With the right Lego and a healthy dose of imagination, you can build almost anything. Pour a pile of these coloured bricks out on the carpet, and the resulting mess offers up a world of infinite possibilities. Yet despite the iconic toys’ endless play potential, for the last seventeen years, one game developer has been hoarding most of the Lego: Cheshire-based Traveller’s Tales.
Becoming as much of a fixture in the gaming calendar as Call of Duty or FIFA, Lego video games have long been synonymous with enjoyable licensed action-platformers. Now, however, these long-standing Lego foundations have been pushed off the table. Yanking the toy chest from publisher Warner Brothers, 2K has been handed the keys to the bricky Kingdom. Its first act as Lego lord? Announcing the imminent release of an ambitious sandbox kart racer, Lego 2K Drive. Doing away with cinematic collaborations, Lego 2K Drive shuns licensed fare like Star Wars and Lord Of The Rings in favour of muscling in on Mario Kart’s tarmac.
Going wheels-on with the game at 2K’s offices, the first surprises about Lego 2K Drive is its ambition. Part Mario Kart part ‘my first Forza Horizon’, the racer sets you loose on a series of standalone islands, leaving you – and up to four friends online – free to cruise around these themed playgrounds causing brick-busting mayhem. The core meat of the gameplay is competing in each area’s four races, yet in true collect-a-thon fashion, each locale is littered with side quests, mini-games and all manner of hidden trinkets.
After being treated to a grin-inducing, The Lego Movie-esque introduction, you’re free to wear out those tires and tear up the town. Starting life in a bright and luscious looking metropolis, I naturally immediately attempt to ruin it by smashing up everything in sight. Luckily, developers Visual Concepts seem to have planned for this, with crashing into obstacles rewarding players with boost refills, powerups and even the occasional coveted collectible.
While the Mario Kart comparisons will be made a plenty, in reality, Lego 2K Drive borrows more heavily From Sega’s cult karting experiment: Sonic All Stars Transformed. Veering off-road mid race automatically sees your swish sports car morph into a bricky buggy. Feeling like testing your water wheels? Well, thankfully, swerving off into any of Drive’s beautifully rendered rippling rivers sees your wheels immediately tuck in and transform into a speedboat. This transformers-worthy mechanic applies neatly to all your open world exploration too, allowing you to seamlessly alternate between ripping up the roads to gliding across the waves as you make your way to your chosen objective marker.
As you’d expect from the studio behind the NBA and WWE games, Lego 2K Drive is very visually impressive stuff. Surfaces glisten and light reflects convincingly with current gen sheen, and as I progress from this luscious grass filled space to a dusty desert town, I can’t help but feel that tearing up these virtual playmates would be a great space for kids to congregate online after school. There’s plenty of silliness to experience in the story mode too. From one mission that sees my defending generators from attacking aliens to another that has me rounding up escaped pigs, there’s seemingly no shortage of sidequest shenanigans.
As well as the full single player offering, players can also opt to jump straight into the main races via the Grand Prix mode. Yet it’s here that the Mario Kart comparisons feel the least flattering. While Lego 2K Drive’s punchy powerups like missiles, machine guns and spiderwebs smash into your foes with a pleasing heft – complete with cars exploding into a series of bricks – the core feel of the racing and track design simply can’t compete with the perfection of Mario Kart 8. Still, the racing is competent enough, and much like in the blue blur’s seemingly abandoned kart series, younger players will get a thrill simply from watching their vehicle change from road to sea as the race progresses.
Yet as my time with Lego 2K Drive screeches to a halt, I’m left to play with its Lego-shaped secret weapon – its car customisation. At any point during the story mode or in the main menu, you’re free to create the vehicles of your dreams. It’s hard to overstate just how intuitive and satisfying this build system felt, allowing you to position a startling amount of differently shaped bricks onto your car/boat or quad bike with ease, each piece slotting into place just as it would with real Lego. While using a controller to customise any kind of virtual creation can be endlessly fiddly, here everything just worked. The sheer number of different varieties of bricks, decorative options and colours made it easy to suddenly build roofs and extended platforms on my speed boat or just add weird bits of architecture to my quad bike. Huge selection of bricks, colours were matched with an intuitive and robust selection of ways to place and combine them.
It’s hard not to see kids taking delight in showing off their completely unique cars to their mates and taking pride in unlocking all the required bricks to make their creations really stand out. While the core kart racing felt merely serviceable when compared to the masterful drifting of the moustachioed plumber, I still came away impressed with the sheer amount of fun that Lego 2K Drive had to offer.
Forza Horizon X Sonic All Stars Racing is a fairly strong proposition, and while not entirely original, manages to feel like nothing else out there on the market. From my time with it, Lego Drive may not quite have the cross generational appeal of Traveller’s tales lovingly- crafted nostalgic licensed games, but thanks to its blend of multiplayer sandbox shenanigans and impressive brick-building simulation, for younger gamers, this looks set to be the perfect pixel-filled playground.
Lego 2K Drive will be released May 19, 2023 for Playstation 5, Playstation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Switch and PC.