Forget all the famous conflicts of the 1980s. The most intense and important battles (at least to my ten-year old self) took place on my bedroom carpet. There, on the tastefully-speckled expanse, spacemen Lego took on the mighty mounted knights from the Castle sets. Policeman mini-figures tried their best to arrest plastic Viking hoards. Terrified Lego City folk were crushed beneath the feet of evil giant-headed Sindy dolls. Of course the deadliest foe, the common enemy of all of Legodom, was the evil sucking tube of death… the nozzle of my mum’s vacuum cleaner. Oh, if only those legendary battles could have been captured in a videogame.
Fast forward twenty or so years to 2009 and Lego Battles for the Nintendo DS attempts to bring childhood play sessions like mine to life in digital form. The game might feature the familiar Travellers Tales branding but rest assured it is not merely another iteration of the series that has taken on Star Wars, Batman and Indiana Jones. Lego Battles is actually an RTS, a real time strategy game, based around some of the familiar classic Lego kits.
You lead your plastic troops through six story modes with over ninety levels based around the Lego castles, pirates and space themes. The chapters of each story are linked together by cut-scenes featuring all the mildly amusing, over the top, plastic emoting we’ve come to expect from the modern Lego titles.
No matter where your campaign takes place the basics stay the same. Your key units are the hero and the builder. You hero unit has special combat powers and their survival is usually vital for mission success. Your builders are the resource gathers. They also construct the buildings that increase the size of your army and produce troops and vehicles.
Game play is extremely straightforward. One screen on the DS features a map or details of the unit you have selected and the other shows your current location on the battlefield. You simply drag your stylus over units to select them and then tap where you want them to move or the action you want them to carry out.
Missions include seeking out certain objects on the map, defending areas from attack and hunting down and destroying enemy facilities. The pirate levels add a bit more depth to proceedings requiring the use of ships both to move troops around and also to engage the enemy in simple naval combat.
The game’s story adventures are fun but it’s the free play mode that really brings back memories of the childhood battles I mentioned previously. In free play you can put together your own personal selection of units from any of the sets you’ve unlocked. You can have knights and pirates fighting alongside each other, your archers can go up against laser pistol wielding spacemen and your dragons can take on starfighters. Local DS to DS multi-card play allows you to battle a friend rather than the game’s AI.
Although featuring a very different play mechanic, Lego Battles shares some elements in common with Travellers Tales’ Lego platforming games. There are oodles of collectibles lying around to be discovered on each map. There’s the familiar minikits, red “cheat” bricks and also blue Lego studs that are the currency for purchasing new maps and characters.
Lego Battles contains a lot of great ideas with just a few hiccups in the implementation department. For starters, the simple graphics allow a lot of action on screen but they don’t really make the most of the license. The mini-figures lose some of their charm when reduced to tiny sprites and it can be hard to tell the difference between friend and foe, particularly in the heat of battle. Experienced Real Time Strategy players will find some aspects of unit selection frustrating and the fact that their troops are also generally pretty poor at navigating around obstacles on the map.
Despite the niggling annoyances as a portable RTS Lego Battles is worth a look, especially if you’re a fan of other simplified strategy offerings such as Halo Wars. With so many missions and so many unlockables there’s plenty in the game to keep you, or your little general-in-training, occupied for quite some time.
Tags: Lego Battles