Patrick Stewart + Legos = Flippin' Awesome
From the outset, it would be impossible not to note that Lego Universe is a game designed for children, not a game "with children in mind" or one that's meant to be "fun for the whole family". This is a game whose target audience is children. The graphical design is bright, cheerful, and distinctly cartoonish; the user interface is clean and simple to use, with large buttons and text; and the gameplay and pacing are designed to lower the bar of entry for younger gamers. And it's also super addicting.
[image1]There are a great many points to mention about Lego Universe, but given that a majority of the people who read this are (I hope) older than ten, I feel the need to open with the game's strongest point for older gamers: You get to play with Legos. I have delayed this review for several days for no better reason than "maybe just one more hour building my super awesome Russian Nuclear Wessel With Wings".
Whether or not the game is designed for children is irrelevant at this point; you are given the necessary tools to build a life-size replica of Serenity, a floating steam castle a la Howl's Moving Castle, or if you're feeling particularly risque, a monument to your greatness in the form of a statue of yourself, tall enough that the time taken to traverse it is measured in hours. I hold this truth to be self evident: Legos are flippin' awesome and, by extension, any game that imparts upon you the resources to play with Legos for hours on end is inherently flippin' awesome.
But I digress. Lego Universe is an MMO marketed to children ages 10 and up – and to those children's respective parents, please me assured that (despite being an Internet game and thus rife with opportunities for displaying phallic objects everywhere) the game will not horribly scar their child. It may, in fact, be as much fun for older parties as the younger ones, though for markedly different reasons.
[image2]Throughout the game, there's a certain adult subtext, as though the designers realized that Lego Universe may be a game that involves parents and children, as much as children alone. To that end, there's wordplay wherever it could be found, and double entendres to make your mother blush. In one particular mission, a naked Lego-Man in a bush asks you to find his missing pants, so that he can go to a party (it was a pants party, by the way, and you're invited). This isn't humor that will push the line like Animaniacs; it will, however, make the unsuspecting player pause and laugh, before they continue on their merry way.
The plot is a classic example of hamfisted morals and ethics, and storytelling about as complex as a Seussian novel. You control a Lego dude or dudette tasked with seeking and restoring the last essences of pure imagination (a proverbial Chemical X), while ridding it of Maelstrom, the "evil" and "tainted" imagination. To those ends, players are given a variety of tools for which to dispose of Maelstrom: Lego swords and "quick build turrets", along with a variety of entertaining context-sensitive "quick build" spots. After discovering a rampaging gorilla, you have the opportunity to quickly build (thus, the name "quick build") a ship's anchor out of bricks, which can promptly fall on the gorilla, stunning it for several minutes.
The environment seems somewhat akin to a puzzle platformer, wherein certain tasks require you to navigate your avatar vertically, with the aid of some of the aforementioned quick build spots. Rather than traps or weaponry, though, these areas often offer Lego trampolines and man-cannons, as well as temporary platforms. Were Legos introduced into Mario games, they would play like Lego Universe.
[image3]Controlling your avatar and the building elements are designed to be as simple as feasibly possible, with an accompanying tutorial to bring players up to speed. Even grandparents who don't know how to print documents can learn to play this game quickly. This isn't to suggest that its simplicity is an inherently bad thing. There is no confusion over how to initiate a quick build sequence, or chat with a potential mission-giver, or progress through a series of menus. The movement feels fluid and natural, and there's really nothing bad about the controls.
Admittedly, the game may be overlooked by older gamers in favor of more graphically gory titles or groundbreaking design. But I can find no caveats, no flaws in the game that wouldn't be inherently present in a children's game. Is it worth the monthly fee of $10? Perhaps. That depends largely on your preferences. But if you have the time and an extra $10 to spare, I recommend giving the game a whirl, if only for the opportunity to build yourself a Lego bear fighting a Lego shark.