All in Good Fun: Learning With LEGO Video Games

Since it's the week of Christmas, I thought I'd have some fun and review a bunch of video games that I've had a great time playing over the years: the LEGO video games. I first started playing the LEGO games a few years after my daughter was born, and now both her and her younger brother have been introduced to video games through the LEGO series. They're a great introduction to games for children because they're fairly easy and accessible, yet they're engaging enough for adults that you won't be bored to tears while playing them yourself. We love playing together, and it ends up being good quality daddy-and-kids time.

In these LEGO games, collecting everything and experiencing everything that they have to offer requires a fair amount of skill and determination, so parents will have plenty of challenges to keep themselves interested. Plus there's the awesomeness of playing as hundreds of characters from all of the classic stories that they've made LEGO games out of, from Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars to Gandalf in Lord of the Rings. The cut scenes in the games are parodies of the most iconic scenes from the movies they're based on, and the fact that everything is acted out with LEGO characters and props made out of bricks is just hilarious.

It's a good, clean kind of fun, though, that's safe for kids. The worst things that ever happen involve LEGO people flying apart, and even then, the characters usually get up and go chasing after their loose body parts, making the scenes even more ludicrous. The games are also packed with plenty of puzzles to challenge young minds. The levels are mazes that need to be explored and navigated, which develops spacial intelligence, and like most video games, manual dexterity and hand-eye coordination are quickly improved as kids play more and get better.

The LEGO games also encourage teamwork and cooperation because at multiple points in every level both characters are required to work together to make progress. The levels are incredibly well-designed, and I've been amazed numerous times at the intricacy of some of the puzzles that stand in your way. The games even have money management features with their standard currency of studs that you collect by building and breaking things in each level. You have to make decisions about what to buy with your growing stash of studs to best help you get through levels more easily and collect more studs more quickly.

Finally, the LEGO games help kids develop goal-setting skills. There is so much to do in every game, and many paths to take. I let the kids choose what they want to accomplish, and they have to figure out how to achieve their goals. The games display plenty of statistics about how much of the various items and characters have been collected, so the kids can see what's still available and what they should go after next. It even helps them practice some basic math concepts like fractions and percentages. All around, the LEGO games are a great learning tool, and honestly, they're a blast to play.

Okay, enough of the learning stuff; let's get to the games.

Star Wars: The Complete Saga (November 2007)

All screen shots came from Click to enlarge.
This is where it all began, with Star Wars. The first LEGO Star Wars game came out in March of 2005, covering Episodes 1-3. Then a second game came out covering Episodes 4-6. The Complete Saga combines those two games, so it's the one to get. It is awesome running around as a LEGO Jedi, swinging a lightsaber and pushing droids around with the force. Blowing stuff up with the bounty hunters' thermal detonators isn't too bad, either.

Star Wars set the foundations for how all of the LEGO games look and feel. The basic idea is to go through each level looking for minikits and power bricks while collecting as many studs as you can. If you collect all of the minikits in a level, you get a complete LEGO model of something iconic from the movie—like a vehicle or a prop—and a gold brick. You also get gold bricks for collecting enough studs and completing the levels. The gold bricks then unlock bonus levels for even more LEGO fun. The power bricks unlock power-ups like quick building, invincibility, and stud multipliers. All of these collectibles are hidden in puzzles throughout the levels, and merely completing the levels requires a fair amount of puzzle solving as well.

There's a ton of other stuff in the game, like pod-racing, bounty hunting, and level time trials. It takes about 20-30 hours to fully explore the game. Even though the graphics are showing their age, this game is still great fun to play. Come on, it's Star Wars, with LEGOs!

Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures (June 2008)

LEGO must have figured they had a good thing going by the time they released Indiana Jones. They decided to take the whole slap-stick, spoofed cut-scenes and run with it this time. Having all of the classic Indy scenes acted out with goofy LEGO characters that can't talk (they only grunt, hum, and mumble) is a riot.

The format is basically the same in this game as it was in Star Wars. Collect minikits, power bricks (now called parcels), and studs. The minikits build artefacts that unlock bonus levels, and the parcels unlock power-ups, like before. This time around there are no gold bricks, but they return in later games.

The levels in this game are great because of the huge diversity of characters. Indy has his whip that he can use to cross chasms and activate switches. There are "shorty" characters that can go through special tunnels. Other characters have wrenches, books, and shovels that are necessary for certain puzzles. And women characters can jump about twice as high as other characters to reach higher platforms. I would say there's more variety of characters than there was in Star Wars, and it really adds to the puzzle design of the levels. And you get to be Indiana Jones, which is awesome. Unless my daughter is playing. Then you have to be Satipo.

Batman: The Videogame (September 2008)

Batman is awesome, so of course they had to make a LEGO video game based on him. Robin is pretty cool, too, at least according to my son. When he's playing, I get to be Batman. In the cut-scenes Batman has essentially one grunt, and he uses it all the time, to full effect. LEGO took his demeanor from the latest films (you know, the Christian Bale Batman) and made it so extreme that it's hilarious. The contrast between him and the rest of the caste is perfectly done, and gives the game great character.

Once again there are no gold bricks in this game, but the power bricks make a return. The minikits and studs are still here, and power-ups and bonus levels are unlocked in the same way as Indiana Jones. The caste of characters is slightly smaller, but that's because Batman and Robin have a number of different suits they can wear. Each suit has its own special abilities, like gliding, setting mines, or my kids' absolute favorite, sucking up LEGO bricks with a vacuum suit.

Once you complete the main levels as Batman and Robin, you can go through them from a different perspective as the villains. As the villains, you progress through the same levels as you did with the heroes, but from the villains' point-of-view so everything is modified for their special abilities. It's great fun, and being Mr. Freeze is about as awesome as being Batman (or Robin, if you're four).

Indiana Jones 2: The Adventure Continues (November 2009)

It wasn't awesome enough the first time around, so Traveller's Tales (the game developers) decided to give Indiana Jones another go. In the previous games, the hub between levels was one of the main hang-outs from the story the game was based on. Star Wars had Mos Eisley Cantina, Indiana Jones had Barnett College, and Batman had The Batcave. These hubs had a few secrets in them, but the main part of the game was the levels.

In Indiana Jones 2, it's much different. Each story has it's own hub, and those hubs are packed with secrets, minigames, and bonus levels. Power bricks are also found in the hubs instead of the levels now, and once ten bricks of one color are collected, a parcel will drop in by parachute with a power-up that you can purchase. Characters also walk around the hubs and you can purchase those as well. Some of them, mostly villains, you have to fight first before you can purchase them.

The gold bricks also make their return, and they appear in the hub as you make progress through the levels. Once you get them all, you can build a major LEGO structure and unlock a super bonus level with plenty of fun stuff to build and destroy inside.

The interface has also improved with the addition of a split screen in two-player mode. It's not a normal split screen that's divided vertically or horizontally. Instead, it constantly adjusts depending on where the players are in relation to each other so that the split is perpendicular to the line between them. To make your way towards the other character, you head directly towards the middle of the split line, and when you get close enough, the split disappears. This is really, really awesome. Now you're not bound to a box on the screen when playing with someone else. You can explore where ever you want, which is especially helpful when playing with kids. You will still need to work together to solve many of the puzzles, but now you have so much more freedom.

Harry Potter: Years 1-4 (June 2010)

My kids love Harry Potter. So does my wife. Okay, I'll admit it, so do I. Being a wizard is awesome. They made some significant changes for this game, and I would say mostly for the better. The wizarding world has a lot of magic spells, so there's a spell wheel added to the interface where you can select which spell you want to caste. As you advance through the years, you learn more and more spells, and some wizards have special abilities. Harry has his invisibility cloak, Ron and Hermione have pets that help with certain puzzles, and dark wizards can blow up dark LEGO bricks.

Continuing the trend of Indiana Jones 2, the main hub of this game is Hogwarts Castle. You find the entrances to the levels as you explore the castle, and more of the castle opens up as you advance in the game. If you get lost (the castle is huge), Nearly-Headless Nick will be there to guide you to the next level. Don't rush through the castle, though because it holds plenty of secrets waiting to be discovered.

You do all of your shopping for spells, power-ups, and characters in Diagon Alley (where else?), and power-ups are now unlocked by finding parcels that you hand off to Hedwig to carry to the power-up shop. You get gold bricks for collecting studs, finding house crests, finishing levels, and saving students in peril. Once you collect enough, you unlock bonus levels for each year and a super bonus level once you've collected all 200 gold bricks. We're still working on it.

The graphics had gotten an upgrade for Indiana Jones 2, and they definitely got another one for Harry Potter. Lighting and water effects are much more realistic, and anything that's supposed to be LEGO pieces has a much more plasticy look. Animations are more fluid, too.

This is a great game—one of the kids' favorites—but I'll warn you. Try to play with one kid at a time until you unlock some extra characters because eeeveryone wants to be Harry Potter. Go figure.

Star Wars III: The Clone Wars (March 2011)

I don't actually have this game, yet. I, unfortunately, was under the impression that it wouldn't be much different than Star Wars: The Complete Saga, but after seeing how much better Indiana Jones 2 and Batman 2 are than the originals, I'm now sure I want to play Star Wars III. More saving the galaxy as a Jedi Knight, what could be more awesome than that?

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game (May 2011)

Arguably, being a pirate is more awesome. This is probably my favorite of the LEGO games that we've played so far. Jack Sparrow as a LEGO figure just kills me. He's got the same flippity swagger from the movie taken to a hilarious extreme, and pretty much all of the characters are oozing with personality in this game.

The game play goes back to the LEGO roots somewhat, with an old-school sized hub for level selection, and you collect minikits and studs in the levels for gold bricks that unlock bonus levels and power-ups in the hub. Power bricks are nowhere to be found, though. Instead, they're power hats that you find in the hub, because, you know, pirates love hats, right?

The diversity of characters is incredible in this game. You've got Jack with his compass for finding hidden items in the levels, cursed pirates that walk under water, Davey Jones and his crew that can transport to different places at special barnacle spots, and Black Beard with his sword that can control black and red bricks. Then you have the normal assortment of shovel, blacksmith hammer, high-jump, shorty, and bomb-throwing characters. Oh, and there's a guitar player, mermaids, and a singer that can break glass. Then there are characters that combine different abilities, and I'm sure I'm forgetting some as well.

The puzzles and level design are fantastic. The cut-scenes are great. This is all around a seriously fun game. And when you think about it, who doesn't want to be a pirate?

Harry Potter: Years 5-7 (November 2011)

Since we haven't finished the first four years, I haven't gotten to this game yet. But I expect it to be at least as awesome as the first one. Just look at that screen shot—Harry, Ron, and Hermione flying a dragon through Gringots. It's gonna be good.

Batman 2: DC Super Heroes (June 2012)

I was floored when I saw the first cut-scene in Batman 2. The characters actually talk! No longer do the characters mumble and grunt (well okay, Batman still does). Now there's actual dialog, and it's well done. The gameplay is much different as well.

After the short reprieve of getting back to the basics with Pirates of the Caribbean, Batman 2 picks up the large central hub of the Harry Potter games and takes it to a whole new level with Gotham City. The game plays almost like GTA, with a large open world to explore. In it you find red power bricks, gold bricks, citizens in peril, extra villains, and the entrances to missions.

The gold bricks unlock extra characters this time, and there are lots of different super heroes and super villains to choose from. But you have to find them. Scattered around the city are various arches that can be built with gold bricks to reveal purchasable characters, and they are mostly hidden high up on the roof tops of buildings. The whole game is great for exploration and learning how to navigate in a complex environment. There's an overhead map that helps a little, but mostly the treasure hunting tasks depend on you figuring out how to get from where you are to some remote location with the multitude of tools you have available. It's a great learning experience.

The different suits are back, and better than ever. The vacuum suit is still popular with the kids, and this time it sucks up liquids instead of bricks. When the tank is full, you can shoot it at villains as a weapon or use it to solve puzzles or put out fires. The kids also love Robin's acrobat suit. It's great fun rolling around in the gerbil ball that comes with it, and since these are Robin's suits, that means I get to be Batman. Everyone's happy.

Lord of the Rings (November 2012)

I've only played the first level of Lord of the Rings so far, but it looks awesome. The graphics definitely got another upgrade, and the initial battle scene with Sauron had a ton of stuff going on at once. The action was a bit too intense for my daughter, so we may have to wait a half a year or so before really getting into this game. I'm looking forward to playing as all of these great characters. It's going to be awesome.

Marvel Super Heroes (October 2013)

They're pumping out LEGO games so fast now that I haven't been able to keep up. On top of that, Marvel Super Heroes is the first LEGO game available on the PlayStation 4, and I don't have one, yet. I can't wait to play as Iron Man and Magneto and The Hulk. Who am I kidding? I want to be all of them.

The LEGO Movie Videogame (February 2014)

If this game is anything like the movie, then it's going to be awesome. Look at that screen shot—Abe Lincoln in a flying rocket chair. Everything is awesome. That about sums it up.

The Hobbit (April 2014)

It looks like The Hobbit only covers the first two movies, and there should be more content for the third movie, which just came out a week ago. I would bet there will be either another game, or some downloadable content to add to this one to complete the story. It looks awesome, and I can't wait to play it.

Batman 3: Beyond Gotham (November 2014)

Hey, another Batman game. He's awesome, so why not? I hear this game is less about Batman and Robin and more about the entirety of the Justice League. They were heading in that direction with the last Batman game, so this is the logical continuation. I'm sure it will beawesome!

What's Next?

Who knows! I've heard rumors about Ghostbusters, but if the release rate of the last few games is any indication, we won't have to wait long to find out. They've got their formula down, and every game they make tweaks and enhancements to keep making the games better. So far I'd have to say my favorites are Pirates of the Caribbean, Batman 2: DC Super Heroes, and Harry Potter, in that order. But all of these games are great, and they're a great learning experience for the kids, too. They encourage exploration, goal-setting, and decision-making. They help develop critical thinking skills and spacial intelligence with all of the great puzzles and level design in every game. And it is so much fun to play as all of these iconic characters in a world of LEGOs, as long as I can be Batman and the kids can be Harry Potter. Happy Holidays!

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