An odd tension exists between LEGO and the video game content it sponsors. The brand—which prides itself on seemingly endless possibilities—has revelled in formulaic design for its video games, becoming satisfied with sidewards development since the release of the first few LEGO Star Wars titles. When the first LEGO game dropped in 2005, it was relatively refreshing, offering an engaging toolkit that mirrored the genius of the toy; the series has not moved on from that foundation, missing opportunity after opportunity to meaningfully build upon its initial promise. Ironies aside, the tension between the brand’s boundless ethos and its strict adherence to video game blueprints has stifled the potential of the franchise. The industry-wide adage rings true again for LEGO The Incredibles: if someone has played one LEGO game, they have played them all.
Of course, offering more of the same may not be a negative for all readers. The audience for the LEGO series, especially those of a younger vintage, may read the series’s stagnation as consistency. The real charm in these games is how the developer, TT Fusion, manages to morph the bare mechanics over a large variety of licenses, yet little has been done to mature or grow this utilitarian design. Similarly to previous entries in the series, the major components of The Incredibles are to solve puzzles, platform, and combat enemies using a system that heavily rewards backtracking with differing characters. Certain characters will be able to open branching paths previously unavailable, whilst also providing different levels of utility and damage.
Whilst this review may read as a little negative, positive aspects remain to be found in the title. Namely, if a player already likes LEGO games, then they will have a whole lot of fun with The Incredibles. The charm is present, albeit under a B-movie, slapdash veneer. The game is, by LEGO standards, appealing to look at, and considerable care has been taken in doing justice to Pixar’s wonder. The controls are as natural as ever, offering tight, responsive play, sans instruction booklet; much like Lego itself, the control scheme of these games requires little to no guidance.
Story-wise, the game starts with the same narrative as the the second film, picking up where the first The Incredibles left off, diving into the family’s skirmishes with a new villain known as the Underminer. Some modifications have been made to make the plot a little simpler and child-friendly, with many of the film’s mature themes relegated to gags or simply brushed under the rug. The positive resulting from this approach is that the game’s storyline flows quickly, without getting bogged down in unneeded plot; the priority has always lain with the gameplay in this series, with the plot serving as an exercise in absurdity. Following the events of The Incredibles 2, the plot then regresses to the events of the first film. Other characters from Pixar franchises, such as Flik from A Bug’s Life, can be used as protagonists, offering an uncanny attempt at intertextuality.
What The Incredibles lacks in innovation, it makes up for in polish. The game runs smoothly, with the threadbare mechanics flowing flawlessly. The bright, contrasting colours of the The Incredibles film franchise has been translated seamlessly to the cutesy characters and LEGO-built locales. Few criticisms can be levelled at the performance or execution, yet little is present to get really excited about; the LEGO franchise has transitioned from fresh to vanilla to almost drab in its resistance to reward risk-taking. The series is in dire need of fresh ideas, but the superhero tropes of this iteration provide little room for ingenuity.
By now, however, the staple branching paths, puzzles, and verticality of LEGO’s design has worn thin. LEGO The Incredibles is an attempt to ride the idiosyncrasies of the source material to pave over cracks in the game’s core design. In future, LEGO games would be able to realise their enormous potential if they left their target markets and traditions at the door, and decided to make the game the developer really wants to make; the series needs forget its past and re-lay its foundation with some fresh building blocks.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4.