Happily though, we still have Option Two. Going by the full name of LEGO City My City (you have to imagine a colon or em dash for yourself), this is another in the surprisingly long, varied and successful tradition of licensed LEGO games. Modern PC gamers, non-parents and those who consider themselves too old, intelligent or mature for LEGO’s pleasures will immediately think of the astonishingly good Traveller’s Tales games. But LEGO’s history with PC and console gamers stretches all the way back to 1997’s LEGO Island (developed for LEGO by Mindscape, the post-1993 incarnation of every Dungeon & Dragons’ fan’s favourite, SSI). And after the misery of SimCity BuildIt’s pay-or-wait experience, LEGO My City is a much, much better proposition.
It’s perhaps unfair to compare the two directly, as LEGO My City (no really, le-go of it!) involves no money other than the usual ‘studs’, and asks nothing of you other than that you have a good time with it. It’s also not strictly speaking a city builder in the usual sense, as most of the city is there to begin with. What you do is play various mini games within the city, to earn the studs to ‘unlock’ different parts of it that are greyed-out to begin with. Each subsequent neighbourhood, ranging from suburban streets to the docks, a sports stadium, train station and airport, then offers further different mini games to play. You can also use the studs to place your own choice of a variety of pre-made buildings on various ‘blueprint’ blocks (see the screenshot below), and purchase new vehicles and clothes for your mini-figs.
I played it in my browser (Chrome), and it launches in a perhaps too-small window which can nevertheless be made full-screen, albeit in a weird aspect ratio (which I quickly got used to). The game requires no login or sign-up for anything, and as long as your cookie settings are sorted, it will remember your progress between sessions. It begins, as all such games do, with a large initial download and then launches straight into a Chaplin-esque wordless tutorial that shows you everything without saying anything. It’s clearly a good thing, because then anyone can quickly learn to play, but it still feels a little strange – it’s not the first silent tutorial I’ve been through, but something about it felt… odd. Anyway, after having played for about an hour, LEGO My City had put around 700mb into a folder on my C drive, and to begin with the load times between the main city hub and the various mini games can be a little bit slow, even with a good SSD. That’s a small gripe for an adult, but for a child it might be frustrating. (I’ll have to get my boys to have a look at this and see what they say). But crucially, LEGO My City makes up for all these minor niggles by being really good fun to play. The variety of mini-games is, at first, a bit limited. Some of the win/lose conditions are a bit obscure (the airport game is particularly opaque), and in the utterly word-less environment of your little LEGO world, it’s occasionally hard to tell what you’re supposed to do. But you can zoom in surprisingly close and watch the people and cars bustling about, and the urge to unlock further neighbourhoods and see what surprises they have to offer is constant. It’s hugely satisfying, especially when the mini-figs are interacting with things you’ve built or placed, even if the action’s not as dense or sophisticated as your recent memories of The LEGO Movie might be.
I don’t know if I’d say that it’s a game you’d stick with for more than a few days. It’s incredibly easy to just dip in and out of whilst you’re working or doing other things at your computer, and it’s a clear win for younger kids who haven’t yet become accustomed to the intricacies of the various TT games. But considering that I uninstalled SimCity BuildIt the same day I downloaded it, and that I’m now on my second day of LEGO My City (there’s actually an Arctic zone you can sail to and build in, and the possibility of other, themed zones being added later), I’d say that the choice is clear. Click this link to go to the official LEGO City website and see for yourself, then let us know what you think in the comments below.