When Free Realms shut down, my youngest, now 9 years old, was heartbroken. Although he didn't really do much questing, he loved the other activities in the game like kart racing and exploring the housing system. I have attempted to get him to jump into games like Wizard101 and Pirate101, whose combat systems were more complex than his liking. But he's a fan of combat in SHSO. He also plays Minecraft daily and has really adhered to the whole culture that surrounds it.
So when LEGO Minifigures Online opened its beta, I thought it would be an excellent combination of both SHSO combat and the building systems of Minecraft. I was wrong on one count but right on the other. My son loved the combat system, at least.
Sometimes it's difficult to extrapolate what a kid really likes because, like my son, children tend to be fickle. However, they also tend to be very honest. So to counter some of the fickle nature of children, I invited my friend's son, Kevin, to play Minifigs Online with my son, Zach. I played alongside Zach while Kevin played at his house. Using VoIP to communicate, we jumped into the game.
The first stop is the character select screen. Here you choose between three sets of three characters. Every character has different levels of three possible stats to start: power, defense, and creativity. They also fit one of three roles: Defender, Striker, or Builder. Also each player character uses one of five different power types, which seem to be just for flavor: nature, tech, light, magic, and shadow.
I chose the eclectic combination of Forest Maiden, Cyclops, and Plumber. Don't look at me. I didn't make that combination, and if you think that's weird, my son played Alien Avenger, Sea Captain, and Hollywood Starlet. Despite the odd thematic combo, the set works well together as an adventure set. I didn't get to see Kevin's set, and I'll get to why in a bit.
If you're a gaming vet, then you'll likely find the tutorial mind-numbing, but bear in mind that this game is meant for children, who might not have ever played a game like this before. The mechanics taught during the tutorial were the left- and right-click combat actions and building. If you've ever played LEGO Star Wars or LEGO Harry Potter, then you're familiar with the mechanics.
The classes determine what that character does better. Defenders, for example, have high defensive ratings and can take a hit. Strikers don't take a hit as well, but they pack a punch. Lastly, Builders construct better world-items. Your quality of gameplay and speed of leveling is determined by your ability to flip between the characters at the right time.
After we breezed through the tutorial, gameplay started to become a bit difficult for the boys. Part of the reason things didn't quite work was that they wanted run through the path as quickly as possible, causing them to pull a train of mobs after them. The challenge for an adult was understandably minimal. Even the first boss presented no trouble. Unfortunately, I wasn't in the same phase as they were, and that led to my first frustration with the game: We couldn't find each other. We knew the character name to add to our friends lists, but there was no way to enter them directly unless those characters were standing right next us.
Because we all completed the tutorial at different times, we had to use landmarks to attempt to meet up. This proved difficult, too. One of the boys suggested that we meet at the ice cream truck. That was very logical considering it kind of stood out in the jungle landscape. (I stopped questioning continuity once I saw a Cyclops and Plumber in the same group.) However, as it turned out, there were multiple ice cream trucks, and to make matters worse, we were all in different phases. That meant that even if we happened to stand next to the same ice cream truck, we couldn't see each other anyway.
After about an hour and a half of playtime, Kevin had to leave, even though we'd still never managed to meet up in-game. But shortly after the second boss, Zach and I did end up in the same phase. We were finally able to add each other to our friends lists so that we could group together in our next play session easier.
We decided to do one more mission since we'd actually found each other. Surprisingly, the adventure was fun, even for me. Sure, it was still a bit simple, but it was a series of timing puzzles. For instance, in the first part, we had to build cannon and shoot a series of moving targets. It required timing so that the cannonball hit the target as it flowed past. Another puzzle required us to move across a bridge, fighting enemies while avoiding cannonballs ourself.
In general, I found the game whimsical and fun in spite of the technical difficulties. Although the gameplay was initially very linear, we could choose between many adventures once we made it to the game's main hub. The combination of character swapping and puzzle games tends to be an easy-to-learn-hard-to-master mechanic, which means it scales well for adults playing alongside their kids. Eventually, players do earn different minifigures with different abilities, and I can foresee a complex metagame forming around selecting which characters are most appropriate for which missions.
Despite the hiccups with finding each other, I believe the biggest indication that the game has a lot of merit and potential is that Zach and I will play it again soon.
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