LEGO The Hobbit may sound like a tug-of-war game with the winning trophy going to the one who hangs on to Bilbo Baggins the longest. Or maybe the title's just a silly slogan for a new toaster waffle with wavy hair. But, no, this LEGO game isn't all that different, in fact, from the previous LEGO games.
Which isn't to say it's boring, by the way.
The interconnecting tale hews pretty closely to Peter Jackson's Hobbit movies. In fact, it sometimes feels like you're playing the movies scene by scene—from the plate juggling in Bilbo's kitchen to the webby tangle with the giant spiders of Mirkwood to the wood-elf territory barrel-escape to the treasure-filled castle keep encounter with Smaug himself.
One Belly Bounce, If You Please
The big difference in this game is the huge cast of characters you can switch between. Let's see, there's little Bilbo and the much taller Gandalf. Then you can also jump into the shoes of Thorin, Fíli, Kíli, Óin, Glóin, Dwalin, Balin, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur (pant, pant) … well, suffice it to say a whole bunch of familiar residents from the Tolkien story's Middle-earth realms. And it's important to keep track of who's who because each of these guys has his own special ability that will help you make it through the game's puzzles and environmental challenges.
One fellow, for instance, has a gift with a bow to pinpoint a lofty target. Another wields a special flail that can hook and pull a distant switch. One can set blocky fires, one digs up soil and grows plants. And one portly dwarf can even lend his ample belly for a bit of trampoline bounce to reach a high ledge. It's all mix, match and mingle 'til you find the right skills to help you make it through.
Environment smashing and stud collecting is again the order of the day. There are lots of blocks laying around waiting to be built into something. But characters can also gather and mine resources this time around to use in "find the missing piece" puzzles, as well as a special item-creation system.
If you're wondering about the source material's scarier elements, well, they're certainly a part of blocky action here. But plastic goblins and wargs seems somehow more palatable from a kiddie perspective. And Azog with a painted-on scowl is far less intimidating than his growling and scarred self on the big screen. The same goes for the skeletons, giant spiders and tomb-haunting creepies—all of which come off more cute than caustic in this injection-mold world.
The Dark End of the Block?
Not that I'm glossing over all those baddies and their dark forest/evil tomb environs. After all, they do make it their business to try to devastate, kill and even eat our party of heroes. (They don't, of course, but they try.) There are many battling conflicts in which characters are hit with hammers, arrows, swords and staffs. (They flash red with each strike until they break up into their block components.
Most of the script comes directly from the films (with great voiceover work, by the way) or is tweaked slightly to add a touch more humor to the interactions. Just about the "worst" of it is a trollish "shut your cakehole." But the magicky stuff that comes part and parcel with this make-believe world seems to be more ubiquitous. Most spells are simply unspecific wand blasts, but some are chants delivered in a quirky tongue. Weapons and people are cursed or poisoned—represented by purple and black studs that bubble up into the air.
But dark and dour colors don't consume all eight to 10 hours of your Arkenstone-seeking journey. LEGO The Hobbit manages to mostly maintain a cheery, elbow-to-the-ribs attitude, keeping its story brisk and tweaking the serious moments to be just a little silly.