Our Trip to LEGO Island
August 27, 1997

Pause Magazine Previews Mindscape's LEGO Island
by Lou Zucaro

What is LEGO Island?

LEGO Island BoxLEGO Island is the first standalone CD-ROM product to feature the world's favorite toy. Aimed at kids ages 6 to 12, LEGO Island offers different types of activities and games to satisfy kids within the recommended age range.

To start, players are greeted by the Infomaniac, one of many characters created specifically for the product. The Infomaniac is the mini-fig responsible for building LEGO Island, and he acts as your guide and information source whenever you return the Information Center and during important times while playing some of the games.

After registering your name with the Infomaniac, you can just start wandering around the island as one of five characters. Each of the characters has unique abilities that make exploring the island as that person different than the rest.

Pepper the Pizza Delivery kid can change shapes just by touching them. Mama Brickolini changes the way things sound. Papa Brickolini changes the way things move. Officer Nick Brick can change the colors on objects, and his sister and Officerette Laura Brick can change peoples' attitudes.

There are more than 15 buildings to visit and 35 inhabitants of the island, plus a few surprises!

People you meet as you walk around will often tell you a little story about the island or just say something funny. You'll see lots of familiar faces (all smiling and yellow!), as well as various creatures and other things that LEGO Maniacs will no doubt recognize.

After exploring the island, why not race a formula car? LEGO Island features four vehicles that you can build and then ride in. Build a formula car, then race against other inhabitants of the island. Build the Police helicopter and fly around to get a bird's-eye view. For some high-speed action on the high-seas, build a water jet and race through an aqua obstacle course. And at the gas station, build a dune buggy.

Younger kids will probably enjoy building the vehicles the most. To build one, you are presented with a wall of parts. The next piece of the model that you need to find flashes on the floor in front of you. You browse through a few pieces at a time until you find the right piece. You can change the color or apply "decals" to the various pieces, then drag the piece onto the model-under-construction and it clicks into place. It's more of a matching game than a virtual LEGO set.

When you build the helicopter, you simply fly above the island, but after building the race car or water jet, you actually get to race against other mini-figs. Win the race and you'll be rewarded.

For kids who want some more activites, there are various "missions" that you can go on. Each of the three missions requires you to perform a set of tasks in a certain amount of time. Don't worry if you don't get it on your first try...you can always play as a different character and try again.

The ultimate challenge, however, comes when you are faced with having to track down and stop the Brickster from taking apart the entire island! The Brickster is LEGO Island's most wanted criminal. He's got an insatiable appetite for LEGO pizzas and a very mischevious side.

You'll need the help of other citizens of LEGO Island to stop the Brickster. If you're successful, you're the town hero. But if the Brickster outsmarts you, well, you'll just have to find out...

Our Opinion...

After playing through the game and exploring the island, we felt the age range was too high. A range of 5 to 10 year-olds is probably more suitable for LEGO Island than the recommended 6 to 12 year-olds.

The game can be played through with either the keyboard or the mouse (there's also an option in the separate configuration program that allows a joystick to be used for movement, but you still have to use the mouse to click on things), and different kids we sat down in front of it gave us different answers about which they liked better - about half and half. Both control devices let you move forward, backward and turn left or right. The controls remain consistent even when riding in one of the vehicles, which was a good choice on the part of the LEGO Island design team.

We were disappointed that you couldn't control the altitude of the helicopter - an up / down button on the "dashboard" lifts you up to a predetermined altitude or lands the chopper, but pilot wannabees only get to move the helicopter around on a single plane.

Exploring the island was a lot of fun for kids, especially once they realized that the different characters had different effects on the world. Another nice touch is that the more you walk around, the more likely you are to run across something silly or crazy.

Kids and adults alike wondered why it wasn't possible to walk on the grass. You have to stay on paths or roads and the paved areas that lead up to the various buildings that you can enter. This seemed really strange for a 3D environment.

As mentioned earlier, the building aspects of LEGO Island are actually matching games, so kids who want a virtual LEGO set are going to have to wait (although the DACTA LEGO CAD program has just been released!).

The races, missions and the caper involving the Brickster were fun for the older kids in our group (8 to 10 year-olds). Heed the game's minimum requirements, which call for a 133Mhz Pentium or better. The faster the better...the game uses DirectX 5, so it supports many different 3D accelerator cards, which can make the game look better and move much more smoothly.

We tried playing the game on a 100Mhz machine without 3D hardware and while it was playable, the action aspects of the game suffered a great deal. Again, stick with the recommended specs and you should be fine.

There's also a Configuration utility that allows you to turn off some of the detail of the game in favor of speed.

Tech Talk...

When we talked to Mindscape about LEGO Island about a year and a half ago, they were working on a proprietary 3D engine for the game. Somewhere along the line, they switched to using Direct3D. For hardware support and overall ease-of-use for consumers, this was a wise move.

From a performance standpoint, the game runs pretty slowly on a machine without hardware acceleration - even a fast machine. We tested the game on systems ranging from a 100Mhz Pentium to a 233Mhz Pentium II with AGP. Even on that fastest machine, LEGO Island wasn't as smooth as, say, Tomb Raider on a 166Mhz. I use Tomb Raider as an example because like LEGO Island, it includes large, terrain-based environments.

Another thing we were not crazy about was the rather coarse nature of control, either when using the mouse or the keyboard. The mouse provided better control while turning, but tended to overreact to movement, especially at the fastest speeds of movement within the game.

Remember, however, that LEGO Island has not been released yet and that a certain degree of tweaking and optimization is still possible. Also, make sure you have the latest driver for your video card. Most of the cards we tested the game on ran LEGO Island without a hitch. But a Matrox Mystique in one system rendered half of the objects in the game invisible half of the time. This is a driver issue or a DirectX issue, though, and not something Mindscape has control over.

Perfomance issues aside, Mindscape has done a lot of really neat things with the characters who inhabit LEGO Island. A phoneme system was used to map lip-sync'd animated faces onto the 3D models of the various mini-figs, and the result is a lot of fun to watch.

The Sound of Plastic...

If you recognize some of the voices you'll hear, it's because the people behind those voices are some pretty well-known folk. David Lander (Squiggy from "Laverne and Shirley" and Smart Ass from "Who Framed Roger Rabbit") provides the voice of the troublesome Brickster. Pepper's voice is the work of John Morris, who voiced Andy in "Toy Story." And the Queen of cartoon voices, June Forray, plays Mama Brickolini. June Forray, of course, was the voice of Rocket J. Squirrel and Natasha, among many others.

Also of note is the musical score that accompanies LEGO Island. Perhaps the team at Mindscape figured kids would be playing the game so much that they needed a soundtrack that wouldn't drive parents nuts. While whimsical at times, there were also tracks that were bluesy and even one that sounded like the "theme" from Pulp Fiction. Not only was I not annoyed by the soundtrack, I was actually kinda digging it at times.

Another very cool feature is the implementation of 3D sound. When you're near something, it's louder than when you're far away. Likewise, you hear sounds move from left to right, etc. as you turn away from things.

Yay or Nay...

So, what's the verdict? Well, I'm hoping that the performance of LEGO Island increases before it's released, so that as many people can enjoy it as possible.

The game is a good first step for LEGO-based products. In the future, and as an adult, I would love to see a similar environment, but on a larger scale, used in the context of an adventure game.

Younger kids (5, 6 and 7 year-olds) will probably enjoy LEGO Island the most, as the "building" and action parts of the game are a bit too limited for older kids. I would definitely recommend this for kids who like exploration games, especially if they play with LEGO toys, too.

LEGO Maniacs of all ages should check it out, simply for the opportunity to walk around in a LEGO-inhabited environment. As Mindscape definitely has plans for more LEGO-based products in the future, things can only get better.

LEGO Island will be available in September for around $40. The game includes a comic book-style manual.

System Requirements:

Windows 95
Pentium 120 or faster
16MB RAM
4X CD-ROM
20MB hard disk space
SVGA display adapter (works with optional graphics accelerator cards)
Sound Card
Mouse

LEGO Island is MMX compatible.


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Screen shots 1997 Mindscape.

Text and background graphics 1997 Zucaro Internet Publishing. All rights reserved. Pause and the Pause logo are trademarks of Zucaro Internet Publishing.

All pictures are 640 X 480 JPG images...Installer Screen ShotThe InfomaniacHelicopter Ride!Surf's Up, Dude...Build your own jet skiLook Out for Obstacles!Shhh!  It's a secret...The Town TroublemakerThe Brickster's Out!Help Has Arrived...Pizza Chucker to the Rescue!