This is the first Lego game that I've played that's not been developed by TT Games, and as such, the usual 8/10 quality that you're practically guaranteed from TT was, for once, an uncertain factor. Would Funcom be able to deliver an experience akin to those we're usually offered by games in the evergreen block-filled series?
Uncertainty aside, Minifigures Online is a game that departs from the standard Lego formula and instead offers a MMO-lite world (or series of worlds) for players to explore, with the tightly-controlled single-player or co-op experience we've long grown accustomed to now replaced by a more variable online setting.
The other major thing that sets this apart from other Lego games (that in the past have been built with adults and children in mind) is that Minifigures is pretty much aimed at the younger audience. With that in mind, alongside my eldest son, I sat down with the game to find out if it's an MMO experience suitable for kids, and, more importantly, if it's any good and worth the time and money.
So what is Lego Minifigures Online? Primarily it's a range of collectible figures bought in sealed packs. For parents they're the kind of toys you'll buy for your kids to stop them moaning in your ear the whole way through a weekly shop, a carrot to dangle, future payment for good behaviour. At least, that's what they are in our house.
Since the game came into our lives, and this is certainly no coincidence, they're now an object of desire for my son, and he covets the more interesting figures in the latest season (there's been several, including recently a Simpsons one, although as far as we can tell that particular series doesn't feature here). The fact that you can't see which figure you're buying almost certainly means you'll buy more of the (over-priced) toys than you need or want. It's a clever system, and it ties in nicely to the game as you can unlock characters in the game with codes found in the packaging.
Minifigures Online is a simple open-world MMO come action-RPG, during which you level up and unlock new playable characters. There's a generous selection of minifigures to collect, and kids who like collecting (don't they all?!) will spend hours and hours levelling up and taking down dungeons (if you want to call them that) in order to get more. You can equip three at a time and quickly swap between them, so there's always space to equip your newest acquisition, and then switch between them and your existing favourites.
Each upgradable character has a fairly simplistic attack, be it ranged or melee, but they're nicely animated to reflect the unique properties of the character, so the pizza delivery boy will throw pepperoni covered cheese discs at his enemies, while the swashbuckler will jab away with his pointy sword. Some of the special attacks - each one on a short cool-down timer - are a little bit more interesting, but with so many different characters, in many cases the differences felt cosmetic.
Things start off in the pirate-themed world. There's a simple, child friendly plot that's nicely told with fully-voiced dialogue (that's skippable if you want) that means even the youngest gamers will understand roughly what's going on. You advance through the main area, occasionally ducking into a cave or lego base to fulfil a side-quest. There's a constant stream of enemies to hit, and these are joined by more hardy boss encounters, who have special attacks (nothing too complicated) and longer health bars.
It's standard stuff in terms of level design and mission structure, but given the audience that this is aiming for, it didn't need to be rocket science or cutting edge. It's easy to follow thinks to signposts that you assemble as you go, and there's also a clearly marked mini-map. Even if you were to get lost, it's quite fun just walking around hitting fire monkeys with plungers.
Visually it doesn't have the same crisp finish we've seen in other Lego games of late, but the animations are still decent, the backgrounds are suitably colourful, and it's all pretty much easy on the eye. It definitely looks like a Lego game, and many of the assets on display do a good job of aping their real-life counterparts.
Once you've left the pirate world behind there's more zones to unlock as you rise through the ranks on your journey, and for a dedicated player it looks like there's a huge amount of content, and much of it will be good for repeat plays. Put simply, it'll keep the kids going for plenty of time.
Importantly, it also felt like a safe and welcoming place for younger gamers to spend their time, and while in the past I've not let my son play online, I had no objection to stepping away for a short while and leaving him unattended while he played (offensive language is monitored by Crisp Thinking, and the game is KidSafe certified).
There are a few bugs, that much can't be denied, a couple of restarts were required during our time, and sometimes the client didn't feel as stable as you might like when switching between menus, but surely this is something that will improve as the game matures over time. Similarly to TT Games' offerings, there's sometimes piles of Lego that can be assembled into objects dotted around the world, but here it was sometimes fiddly getting into the right place to initiate the build.
As this is something I've been playing with my son, we've not had the time to hit the endgame content (randomly generated dungeons called Lost Creations), and as such there's no score at the end of this text. What I can say with certainty after several hours spent with this MMO-lite, is that it's child-friendly and gently entertaining. The youthful audience that this game is aimed at will enjoy it, and no doubt they'll plague their parents for more and more of the Lego Minifigures found in the game, because collecting is at the heart of what makes this such an interesting proposition.