I got a video game for Christmas! And poppy and I played it for a while today! Crazy!
The LEGO video games are all pretty similar, but all pretty solid fun. You play through a series of story-based action/platforming levels collecting stuff. There are fun cut scenes in between with a silly sense of humor. You unlock new playable characters and new abilities as you go. This means you can go back and replay earlier levels to collect even more stuff, and replaying those levels is actually rewarding and fun because now there are new things to do and new sections to explore. If all you want to do is beat the game, by which I mean, complete every level and see the end of the story, you can do that pretty quickly. It's collecting 100% of the stuff that's the real challenging part.
Some things I really hate in a video game: if it is punishingly difficult; if it makes you redo long portions again and again until you get them exactly right; if it makes you play for a very long time before you can safely save and quit (I don't have a lot of time here, people!). The LEGO games do not have any of these problems. Not only do they auto-save often, they also give you the option to manually save pretty much whenever you want. Also, although you can be "killed" in the game, there are no consequences to dying beyond losing a handful of the studs that are the "money" in the game; you immediately respawn and keep going right where you left off.
This particular game has all the advantages of your standard LEGO game, with the added advantage that it's set in Middle-Earth! It starts with you playing as Elendil, Isildur, and Elrond fighting Sauron himself!! That's how it opens! Of course, it quickly jumps thousands of years forward in time and acquaints you with Sam and Frodo. I was a little disappointed that you don't get to explore Bag End (UPDATE: we've discovered since that later on in the game you do get to go back and explore Bag End, although only a limited portion of it), but you do get to wander around a surprisingly expansive Hobbiton, and then down the road to Bree, and out into the Wild. When you pick up the rest of the Fellowship at Rivendell is when things get really fun. Legolas, Gandalf, Gimli, and Aragorn are all bad-asses (especially Legolas; bow and arrow! Jumping and swinging and climbing!), but even the hobbits have all been given useful and unique abilities so you often find yourself jumping between many different characters to get through a particular puzzle or sequence. Something they've added for this game that I haven't seen in the previous LEGO games I've played is that each character actually has an inventory and can carry multiple objects at one time. The way it works is a bit awkward (every time you pick something up you have to immediately indicate which spot in your inventory you want it to sit in; why not just have it automatically go to the first empty spot?), but still, inventory!
One of my favorite things so far: not only can you pick up Gimli and carry him around, you can also throw him at things! And not only can you do this, you actually have to, and often! It is pretty hilarious. Oh, and also? I got to rocket down a pit in Moria, jump on the back of a Balrog, and hack at him with Glamdring until he was dead. That was awesome.
UPDATE 1: Now that we've played a bit more, I can reveal that the Balrog was not dead yet! They split the Balrog fight into two sections, and the second part is pretty great, too. Also, you eventually get to play as Ents, which is fantastic. Once you're that big, you don't even have to fight the Orcs anymore; they're just little scurrying things that you sometimes step on.
UPDATE 2: We've now gotten to the end of the story in the game, but haven't even collected half the things yet. Last night we built something called the Disco Phial. You owe it to yourself to seek out this item and equip it. Then sit back and witness the hilarious awesomeness.
Of course, the game has its problems. For one, it's a bit buggy. Even in the few hours of play we put in, twice we ended up stuck in a dead-end where the game would not let us continue because the thing we needed to do to move forward had become impossible. (In the first case, a rock we had to push over to move on got stuck and would not go any further; in the second case, the creature outside the gates of Moria became invulnerable.) We had to quit out and go back in to get things going again. Luckily, like I said, it lets you save often, so we didn't have to repeat too much, but still. Also, although the game is often good at giving you onscreen tips and hints so you can figure out what to do next, sometimes the path forward is highly counter-intuitive and frustratingly difficult to discover. (Fighting the troll in Moria was particularly annoying.) Finally, the way the game splits the screen so each player can see their own surroundings is sometimes either confusing or simply doesn't work at all; for example, while we were fighting that troll in Moria, I sometimes couldn't see myself at all.
Still, even with the flaws, the game has overall been fun so far, and I'm looking forward to jumping back into Middle-Earth as soon as we can.
I bought building blocks for Griffin as soon as he entered the safe age range of the set that had the lowest safe age range (Mega Bloks has sets that are okay for ages 1 and over - they're basically big, chunky LEGO bricks that not even the most determined infant could choke himself on). I love building blocks and remember countless happy hours as a kid putting crazy stuff together with them. The thing is, infants and toddlers aren't so much builders as destructors. The boy wasn't really interested in doing anything with his Mega Bloks but knocking over and taking apart stuff built by other people. We kept his bag of bricks in his playroom, but didn't touch them much; he's been focused mostly on playing with cars and guys.
Then, yesterday, while he was pulling down and throwing around all his toys (like he does), he came across the bag of Mega Bloks. He handed it to me and I asked him if he wanted to build something with them. He said yes. We dumped them out (he loves dumping things out) and I asked him what he wanted to build. He didn't seem sure, so I suggested robots. I built a small one myself, and then, after some trial and error, he built two more. When he was done he did a little dance and said, "RO-BOTS! RO-BOTS!" Although it was more like "WO-BOTS! WO-BOTS!" Our creations are below. Mine is the one on the left.
I'm a little embarrassed at how happy and proud this made me.
UPDATE: I should add, the boy's robots would have been bigger if we hadn't run out of blocks. I was like, "We ran out. We need more blocks!" I'm dangerous in toy stores. The other day we were in Target and he was playing with a little car, and I think he would have actually put it back and left peacefully, but I said, "No, you need to have this."
Speaking of Lord of the Rings, GeekDad got some fun details on the upcoming LEGO game. I'm a little disappointed that it will stick closer to the movies than the books, but not too surprised. Anyway, it still sounds pretty awesome.
Fëanor pours the entire internet into the Recyclotron, and only the best links come out the other end for you to enjoy.
You can stream Sinead O'Connor's new album, How About I Be Me (And You Be You)? (which is a great title, btw), in its entirety on NPR. I'm not really too familiar with her work, but I enjoyed large portions of this one. Although the last track is crazy overdone and melodramatic. (Via)
That Buffy movie they were going to make without Joss Whedon is probably not going to happen. Which is probably good news.
In case you have somehow not seen them yet, here are the trailers for Prometheus and The Hobbit. It's now extremely clear that Prometheus is indeed an Alien prequel. The logo even slowly builds up line by line, just like in Alien! And yeah, I'm still not sure about how the dwarfs look in The Hobbit, but that trailer is pretty great. When they start singing the song at the end? Chills!