Developer: TT Games
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
We love the Traveller's Tales LEGO games here at Dealspwn. Flying in the face of gritty seriousness, the UK-based developer believes that it's okay to have fun while playing videogames, presenting us with a range of brilliant tie-ins that blend our love of classic films with the toys we grew up with. Kids can enjoy the accessible addictive gameplay while us slightly older folks can chuckle at the in-jokes and collect copious amounts of studs right along with them. The LEGO games are a perfect mix of smart design and unabashed sillyness that literally anyone can enjoy.
So it's no surprise that LEGO have co-opted TT Games to create a handheld tie-in based on their latest official playset range: Legends Of Chima. The colourful world of anthropomorphic kung fu animals may be a neat setting for a game, but can the series support itself on gameplay alone without Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Batman, Harry Potter or The Lord Of The Rings to riff on?
The short answer is yes. Just because a game happens to be a tie-in doesn't mean it automatically has to suck.
Laval's Journey casts players as the eponymous Laval, a proud Lion warrior living in the colourful Chinese-flavoured world of Chima. The balance of power between the animal tribes has been shattered by an evil crocodile named Cragger attempting to steal Triple Chi Power by nicking a set of ancient armour, propelling our feline hero into a journey to unite the clans and save the world. Along the way, he'll meet a cast of varied playable characters with different abilities, solve a few puzzles, engage in some simple combat and collect a glorious fountain of studs.
As a TT Game, Laval's Journey subscribes to a familiar formula. You'll explore a series of lengthy, masterfully-crafted levels full of enemies to fight in satisfying one-button melee combat (beefed up here with a restrained number of surprisingly competent QTEs), platforming, breaking the LEGO scenery to create raw materials to assemble into useful objects and other simple environmental puzzles that require a little head-scratching from time to time. It's the same core experience as we're used to from the LEGO games, and still packs that 'just five more minutes factor.' Respawns are immediate and infinite, so players of any age or ability can get involved without risk or frustration, but the urge to collect as many studs as humanly possible adds an element of risk vs reward for more experienced gamers. TT excel at encouraging exploration and experimentation without compromising the accessibility factor.
Naturally, Legends Of Chima provides plenty of anthropomorphic characters to switch between on the fly, all of whom have different combat styles and ways of interacting with the environment. Lions like Laval can deal out sword damage, claw up walls and shatter scenery with a fearsome roar, while Eagle characters dish out ranged damage with a massive blaster, mix it up with axes, glide long distances and transfer power between switches. Pro tip: Eagles ROCK. As you continue, you'll gradually amass an army of kung fu critters including gorillas, wolves, rhinos and crocodiles, all of whom excel in different situations and can lend their unique abilities to solving optional puzzles.
Laval's Journey may be relatively short in terms of a single unbroken playthrough, clocking in at somewhere around half a dozen hours, but that's not really what the LEGO games are all about. Instead, you're encouraged to return to completed levels with an expanded roster, all of which bristle with optional environmental features to exploit for hidden collectible characters, extras and bonuses. Every stud you collect (still one of the most satisfying collection mechanics in gaming today) adds to your cumulative total, which you'll spend in a comprehensive marketplace back at a sprawling hub zone. There's less to buy here than in other LEGO games, but you'll still have plenty of new faces, bonuses and tidbits to fritter away your studs on.
Legends Of Chima superfans can also redeem unlockable Chi codes online for bonuses, or something. If you already know what this means, you'll be well away.
Visually, LEGO Legends Of Chima looks great from the default zoomed-out view, exhibiting crisp lines, smooth animations and a vibrant colour palette. On Vita, at least, since we weren't sent the 3DS version to test. However, things get somewhat muddier when the camera zooms in for in-engine cutscenes thanks to surprisingly low-resolution character face detail and static expressions, making our sneering protagonist look like a bit of a mess to put things mildly. Thankfully key story events are portrayed in pre-rendered fashion, and occasional clipping errors or scenery hangups are quickly rectified by a prompt respawn to safe ground.
In terms of flaws, Laval's Journey suffers from the lack of a big fat juicy license. It's keenly targeted at fans of the Legends Of Chima playsets, meaning that TT had to make an earnest attempt to treat its source material seriously rather than poking lighthearted fun at Han Solo, Ron Weasley and The Joker. There's little in the way of tongue-in-cheek humour here, meaning that older players won't glean the same satisfaction from the major licensed releases. Voice acting is predictably upbeat and, erm, bad, though no worse than any Saturday morning cartoon or the Legends Of Chima television series. The longer levels are also perhaps an odd fit for a dedicated handheld game, despite many of them containing several checkpoints that would have made natural points to cut back to the hub. Gamers on the go will need to rely on the Vita's impressive standby battery life.
Sadly, there's no multiplayer, which isn't a criticism I make very often. Though it's arguably fair enough considering the handheld format, we can't help but wish that TT Games had made an effort to add Ad-Hoc local multiplayer at the very least, since the LEGO series really shines with friends. Still, if you're a parent wanting to get involved, I daresay you've already got a shedload of Legends Of Chima playsets cluttering up your living room to enjoy with your offspring after they put down their (your?) Vita.
Make sure you don't accidentally tread on one of the Eagle masks. Ouch.
- Fun and compelling LEGO gameplay suitable for all ages
- Impressive replay value and characters to unlock
- Unmistakeable TT Games quality and polish
- Lack of a major license to riff on, light on quirky humour
- Relatively short main storyline, yet longer levels not a great handheld fit
- Chirpy voice acting can annoy; no multiplayer
The Short Version: Laval's Journey may be specifically targeted at younger fans of the Legends Of Chima LEGO range, but it still packs that trademark TT quality and compelling gameplay. Gamers of any age deserve decent software, and Traveller's Tales have made another worthwhile title despite the lack of a big-name license.