Thorin Oakenshield and his pint-sized-pals reclaim their kingdom one brick at a time in the extremely entertaining Lego The Hobbit (Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and TT Games, rated E10+, reviewed on PlayStation 4, $59.99).
An interactive wonderland meticulously crafted to resemble Middle-earth greets up to two players as they construct and deconstruct through an expanded version of Peter Jackson's first two movies ("An Unexpected Journey" and "The Desolation of Smaug") tied to J.R.R. Tolkien's famous book.
Along with taking control of nearly 100 characters from the source material — including the dwarves, Bilbo, Gandalf and Legolas to work through scenes from the films — builders can eventually use the skills of extras legends such as Gollum, Lady Gadriel, the Necromancer and even a citizen from Bree who looks just like Mr. Jackson as they explore and re-explore famed locations.
From visiting the elven strong holds of Milkwood and Rivendall, the vile Don Goldur, the Misty Mountains and plenty of hidden mines, the action beautifully bulges out from the cinematic efforts.
It offers expanded levels that show a young Thorin, his papa Thrain and King Thror finding the Arkenstone, an extended battle against Azog the Defiler in Azanulbizar, or Frodo and Samwise Gamgee hanging out in the Shire, to name a few.
Much like the myriad of other licensed Lego video games, the core mechanics remain with a few new surprises.
Basically, a player uses an available set of characters and their strengths to roam around and accomplish tasks for the core 16 levels.
For example, the portly Bombur can help his pals bounce to higher places with his belly, and he wields a sausage to smack enemies.
Or, one might have Kili use his bow to shoot down objects, or control Gandalf to blast blue bolts with his mighty staff at gangs of orcs.
Goals and puzzle-solving often require the destruction of surrounding objects and terrain (what I did to Bilbo Baggins' home for a piece of cheese was criminal) to reassemble items for use to trigger doors or contraptions.
Success leads to spending an inordinate amount of time collecting Lego studs that flow from recently destroyed stuff as well as scattered about. These studs are the game's currency and used unlock characters and other goodies such a Mithril bricks.
New maneuvers allow a pair of dwarves to temporarily tether together to attack enemies, or crack open objects in some amazing maneuvers. Dwarves with staffs can also build a human ladder for another member of the team to climb up and reach higher spots.
Twists to game mechanics include collecting resources called Lego Loot to forge items such as keys, weapons and the exotic-sounding Mithril Mushroom Crown. Also building larger items (such as a dinner table in Bilbo's home or a bridge) require a player use a radial wheel to quickly identify pieces for the build (the puzzle mechanic recently seen in "The Lego Movie: The Game").
Extra quests found from conversing with non-playable characters also exist in locations and can be as mundane as finding enough loaves of bread to help a Hobbit make his famed bread pie for his relative.
Thanks to the quests, the ability to trade for materials, collecting loot, gathering blueprints and forging, the game begins to turn the Tolkien fantasy universe into a role-playing epic similar, though much less complex, to such grander games as Legends of Zelda, Elder Scrolls and the unforgiving Dark Souls.
Throughout, TT Games delivers a visual smorgasbord backed up by Howard Shore's rousing musical score and hours of actual movie dialogue from actors that pepper the proceedings.
The allure for children and adults is a fantastical addiction as both can work together in the co-operative mode to smite the villains that break apart in screen. A parent is able to jump in and out of the action if Junior is stuck, but I'm guessing youngsters will have a pretty solid handle on the buildable universe with dad scratching his head during some of the more frenetic sequences.
I'll mention that the PS4 version of the game occasional has some frame-rate burps, but the visuals of the environments are "The Lego Movie"-quality stunning while the mini-block figures look like they were pulled from a child's collection.
When the last minikit has been built, Lego The Hobbit is a fantastic celebration of the Middle-earth fantasy and will empower a child or adult to feel they are truly going on an adventure.
Note: At some point, expect downloadable content available for the game covering the third movie "The Hobbit: There and Back Again."
Another note: Those who buy the DVD or Blu-ray version of "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" (Warner Home Video, rated PG: 13, $35.99) will receive in the package a code to unlock a blazing Sauron mini-block figure to take into the game. His fiery presence looks amazing in battle sequences.
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