Whereas many dozens of toy companies have come and gone over the decades, LEGO continues to go from strength to strength. Quality of product aside, it was the company's decision to embrace technology and diversify that saw it steering clear of the jaws of change.
If you take a cross-section of LEGO'S portfolio you'll find dozens of different lines, many of which don't even remotely resemble the LEGO that 30+ year-olds grew up with. The traditional format is still massively popular though, which is why offshoots such as LEGO Technic and LEGO City still follow the same set of rules.
LEGO's power throughout the 1990s made it an obvious choice for videogame licensing but it took a long time for anyone to get it right. While several attempts at releasing LEGO creation titles on the PC came and went, it wasn't until 1999 that the first proper videogame,
LEGO Racers, was released on the Nintendo 64. It wasn't great, though, and was followed by a run of rotten Bionicle offerings on the GBA. It took the little-known Traveller's Tales to practically invent a new genre, the 'LEGO game', before the franchise really started to deliver.
In 2005 LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game became the very first title to assume the now familiar template. Since then the Cheshire-based developer, Traveller's Tales, has become synonymous with the LEGO brand. In fact, for the best part of a decade it's done little else but LEGO film licence tie-ins so the freedom of a title such as LCU (LEGO City: Undercover) must come as a breath of fresh air.
Though TT would never admit to it, the time and content constraints of working for a US publisher such as Warner Bros. Interactive (while also having to keep LEGO happy) must be stifling and the team must have thanked their lucky stars when Nintendo showed interest in an open-world adventure. As Executive Producer Loz Doyle tells us, LCU was something the team had wanted to do for a while: "We had already started work on the technology for a proper open-world game, but with the arrival of the Wii U and its unique GamePad, that really opened up a lot of new ideas... gameplay ideas that suited us perfectly".
LCU's development time, unlike many of the Wii U's ported launch titles, has been significant and the fact that the game has been built from the ground up for Wii U really shows. First announced in June 2011 the game will have been underway for around two years by the time it launches and will be one of just a few games launched so far (along with the likes of ZombiU) to really take advantage of the hardware. As such, LCU is an absolutely massive game with a vast number of different things going on at any one time.
Comparisons with Grand Theft Auto may seem exaggerated, but actually the freedom to explore and interact with your environment does bear many similarities. The switch couldn't have been an easy one though; going from the extremely limited, super-controlled mission arenas in the likes of LEGO The Lord Of The Rings to open world, sandbox-esque freedom in LCU doesn't come overnight. As Doyle openly tells us, "We have gone from creating purely level-based games to having a sprawling open world city, so the technology and game systems involved were new to us. Yes, we had the core proven systems such as slick character control, addictive collectibles, easy-to-learn gameplay and so on... things that remain unchanged. But there is so much more to create when you're considering a city game."