“‘Oooh, ahh.’ That’s how it always starts, but then later there’s running and screaming.” These pithy words, delivered by professional mumbler and amateur shirt wearer Jeff Goldblum as Dr Ian Malcolm, are describing the act of encountering formerly-extinct dinosaurs in the flesh, but serve as a decent precis of Lego Jurassic World, too. As the least combative Lego game to date, the four films recreated in block form -- Jurassic Park, The Lost World, Jurassic Park 3 and Jurassic World -- here swap regularly between the ooh of playing as plastic dinosaurs, and pegging it away from gigantic lizards as fast as blocky little legs can carry you. Screaming optional.
Which is just as well, because when the fighting does start, it’s far from a highlight. Admittedly, no one comes to this series for the combat, but in the past, Lego games have had swashbuckling pirates, swashbuckling archeology professors and swashbuckling Jedi. Knee-high compsognathus (‘compys’ to their friends, if they had any) that you’ll struggle to land a claw hand on aren’t quite the same, though they’re used sparingly enough that they’re more pest than irritance.
Instead, you’ll get to immerse yourself with minimal interruption into a classic slice of Lego puzzling, one pared back to a simpler time than Lego Batman 3’s hyperkinetic suit-switching superteam. Unless you’re one of the 12 people left who has yet to play one of these games, you know the basics already: it’s a case of figuring which of the cast has the power that matches the obstacle at hand, spiced with pummeling all the Lego in the area into gloriously satisfying rains of clacking stud money, and occasionally building something. The difference here is that ‘cast’ isn’t just paleobotanists willing to rummage around in mounds of dino poo, or archaeologists who can use Lego bones to build special structures. It’s dinosaurs too.
They are the coolest addition to a Lego game in ages. Unlocked by finding the chunk of Lego amber in each level, each new addition to your roster of terrible lizards feels like a little treat -- and it’s been ages since I last felt compelled to scour a Lego game for a collectible like this. Raptors, clever girls that they are, are the most flexible, able to build Lego structures for, um, reasons, but also pounce onto special rails and sniff clouds of scent to reveal trails to new objects or objectives. Dilophosaurus spit venom, used on bubbling green objects. Pachycephalosaurus use their bone dome to shatter cracked structures. It’s little you couldn’t already do, but each beast recaptures that quintessential charm of being rendered in Lego that has sustained a laundry list of games.
It’s not only InGen who can meddle with the natural order of things: you can splice your own custom dinos. It’s a bit like making custom minifigs in past games, allowing you to mix and match the body parts you’ve unlocked -- swapping the head of a triceratops onto the body of a velociraptor, say. You can also change their skin patterns (cow print anyone?) and colouration. But in a lovely touch, you can fiddle with genomes, producing all kinds of wonderfully bright abominations.
You never get very long with them in story mode, sadly, though each of the films has set-piece moments where you take control of a scaly creature. These are generally fantastic, if not especially faithful to the source material. Fending off raptors in Jurassic Park 3 as an Ankylosaurus is rare instance of truly enjoyable combat, while using the T. Rex in the climatic visitor centre battle -- where you’ll use QTEs to stun raptors, allowing the group of survivors to finish them off with puzzles -- is a delightfully nostalgic bit of back and forth.
It’s not just combat the dinos enliven, but the humour too. The first movie’s raptor kitchen scene, once darkly terrifying, is all the funnier for seeing the dino you shut in the freezer in a tiny woolly hat later. The long grass moment in The Lost World is mocked mercilessly, and while Lego Jurassic World cops out of dealing with death and terror, that just seems to challenge Traveller’s Tales cutscene team to find daft ways to make characters disappear. If the cinematics have a problem, it’s the occasionally patchy audio quality of dialogue lifted directly from the first three films, which persists into levels and stands out next to the freshly voiced extras. The World levels sidestep the problem, and have more chatter to boot.
Outside of story mode is where you’ll get to see what Lego Jurassic World’s bestiary can really do, returning in Free Play to rinse these levels of collectibles and earn gold bricks. Several more shiny blocks await in the overworlds of Isla Nublar and Isla Sorna, plus bonus chase levels, where you mostly run into the camera, dodging attacks and following stud trails. As a whole, running segments are short-lived and well-framed, though a bit of a memory test if you want to get all the pickups.
The better distractions are the enclosures, where you can use those bricks to build pads that summon the lizards too big to work in the main game. Stomping about a paddock as a T. Rex is a disposable pleasure, but those five memorable minutes break up a highly familiar core. There are also workers to rescue, races to win, dinosaurs to heal and new characters to unlock, though I doubt even the most ardent fans are dying to drop studs on the likes of Dino Handler Bob. In fact, the human roster is one of the weakest yet, with only the principals in their various outfits being worth the effort unless gaming OCD kicks in.
While the hubs are likeable enough, their use in the campaign is a little misguided, linking together the story missions and offering context at the cost of being able to easily dip in and out of other islands (you can still use the map to replay levels). As sins go, it’s far from the worst. I also ran into a few game crashes on PS4, and the buddy AI continues to be dumb, getting stuck in the oddest of places. By this stage, it seems foolish to expect it will ever be fixed, but it’s still lame.
It’s a funny time for Lego games. What with Dimensions looming like a meteorite and Worlds doing a Minecraft, maybe this long-serving formula will slip into extinction soon. On the strength of Lego Jurassic World, I wouldn’t bet on it. It may be a modest advance, and it’s no cure for Lego fatigue, but after some consideration, I’ve decided to endorse this Park tie-in.
This game was reviewed on PS4.