comics to cash in on Batman fever and release its second LEGO title of the year with LEGO Batman: The Videogame.

This title was approached slightly differently by the developers, and for the first time saw a standalone storyline arc in place of the usual recreation aspect of the preceding movie tie-ins. Drawing on almost every aspect of the Batman mythology, players were faced with a Gotham City-sized problem when all of the inmates of Arkham Asylum were on the loose and teaming up in three separate groups to stop Batman and his sidekick Robin.

The game gave players lots to do and find, with 30 levels available to play through - 15 as Batman and Robin, and 15 levels of villainy with all of the unlockable baddies. There was also plenty to do off the streets, with Batman's arsenal of land, sea and air vehicles to enjoy, as well as a whole number of devices to utilise, from Joker's hand buzzer to Penguin's brolly. Expect a sequel some time next year; although very little is known at this point as to what that will entail.




LEGO Rock Band

Lego Rock Band
If Travellers Tales's decision to team up with Lucas Arts and create LEGO Star Wars raised a few eyebrows, then its choice to collaborate with Harmonix was viewed almost as a practical joke. However, the popular rhythm action game Rock Band was indeed the latest to get the LEGO treatment and perhaps the oddest musical merger since Bing Crosby and David Bowie decided to get festive.

Speaking of Bowie, LEGO Rock Band continued the LEGO and Rock Band tradition of featuring guest stars, and Bowie himself, alongside Iggy Pop, Blur, Spinal Tap and Queen, featured in the final game, wailing along to some of their classics without any worry that their plastic hair styles would get messed up.

Although a massive departure for the usual LEGO action game formula, the same old recycled Rock Band gameplay, as well as a dubious but at times brilliant soundtrack, meant that LEGO Rock Band might be the first LEGO game in some time not to receive an encore; although only time will tell on that one.




LEGO Universe

LEGO Universe
When you've already conquered the action genre, recreated numerous classic movies and rocked your block off, where else can you take the LEGO series? The answer lies with the next game in the LEGO universe....LEGO Universe.

With the popularity of games such as World Of Warcraft, it should come as no surprise that the creators of LEGO should want a virtual land of their own, and this upcoming MMORPG, which is due to be released later this year, offers fans the chance to become immersed in a full-scale LEGO fantasy land.

Whether or not this is a brick too far in the LEGO franchise remains to be seen, but LEGO Universe certainly has a level of intrigue and originality that should hold it in good stead with gamers. With fantasy themes of good and evil present and accounted for, as well as plenty of beasts and baddies to slay, this could be a surprise hit when it lands on PCs in October. Although can you really see somebody trading Warcraft for this? Maybe not.




What Next?

LEGO Harry Potter
A LEGO Harry Potter sequel is almost a given, and old favourites such as Batman and Star Wars are due another outing, but where else can the LEGO universe go in pursuit of gaming excellence? How about LEGO Lord Of The Rings or LEGO Jurassic Park? Maybe Marvel will give DC a run for its money with a LEGO X-Men game? LEGO Sports perhaps? Or even the LEGO take on the WWII shooter - LEGO Of Honour?

Who knows what's next for the LEGO universe? But you can bet while sales remain steady that more is to come from everybody's favourite building tool.

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