LEGO games are now such an established thing, that you can't really judge them against other games. It only really makes sense to judge them against each other, and whether you're interested in the franchise they're currently attached to. So if you're thrilled about that Hobbit, rejoice! The baseline expectations for a LEGO game - that it's just bloody adorable - have been easily met.
In the prologue, the characters aren't as distinctive as we've come to expect from the colourful pantheons of Marvel, Batman, Star Wars and Potter. Tolkien's names are dry at best, and monikers like Dwalin, Thorin, Skarch and Blort are as easy to confuse as they are to completely invent. In the opening chapter, the main distinguishing feature is the colour of the beard.
Plus, the unique powers feel a little shoe-horned in, because this is a world where characters (Gandalf aside) don't have unique super-powers. Dwalin has a hammer that hits blocks, and another character has a flail that can yank blocks around. Unlike most LEGO games, these roles feel a little forced. The Hobbit is most fun when it when relies on comedy skills, that are cute and in-character. Like feeding Bombur, and using his gut as a trampoline.Thanks to the love and atttention that's gone into creating a LEGO version of Jackson's vision of Tolkien's world, these less defined characters don't ruin the flow. But that's mainly because the game's solution to the problem is to clearly signpost whatever you need to do, and who to use. To the point, in fact, where it's difficult to feel like you're solving a puzzle, and more like you're following instructions. Don't come here expecting Eureka! moments, just a pat on the head for doing as you're told.
There's a new resource and crafting system, in which colour-coded "loot" is distributed throughout the levels, and you're given a shopping list to create the LEGO required to progress. It's a way to make you explore the levels, but too often this process becomes less of a voyage of discovery, and something of a traipse.
As you'd expect from a LEGO game, this is filled to the point of explosion with charm, homage, and humour. But the process of smashing, collecting and building doesn't transport you compellingly from one lovingly recreated scene to the next. The combat is grand in scale, but unresponsive and unskilled. The collectibles are varied and there's an immense amount of content, but only thing dragging you along is the promise of something else you recognise. Judged against its LEGO peers, The Hobbit was always going to have a difficult job distinguishing itself. And while it's never short of likeable, it's never great, either.
For a series aimed at children, it seems to make the unusual mistake of underestimating them. Too often, combat and puzzles are reduced to doing what you're told. But if you're in love with Middle-Earth, there's enough homage to make this worthwhile.