Lego Island: A Retrospective

One thing I remember my friend Kyle saying is that 'no matter how old you get you will always want to play with Lego when you see it' and he couldn't be more right. Lego was a huge part of my childhood and even as a grow, it still remains cool to me. My girlfriend has younger brothers who love it too and that just makes sense to me, Lego remaining popular as each generation progresses. Of course Lego has changed extremely since when I was a kid and it was branded as 'Lego System' and the sets were considerably more simplistic in design than how they are now.

Something that has also changed considerably since when I was a kid is the Lego video games. Nowadays, the Traveller's Tales developed games like Lego Star Wars and Lego Marvel Superheroes are what everyone calls 'the Lego games' and the gameplay associated with them. But when it comes to Lego games, I think of the earlier ones such as Lego LocoLego Creator and Lego Rock Radiers. I remember Lego Loco very fondly in particular and I played it for many hours. But I'm going all the way back to the start for this one, to 1997, when the first Lego game ever was released: Lego Island.

Lego Island was developed by Mindscape and was a big deal when it came out, selling millions of copies worldwide. Why was it such a big deal, you ask? Well, it's because the game allowed you to explore a fully interactive 3D environment in the first person filled with... Lego. Really though, a 3D game with this level of exploration was something not seen much at this point in time. I missed out on this game when it was released, but I managed it to play it later on, albeit in a very lacking form with parts of the graphics missing (because 'advanced' computers seem to have a hard time playing older games). Either way, it was a very bright, colourful game and a lot of fun. You got to play as a variety of characters, the main character Pepper Roni (geddit?), who is a skateboarding dude who loves Pizza, Papa Brickolini, a stereotypical Italian chef, his wife, Mama Brickolini, then the two sibling police officers, Nick Brick and Laura Brick. Naturally (and I'm sure most kids did this as well) I liked to play as Pepper, because he was a 'wicked sk8r dude' (I imagine this is how young me might have described him) and he is the only character you could actually play the game's storyline with. I never completed the game in its entirety, but to quote Wikipedia, 'while playing as him, a narrative game can be triggered in which the [game's criminal, the] Brickster escapes, destroys the helicopter, and begins deconstructing the island. Pepper has to reassemble the helicopter and assist Nick and Laura in catching the Brickster before he dismantles the entire island'.

I always loved the bright, colourful graphics of this game. Perhaps it is because they are a complete contrast to the dull colour schemes of a lot of modern games. The environments are a true nod to the Lego Town sets of the time: colourful, simplistic, with a nod to paradise life. If you think about it, less games are based in the sun these days, I miss games like Super Mario Sunshine and Sonic Adventure. Anyway, looking back at videos on YouTube of this game just brings back so many different memories. However there is something I didn't notice about the game as a kid, this game is straight up weird, bizarre, bonkers - all of these three things. I'm not sure how I overlooked this before. Maybe it is because as the hilarious comedian Donald Glover puts it: "the older you get, the less you can take weird stuff". In those innocent days of child like wonder I looked past the weirdness and it took me a bit of growing up before it really dawned on me that this game is so surreal. Okay, I understand that this is a game about an island made out of Lego and Lego is all up to the imagination but there is something about the happenings and the world of Lego Island that is bordering on an acid trip. It's something to do with the combination of overly bright colours, the weird jerky movements of the Lego figures and the way they come apart and put themselves back together again at will, the way things happen that shouldn't actually happen and the fact that there is literally a scene where a guy is choking on a shark that is choking on a dog that is choking on a cat that is choking a parrot. I'm not joking, seriously, watch this video.

So Lego Island was a lot of fun bundled up with a lot of wackiness, but hey, we like that here at Alt:Mag. That's our spiel. So considering the first Lego Island game was so popular, it was only natural that they'd release a sequel right? Lego Island 2: The Brickster's Revenge was released in 2001 for PC as well as a bunch of game consoles and was developed by Silicon Dreams. This game brought Lego Island into the future with better graphics and gameplay. Despite only being able to play as one character, Pepper, the gameplay perspective shifted from first person to a much better third person and the island was made much more explorable, including the ability to swim in the water and to man numerous vehicles such as cars, boats and helicopters. 

The storyline of the game is focused around The Brickster escaping and getting up to his dastardly tricks again. He escapes from jail using hot fiery pizza breath (I couldn't even make this shit up if I tried) and steals the Constructopedia, which is the book that contains all the blueprints for buildings on the island, and then scatters its pages through space and time causing all of the buildings on Lego Island to be deconstructed. Your job is to defeat the evil Brickster-Bots and get the pages back to reconstruct the island. While the first game took place solely on the island, Lego Island 2 had players going through portals to different islands based on different lego themes like Castle and Adventures, where you take part in mini games to get the Constructopedia pages. There are several mini games throughout the game and they range from things like shooting to whack a-mole to memory tests to driving and... um... fishing.

Unfortunately, I never got a chance to play this game, but I did have friends who played it and enjoyed it. I wanted this game so bad when I was a kid, but never had the pocket money to afford it, and in the end my interests probably moved onto something else. I think if I had played it I would have enjoyed it, but now I'm older, looking at gameplay clips on YouTube gives me the impression that this could be the weakest of the three games in the Lego Island series. The mini games don't look fun at all, if not slightly repetitive, and the areas you explore, although expanded from the first game in the series, look a little bland and are very limited in texture and colour palette. At least they are bland and limited in comparison to the game that came next. I guess that happens sometimes when games are constantly getting improved upon.

Island Xtreme Stunts was released in 2002 and developed by the same company as the second game. It expanded on everything that had been laid out for it by the previous games in the series. The Island was larger with exploration galore. You could drive cars, ride boats and pilot planes around this pretty sunshine soaked island. I loved it. It was a lego paradise. Between exploring the island was a selection of mini games based around the Lego Studios line of sets where Pepper would chase the Brickster in some way as part of a kick ass 'xtreme' movie he was starring in. Pepper and the Brickster were no longer enemies, but fellow actors.

What was cool about this game is that they actually released legit Lego sets to tie in with the game, I had the one pictured below. To be honest I mainly wanted this set for the minifigure of Pepper. I think I asked my Mum to get me the biggest set available in the theme (the Xtreme Tower) but they'd discontinued the theme by then.

I think my Grandad bought me this game and I got really hooked on it back in the day. I loved that you could skateboard (I hadn't met Tony Hawk's Underground yet obviously), and I loved that you could explore the large island... I spent hours doing so! It was probably the humble beginnings of my love for open world games. I got so nostalgic writing about this game that I just had to play it again! Having not used a PC full-time since I went to University (good riddance) I didn't have anything to play my original copy on (it was incredibly buggy anyway), so instead I went out and got myself a PlayStation 2 copy. So was it as good as I remember? No. No it wasn't. In fact, I kind of questioned my younger self slightly. What was I thinking?

Okay, hold up, I'm just joking (slightly), but there were a few things that really did grind my gears when it came to playing this game. I don't know if there is some kind of weird glitch in the PlayStation 2 version of the game (there was definitely tonnes in the PC version causing it to be very unstable the whole time I played it), but after an initial play through, which included getting a driving license so I could drive cars, I saved and turned off the game. When turning on the game again, whenever I went to get into a car, Pepper would freeze and wouldn't move. This kept happening, even after reloading and resetting once or twice. So being me, I decided to go onto the next goal, as I thought that maybe this would reset this glitch. Instead I was faced with a highly frustrating (and incredibly broken) bike race mini-game against The Brickster. Bail once and it's impossible to overtake him again, and you might as well just start over. You might as well just turn off this game and not play it ever again. Something really rubbed me the wrong way, and I kind of feel sad to hold such negative feelings against this game after absolutely adoring it as a kid. Don't get me wrong, exploring Lego Island was still pretty cool, but after being exposed to much more advanced open world games like Shenmue and Bully (Canis Canem Edit), this game just isn't as sparkly and new in the open world department any more.

So I could leave it there, as a nostalgic look-back at a series of games I seem to have sadly outgrown, but I refuse to end this article on such a negative note because I just want to say: what if Traveller's Tales brought back the Lego Island franchise and it played like a modern Lego title? They made Lego City Undercover for Wii U, right? I would love to see a reboot of this franchise, back, better than before, for a new audience to enjoy. I loved the characters of Lego Island, and let's face it, new games aren't too colourful are they? The idea of Lego Island's sunshine gracing our new generation consoles sounds like a pretty 'xtreme' idea, bro. Traveller's Tales, I hope you see this!

Did you, like me, love Lego Island when you were younger? Which was your favourite game in the series? Do you love it the same nowadays as you did back then? Make your voice heard in the comments section below, or on our Twitter or Facebook pages - tell us your thoughts!

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