“I’m going on an adventure!” shouts a young Bilbo Baggins as he leaves his safe and cozy home to embark on a quest that will forever change his life.
TT Games has brought the LEGO series back to Middle Earth with LEGO The Hobbit for PS Vita. The game follows the retelling of the story as featured in the two Peter Jackson films, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and The Desolation of Smaug. Fans of the movies will be able to relive their favorite scenes, but those unfamiliar with the story may feel a little lost. And as a warning, the game does follow the movies pretty closely, so there may be some spoilers for anyone who has not seen them.
LEGO The Hobbit follows the journey of a group of dwarves attempting to reclaim their mountain kingdom back from the dragon Smaug. Aided by the wizard Gandalf, the group enlists the help of homebody Bilbo Baggins to act as the group’s burglar. Together they march out across Middle Earth, searching for the secret entrance into the Lonely Mountain. To get there, players will need to use the unique abilities of Bilbo, the dwarves, and various other characters you will meet along the way.
First things first. LEGO The Hobbit for the PS Vita is not the same as the game available on the PS3/PS4. It looks different, it plays different, it is structured different. It is quite simply, different. This game provides a separate experience and players shouldn’t go into it thinking they’re getting the same game, just in a portalable form.
The game follows the format of previous LEGO games by TT Games, and if you’ve played any of them before (especially LEGO Lord of the Rings) you will know what to expect. It really feels like two games in one. The first is a play through of the story, featuring cut scenes that use various dialogue clips from the movies. Then after that is completed, a free-play option is available in which you can go back through all the various locations to pick up the collectibles you were not able to get the first time around.
The game is structured around each of the major locations in the story having a dedicated map that the player uses to move from one scene to the next. A grid of discs scattered throughout the map represent the different areas you can visit, and it makes the travel system much faster. There is no free roaming, but rather a quick select of locations to travel to. It’s different from the way travel was handled for LEGO Lord of the Rings, and while it does cut down on the immersion factor, its benefit of speeding things up more than compensates for that.
The camera angle has also been altered compared to earlier LEGO games. Instead of having the camera follow the character from behind, we now have a fixed camera from an isometric point of view. This allows for more touch controls to be implemented into the game, but it also pulls back away from the action. Fans of the old camera may not like it, but I thought it was an improvement. It helps to further delineate this version against the console versions. It also prevents the wild camera swinging that I had a problem with previously as it tried to stay behind the character every time I turned around.
Another big change is that this time around, you only have one character on the screen at a time instead of the usual two. You don’t get a little sidekick following you around like in other LEGO games. Though sometimes other NPCs will fill the scene as decor, you are now a party of one. However you still are able to cycle through the many characters in your party and choose which one to control. Overall, this makes the game feel a little empty at times since one of the major themes of The Hobbit is the camaraderie between this small group of adventurers. When that element is removed and there’s only a single character around, a number of the scenes feel less epic and smaller than maybe they should.
The fun in this game is smashing the objects in the world to collect LEGO studs that act as the in-game currency. They can be spent on unlocking other characters, or special items that you’ll find along the way. Also, each scene provides a series of challenges in order to earn gold bricks. These challenges can range from collecting a certain number of studs to finishing the level in a designated time. You will need these gold bricks to advance through certain areas of the game.
And since dwarves are notorious for being miners, they have added a mining component as well. While smashing objects and killing enemies will reward you with studs, occasionally you will also find elements such as wood or iron. These materials will be needed to craft different items and open new locations to explore.
The game controls through a combination of touch and physical buttons. While most will play this with the twin sticks and buttons, it is actually possible to play the game using nothing but the touch screen. You can tap where you want your character to go and tap on enemies to attack. This isn’t the easiest way to play, but there are times when the touch screen makes certain tasks a lot less complicated. Shooting an arrow is one great example. You can either hold down Triangle until an aiming reticule pops up, then use the left stick to aim before shooting. Or you can simply tap on what you want to shoot. Being able to use a combination of all the controls allows you to customize your play to a style that suits you best.
The games audio draws heavily from the movies it replicates, and it’s a mixed bag of results. The music sounds great and hearing the familiar themes from Howard Shore’s score give many of the scenes a cinematic quality. The dialog on the other hand tends to sound muffled or out of place. The voice tracks were lifted directly from the movie, so any background sounds from the film will also be there in the game. Sometimes it works, but most of the time it just seems off.
Visually though, the game is LEGO through and through. I’ve always loved the look of the LEGO games, and this one is no exception. The colors are bright and beautiful, and the character animations are really charming. TT Games does a great job retelling the story through the use of LEGO pieces and characters.
LEGO The Hobbit is not without its flaws. The biggest problem I had was that the game requires you to switch between the different characters in order to solve a number of the puzzles. Since each character has a unique ability to offer, you will need to select the right character for the job at hand. Sometimes it can get a little out of control. There were a number of puzzles where you’re switching between characters every couple of seconds just to get a simple task accomplished. Swapping between characters can become a tedious time consuming task, and it’s something you do a lot throughout the game.
The game also feel strangely desolate at times (no, not Smaug’s desolation, just lonely). Removing the second character from the screen really does change the atmosphere of the game. The strange thing is that while you traverse the area maps, there is often that second character by your side.
The exploring, the puzzle solving, and the treasure hunting are really what make this game fun to me. The story is great and fighting is fun, but there is just something about finding all the secrets that really speaks to me. Add in the games light-hearted tone, and you have a very enjoyable experience. It’s a game like this that I’ll put on at the end of the day when I just want to sit in a chair and relax. But it also has moments that can be very challenging, requiring quite a bit of skill.
LEGO the Hobbit for the PS Vita is a fun and charming game. While some fans have strong issues with the handheld version of the LEGO games, I find them to be quite enjoyable. If you’re one of those people, this game isn’t going to change your opinion, but if you play it for what it is (as opposed to what it’s not) you will find a really good game filled with entertaining content that will keep you busy for hours.