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Written by  :  Mr. Eight-Three-One (1581)
Written on  :  Jan 11, 2014
Rating  :  4.29 Stars4.29 Stars4.29 Stars4.29 Stars4.29 Stars

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A classic game that has not stood the test of time

The Good

LEGO Island is the first of what would be many PC LEGO games of the late 90s and early 2000s. They would prove to be hit-or-miss for the most part, but this one would go on to be fondly remembered by children of the 90s. It's not hard to see why, either; it was something completely different for its time. It didn't have one set goal or a running story, it was an open-ended game with one thing in mind: have fun. Back then, this level of freedom was unheard of in children's games, and it has even been nicknamed the first Grand Theft Auto by some people. However, as fantastic as it was and still is, there are some things that have not aged well about it.

The game is played in the first-person perspective as one of five different characters -- Pepper Roni, Papa and Mama Brickolini, and Nick and Laura Brick. While they don't change a whole lot about the game, they do change how you are referred to around the island and what they do when you click on people or the plants. For instance, Pepper changes people's hats and hair, while Nick Brick changes the colors.

One thing that really shines about this game is its characters. They truly make up half of the game, and each one has a personality to make them recognizable if you play the game long enough. The voice acting in this game is absolutely superb. It shouldn't be too big of a surprise since they did get some big name voices for this game, such as June Foray and David L. Lander. Regardless, they bring so much life and character into the game. You've got Pepper Roni, the "cool" type of guy who delivers pizza and skateboards, you've got the Brickster who is a crazily happy criminal who enjoys committing crimes way too much, and there are all sorts of minor characters who will keep you entertained for the ride as well.

The reason the characters in this game work so well is because of the writing. You see, the characters do different things as you walk around the island; you'll be cruising along and a total random, a cut scene will show up with one or more of the characters going about their daily business. It not only gives the environment a level of aliveness, but the cut scenes are filled to the brim with hilarity. They are all animated wonderfully and like a cartoon (not an easy feat under a limited 3D engine), and the jokes are perfectly written and well-executed.

The game can be played at your own pace, free to do whatever you want to. In particular, there are five "missions" around the island that are the main attractions: delivering a pizza, helping a local mechanic, helping the hospital, racing on the racetrack, and racing with a jet ski. As far as how fun they are to do though, they're a bit of a mixed bag. The racetrack has always been my favorite, just because of how over-the-top it is (giant pizzas anyone?). The "helping out" missions are a bit weak though, mostly because, aside from pizza delivery, they're the same no matter which character you play them as.

There are also other things to do around the island. You listen to the radio, go to the observation deck at the information center, and build several vehicles, including a helicopter, a jet ski, a racecar, and a dune buggy. While they don't offer a whole lot customization aside from changing the colors of each of the pieces, they're still fun to do in your spare time.

If you build a helicopter and do Pepper's pizza delivery mission (his is for the Brickster), you can actually let the Brickster out of jail and start a whole side-quest. This is the closest the game gets to having an actual plot, but even that's putting it loosely. It's probably the highlight of the entire game, managing to break the mold and giving a running objective, as well as having some fast-paced action when you chase his ambulance...on a skateboard. Seems legit.

Many other things compliment the game as well. The music, for one, is outstanding. They brought together many composers for it, and it's all well done, doing a good job of suiting the environment and being very memorable. There's also those small touches that add more fun when you discover them -- Captain Click's secret cave, changing the color of the sky, click points...there's just so much to discover.

The Bad

Okay, I've gushed about this game enough, now to vent on why I think it hasn't aged well. Firstly, the graphics...look, I understand they were trying to get the game to run on wimpy Pentium 166 MHz CPUs, but I'm sorry, they look painfully dated in this day and age. Other classics of this era like Super Mario 64 still look pretty good even though they have minimal polygons, but this game just looks really stiff. The animation is still well done and I am impressed they were able to pull off what they did, but many things just look really awkward. The textures are probably what makes the graphics suffer above all else, looking really fake and strange.

Second, the controls can be very annoying. Although a lot of people have complained that the arrow keys are really sensitive in this game, that stems from the fact that multi-GHz computers run the game at a frame rate it was never meant to run at, causing you to turn lightning-quick, so I'll forgive that. I find it really annoying, however, that you can't walk on the grass, which makes it especially difficult to pick up speed while you're in a vehicle.

My biggest complaint, however, is the Brickster chase. It doesn't play well now, and it didn't play well back then. The final part of the chase has you in the helicopter tossing pizzas to the Brickster to slow him down and donuts to Nick and Laura to speed them up. Unfortunately, the AI on Nick and Laura is abysmal at best, very often driving right past the Brickster. Also, the speed up and slow down effects actually shorten the faster your computer is -- at 60 frames per second, the time that the effect lasts is maybe half a second at most. I was willing to forgive the turning because until you reach 60 it isn't really a problem, but this becomes a problem anywhere above 10 FPS and should have had an actual timer put on it. This unfortunately puts the home stretch down to complete luck, and it's much more common to get the bad ending from this. Aside from that, this part of the game is also really glitchy, with the Brickster, Nick and Laura getting stuck very often.

The biggest reason I say the game hasn't aged well is because, as you may have figured from what I said above, it doesn't play well on modern computers. I know I'm not supposed to judge the game on this -- and I won't -- but one of the reasons I see so many people turning this game off is because they play it on their brand-new ten-core setup that messes up a lot of the game due to numerous timer issues (weren't we past those when MS-DOS went out of style?). Some of the animations run 6 times faster than they were meant to (the game was intended to run at 10 FPS), which makes it really strange and awkward to play at times. My recommendation -- if you have an old computer lying around, I'd say late-90s, play the game on that computer instead.

There are a few other problems I have with this game as well, but they don't stem from the game not aging well. As I said earlier, the hospital and garage missions don't change at all when you play as a different character, which takes some replay factor out of the game. And speaking of which, even though there is a lot to do with the little things, you will probably quickly make it through the big things in this game, which really dwindles the amount of lasting appeal the game has. Once you play each of the missions once, there really isn't a whole lot left to do.

The Bottom Line

Despite its shortcomings, LEGO Island is a fantastic game that holds a special place in my heart. It's put together with so much heart and uniqueness that it's totally beyond me that the sequels didn't try the same (Island Xtreme Stunts sort of did, but I'll save that for another day). However, I would be lying if I said I could see my future kids enjoying this game with how dated it looks in 2014. If you can look past those things though, go for it.