Tag Archives: Traveller’s Tales

2015 Game Review Haiku, #54 – LEGO Marvel Super Heroes

2015 games completed Lego Marvel

Loki desires
The Earth to be eaten up
Build a better world

From 2012 all through 2013, I wrote little haikus here at Grinding Down about every game I beat or completed, totaling 104 in the end. I took a break from this format last year in an attempt to get more artsy, only to realize that I missed doing it dearly. So, we’re back. Or rather, I am. Hope you enjoy my continued take on videogame-inspired Japanese poetry in three phases of 5, 7, and 5, respectively.

One does not simply play the demo for LEGO The Lord of the Rings

LEGO The Lord of the Rings keeps surprising me. First, it is seemingly coming out at the end of this month instead of what I assumed would be a more timely release around The Hobbit, Part 1 on 34 in December. Second, out of nowhere, a free demo was dropped on the 3DS eShop this week; I stumbled across it blindly. Third, said demo begins with a crow taking a crap on whatever Hobbit you are controlling’s head, and that crow keeps crapping every 10 or 15 seconds until you progress a bit through the level. Oh boy. If dodging poop is what Traveller’s Tales is adding to the adventure to make it “funny” and their own, there is cause for worry.

The demo level is the scene at Weathertop, a hill in the Eriador region of Middle-earth. The hill itself is pretty important in terms of Middle-earth history since it was once a major fortress of the kingdom of Arthedain, home to one of the seven palantíri, and the place of several battles. For our purposes, it’s the spot where Strider and the four Hobbits pause to rest for the night only to then be attacked by several Ringwraiths. The Witch-king ends up stabbing Frodo with a Morgul-blade, which is not a good time for the wee halfling.

Anyways, it’s a moment in the books/films that I’ve experienced before in LOTR videogame form and will continue to do so long as they make these types of games. It’s hard not to. It’s both iconic as all gets and made for a “boss fight” kind of level. Most recently, I took down these Ringwraiths with sword and fire in Aragorn’s Quest, but I also recall doing it almost exactly the same way elsewhere. Or maybe I’m just crazy. It’s been a long time since I dabbled in The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age, so if there was a Weathertop fight there, I don’t recall, but have to assume it would at least have been handled differently, seeing as that game is a turn-based RPG built on Final Fantasy X‘s battle system. I have a couple other LOTR games in my collection–The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (PS2) and The Lord of the Rings: War in the North–but don’t remember if there were any Weathertop fights in them.

Regardless, LEGO The Lord of the Rings handles it pretty much the same way, with Aragorn ultimately chasing these screeching undead away with fire. Before that happens, Frodo must slip the One Ring on, construct some decoy Hobbits, and have the Ringwraiths attack them in order to damage themselves and become dizzy, open for damage. And before that, you climb Weathertop, using Sam, Pippin, and Merry to do different actions while avoiding that crow that keeps crapping on you. It was extremely frustrating while trying to catch a fish because the crow always shits on your controlled Hobbit directly, knocking him out of the action animation, and you only have milliseconds to reel in a fish before that crow circles back for more. I did not like this part at all, and poor Tara had to listen to bird poop sound effects–think ppbblt–for several minutes on end; I’m sorry.

I won’t be getting LEGO The Lord of the Rings on the 3DS, as I prefer all my LEGO games on the Xbox 360 so I can S rank them like a crazy person–well, except for LEGO Pirates so far, grrr–but the game still looked really good on the portable. I even flipped the 3D effect on to see the One Ring in all its realness. Cutscenes were a bit brief, and it’s still extremely bizarre to hear the films’ dialogue spoken by these blocky boys, but whatever–that’s just something I’ll either get used to or I won’t. Based on what I saw of a Free Play level, it looks like we’ll be unlocking different “skins” for characters like in LEGO Harry Potter. I’m sure it’s still going to be a ton of fun to play co-op with Tara. I just hope we can get through the crow-crapping level part much faster if she distracts it while I fish for food. Guess we’ll find out relatively soon.

LEGO Harry Potter, Years 5-7 is done casting Crucio on me

It took the whole weekend, but it’s done. All characters and character variants unlocked and bought; all Hogwarts House crests grabbed; all students in peril saved from peril, whether that peril was a man-eating plant or them just being lazy and oversleeping in a hammock; all gold bricks found; all Achievements acquired. LEGO Harry Potter, Years 5-7 is now completed as a whole, and I’m happy to be moving on from it finally.

Unfortunately, the grinding these LEGO videogames demand is detrimental to their overall quality. I’ve written about this before, and will most likely continue to write about it for the next half-dozen of forthcoming LEGO videogames. I mean, it took how many iterations to get Traveller’s Tales to add a new camera system and voices to their LEGO beings? Yeah, change does not come fast to those developers. So expect the obtuse and exhausting collectathon to continue on for a good while. But since I’ve already gone on at length about that annoying aspect, let’s talk about something else pertaining to LEGO Harry Potter, Years 5-7: glitches and unforgiving level design!

For a game series constantly billed as co-op friendly, it’s strange that some goals can only be completed solo. Meaning you have to look directly at the person next to you, take their hand gingerly, and say, “Sorry, but you‘re the problem; I need you to drop out.” That’s a pretty cruddy thing to do–to anyone, really–but if you want to unlock the following Achievements, you gotta bite the magic bullet and kick them to the curb:


O Children (20G): Complete the scene where Hermione and Harry dance in the tent


Weasley Does It (25G): Use a Weasley box with every Weasley


What If? (20G): Defeat every Harry freeplay variant as Lord Voldemort

Tara and I tried unlocking all of these as we played the game. We did everything we thought we were supposed to do, and yet nothing seemed to work. I even began thinking outside of the box, using Hermione as a Weasley. For a time there, I thought we were losing our minds, but no, all we had to do was kick my wife out of the game and have me do everything all over again by myself to get them to ping. Boo to that. I mean, all the other Achievements were not like this, and so it has to be labeled as strange. Wonky, even.

More frustrating than the above is the bad level design on Magic is Might from Year 7. In this level, players must make their way through the Ministry of Magic in hopes of stealing a plot-vital item from Dolores Umbridge. After dueling with her, you are chased down a narrow corridor by a swarm of Dementors; this level is set up in the “Indiana Jones and the rolling boulder” sense, with you running towards the screen as danger follows behind. A Hogwarts House crest is hidden behind a golden statue off to the side, and for me, this was the last crest I needed to get; however, time is an issue, and you have to be quick to grab it. If you touch the statue or wall near it, you die, and the Dementors attack your respawned body immediately, pushing you forward. You cannot go back to get the crest without replaying the whole level again, which means you get one chance, and one chance only. Also, if you try to walk past the statue and then go behind it, you die. You can only acquire it by being Fang or Griphook–someone small or fast–and going behind the statue without touching it or the wall. I replayed this level four times before I learned the errors of my way and figured out what to do. Ugh.

Thinking back, LEGO Batman had something just like this, and the proof is in the post. Here’s what I wrote about it way back in the day in October 2009:

LEGO Batman. Sure, I “beat” it months ago, but every now and then I pop back into it to grab some missed items and trying and unlock everything. And I’ve gotten just about everything…that is, but three collectibles. Now, one of them is painstakingly annoying to obtain. Trust me, I tried three times in a row last night. In one of the Penguin’s villain levels, you have to guide your characters down an icy slope, going through five specific flags to unlock the hidden canister. Sounds simple enough, yes? The problem is that if you miss even one flag you are then dropped into the level’s final boss battle room and cannot return to try again. Meaning you must replay the level again and again and…again. I’ve had zero luck so far. Insert heavy sigh.

Gee, that’s the exact same sort of level design used years later for LEGO Harry Potter, Years 5-7. Whoever comes up with these parts, please stop. I don’t care if you think they are a barrel of fun or there for a reason. Just stop. No one likes replaying levels again and again for a single collectible.

So that’s it. I’m done…until LEGO Lord of the Rings, that is.

Avid reader and avid button-masher in LEGO Harry Potter, Years 5-7

Tara, as LEGO Hermione, was running around Fred and George’s newly opened joke shop Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, blasting things apart for studs and solving yet another extremely cryptic puzzle. It took her at least five minutes to realize that I wasn’t with her, let alone moving LEGO Harry around the map.

Where was I? On the store’s ground floor, right in front of a Quibbler dispenser, reading. Laughing and reading. Well, LEGO Harry was doing that–in truth, I was just mindlessly mashing the B button to earn this little zinger:


Avid Reader (25G): Use a Quibbler dispenser 25 times

The Achievement’s description is displayed just above, but it could totally say “Press the B button 25 times” and call it a day. Because that’s all I did. You press B, LEGO Harry pulls an issue of The Quibbler out of the dispenser, glances at it, chuckles, and tosses it into some invisible void where it disappears completely. Then you press B and start it again. Do that 25 times total, and you “earn” an Achievement.

I dunno.

The Quibbler, for those that don’t know, is a tabloid within the Harry Potter universe. It’s published and edited by Xenophilius Lovegood, Luna’s father, and is often considered odd and full of rubbish. Many don’t take it seriously. However, I’m now imagining an alternate time and place where, like in L.A. Noire, picking up a newspaper/The Quibbler kicks off a mini cutscene that fills in some plot exposition without slowing the pace down during the main missions. Given The Quibbler‘s love of strange, random stuff, which is in line with the LEGO videogames, the developers could have done something similar to this. Maybe not 25 times, but 10 or less, and it would make picking up The Quibbler so much more special. Alas…

The LEGO videogames do have moments of genius when it comes to their Achievements, but more or less, they fall into generic tropes of do X action Y times. Those are never exciting. I loved hiding in a barrel as Professor Snape and unlocking Solid Snape in the previous title. Doing five backflips in a row in LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean is a feat worthy of Try Wearing a Corset. The Achievement Shot to the Goon (defeat 8 goons in 8 seconds) from LEGO Batman at least makes doing X a test of skill and not simply a test of mindless endurance.

I guess the thing that bothers me so much about this Achievement is that it takes the place of the what-could-have-been. Like, give us something for falling to our deaths a lot when navigating the moving staircases within Hogwarts. Or how about a slice of Gamerscore for enlarging Hermione’s head with the Engorgio Skullus spell? See, it’s really not that hard, and unaware gamers can earn just plenty from playing the story levels and so on. That said, if you are reading this and work for Traveller’s Tales and need helping designing the Achievements for LEGO Harry Potter 3: Out of Retirement, I’m available for hire.

30 Days of Gaming, #29 – A game you thought you wouldn’t like, but ended up loving

I have to believe that the last time I played with LEGO blocks–actually played with them, like used them to build the most buffoonish of homes loaded with booby traps and secret rooms–was when I was still only in the single digits. Now, as a man of twenty and eight years, I play with LEGOs all the time, but digitally, with a controller in hand, using them to collect a bajillion studs, form platforms, and as a means of transportation. That’s right. From toys to videogames, the building blocks of life.

At first, when LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game came out, it was hard to think of it as anything else but a children’s game. I mean, it uses the toys of children to tell a simplified story of something much more epic, with no punishment for failing, minimalist controls, and bright, colorful characters. It plays everything safe from a visual standpoint, and at that point, no one knew what a LEGO game was. Some kind of sandbox thing where you just play around in a room with virtual LEGO blocks? A racer? Multiple choice trivia? Nowadays, everybody knows what a LEGO game is, and you’ll either love love love each one that comes out or find them uninspired and repetitious. Me, I’m addicted to their goofiness and collection-based gameplay.

I remember the very first time I played LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game quite well. I was beardless then, and in a Target, wandering around the aisles. Many of my weekend evenings were spent doing this, as at the time I had no girlfriend, no wife, no friends. A playable PlayStation 2–behind glass and locks and the occasional employee with shifty eyes–was making noise, and that noise sounded pretty dang familiar. Upon closer inspection, it was the theme to Star Wars. You know how it goes. I grabbed the controller and started playing. I was a little LEGO Jedi, and the first action I took was to use the Force to push a battle droid all the way across the screen until it exploded…into LEGO bits. Like magic, every ounce of me warmed and tingled, and it never got tiring, Force-pushing dudes. Some young kids stopped behind me to watch, ooh-ing at all the right times.

Getting to the know the LEGO games more intimately, I saw that they were just as much for adults as they were for children. In fact, many of the puzzles were overly complicated, involving planning and meticulous placements of key items. Kids might enjoy seeing characters falling down or opening a treasure chest to find a lone banana in cutscenes (those folk at Traveller’s Tales love their fruit jokes), but it’s the little nods and things unspoken that hit home for older gamers in the know. Such as LEGO Jack Sparrow’s swagger or the way LEGO Malfoy heckles Hermione or how LEGO R2-D2 floats perfectly across a chasm. And they are fun to play co-op, though maybe not at first, as the camera tech hadn’t come around until LEGO Indiana Jones 2, allowing players to split off in any direction and join back up whenever they were ready.

Since that infamous day in Target, I’ve played every single LEGO-based videogame save for these: LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars and LEGO Rock Band. That’s not surprising as I’m not interested in much Star Wars lore other than episodes four through six, and plastic instruments are inferior to true instruments. Sorry, it’s true. And I’m picking up LEGO Harry Potter, Years 5-7 on the same day I get Skyrim, and while I’m naturally more excited about traversing mountains, cooking salmon, and stealing spoons, I’m also giddy to get back to Hogwarts with my wife and cast some spells. Very curious to see if this LEGO game gets as dark as the final books/movies, though I’m mostly confident that TT will have handled the material a whole lot better than the film franchise.

New screenshots for LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7 are magical

We know, Umbridge. We totally know. But do you hate these new screenshots of LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7? Me thinks no.

And I don’t hate them either. In fact, I think they are quite magical, really showing off just how far these LEGO games have come in terms of quality and polish. The lighting effects in the room where Dumbledore and Harry are searching for Professor Slughorn are simply stunning.

Unfortunately, I kind of keep forgetting this game comes out this year. Soon, I think. Late fall or just before the holidays hit. Maybe the blame could fall on the fact that the theatrical series is now over and done, and I was none-too-pleased with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two, confident that it lacked emotion and soul and was just there to end things, not resonate with a core audience. I mean, we’ve seen Hagrid cry over a hippogriff and a spider, and yet when it comes time to shed waterworks over The Boy Who Lived…well, they are strangely not there. He’s a soaking mess in the book, but not the film. Unexplainable. But I digress…

I’m very much looking forward to the coverage of the last book in LEGO form, and no, I’m not a fan of camping. It’s just that…well, I exhausted a lot of time exploring Hogwarts in LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4, and I know that castle in and out, up and down, diagonally and all around. Maybe the only person who knows it better is Peeves, but you can ask him that yourself. I can only pray that we don’t have to do all that over for years 5 and 6, re-learning spells we already learned back when kids at this school still wore robes. Places of interest I’m stoked for include Grimmauld Place (not the house Tara and I are moving into next month), Godric’s Hollow, and the Ministry of Magic. Years 1-4 did a great job of making the castle an ever-evolving hub world, but that doesn’t mean the same trick needs repeating.

That said, I think the above shot is irrefutable proof that Traveller’s Tales can make any villain–no matter how cruel, how sadistic, how villainous–truly adorable. Hem-hem!