Monkeys and Mischief in Lego Minifigures Online
Passion for plastic.
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The Longest Journey tells the sweeping story of an art student who is charged with restoring the balance between two parallel worlds. In Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures, you meet bare-breasted prostitutes and witness tragic murders as you explore the game's lush, low-fantasy environments. The alternate Earth of The Secret World takes the dark myths and covert conspiracies that invade our dreams and makes them real. How obvious, then, that the developer of these games, Funcom, would set its sights on… Legos.
OK: I suppose it's not that obvious after all, especially given how another (unrelated) massively multiplayer Lego game came and went in the blink of an eye. Lego Minifigures Online, however, is tied to a specific Lego product: the titular minifigures. These miniature plastic action figures are sold in mystery packs, making the experience of opening a new pack either joyous ("Hey look--I finally got Disco Dude!") or sorrowful ("Oh man, this is my third mime, and no one likes mimes anyway."). I'm not much of a minifigure collector, but I do love Traveller's Tales' popular cooperative-focused Lego platformers for their wit and light adventuring, and based on my recent time with the game, I suspect Lego Minifigures Online will capture the same playful essence.
That essence has been distilled into a Diablo-esque formula that presents the action from an isometric perspective and has you clicking around to direct your character. Or characters, I should say: while you only control one minifigure at a time, you take up to three different characters into an individual adventure, and can easily swap between them while exploring and fighting whenever you want. In this respect, Lego Minifigures Online is reminiscent of Darkspore, though that is not the only element that reminds me of Darkspore. Just as Darkspore had a Pokemon-like "gotta catch 'em all!" directive, so too does Funcom's game encourage you to add as many minifigures as you can to your roster.
Funcom showed bits and pieces of the games Medieval setting, but my hands-on time was spent in the game's pirate-themed areas, where I joined several other press members in a mission to take down a pesky kraken. As you might imagine, making our way to the kraken involved battling the local residents and native beasts, including attack monkeys, warriors wearing colorful masks, and gorgons that looked like refugees from Lego God of War, a game I now desperately want to be made, even though I just made it up. Slashing away at these fantastical forces was as straightforward as could be, and I was flinging gleaming pink stars at pistol-toting pirates in no time.
I was having so much fun as the star-throwing fairy, in fact, that a Funcom producer reminded me that I had other characters to play with too, and it's a good thing he did, since it let me see a powerful pair of heroes in action. One of my three adventurers was the fortune teller from Lego Minifigures series 9. The real-life figure holds a giant plastic tarot card in each hand; her in-game counterpart sets these cards spinning around her, injuring the Lego spear-throwers and other enemies that dare venture too close. Yet the fortune-teller is a ranged combatant, so unless I switched to a melee character, I wasn't getting the most out of my medium. Luckily, my trio included a Roman soldier who could barrel into the fray with an energetic charge. To fully maximize damage, I would activate the fortune teller's tarot whirlwind, switch to the guard, then sprint into a crowd of monkeys. Because the cards would still circle my character after I changed to the guard, I could really put the hurt on any enemies within reach.
Various minifigures' powers will complement each other in similar ways, and the game will boast over 100 characters on release. I adventured with several of them during my time with the game, and while the fairy was a favorite, I also took to the trendsetter, a Paris Hilton wannabe who fires emoticons from her cell phone. She came in handy during the final battle against the purple kraken, which rose from its watery lair, glared at my party with its single yellow eye, and pounded on us with its limber tentacles. Assembling nearby traps that damaged the creature's tentacles when they landed was the key to victory, though there were other chances before this to practice my building skills. Just as in Traveller's Tales' Lego games, you solve simple puzzles in Lego Minifigurines Online by assembling piles of Lego pieces that hop about like Mexican jumping beans.
No surprise: Lego Minifigures is absolutely adorable and bursting with color and charm. Its simple adventuring might be the key to getting kids and parents alike hooked on collecting plastic figurines, both within the game (which will cost you a little bit of real-world money, or an uncertain amount of real-life time) and outside of it (plastic minifigures will come with codes you can use to unlock them in the game). The game is clearly aimed at children and their families, but given how much money I've personally spent purchasing Disney Infinity figures, I can't necessarily discount the possibility that Lego Minifigures Online could pull me in with its cute collectibles. When the game hits open beta this summer, I might find out just how deeply it can sink its hooks.