The Game: The Rock Raiders are zipping through space, looking for another planet to explore, when a gigantic wormhole opens up and whisks them into the next galaxy. Before you can say “Mister Paris, engage!,” Chief and his crew are already scouting out new worlds to mine. One planet seems like a particularly promising candidate, but sensors detect other life forms there. Your job is to help various members of the Rock Raiders crew perform mining, exploration and rescue tasks on the surface of this strange new world as safely as possible. (Lego Media, 2000)
Memories: This may be just about the coolest game I’ve seen on the Playstation since MTV Music Generator. Now, you’re probably already laughing it up, wondering why in the world someone who’s pushing 30 is playing a game where the protagonists are well-rendered little Lego men (yep, just like the ones that come with the toys). But believe it or not, despite the exceedingly simple early tutorial missions that kick things off, this is actually quite the crafty little real-time strategy game.
What do I admire most about Rock Raiders? Is it the great graphics, the simple controls, or the engaging missions? I do like all of these things. But one of the most endearing things about this game is its almost total lack of violence. Even when confronted with hostile life forms, you can’t kill them – only send them away, freeze them, or use other non-lethal means to hold them at bay. This game is unequivocally, absolutely safe to unleash on the kids, even the young ones, since the characters speak through expressive grunts and non-verbal vocalizations. The mission briefings require some reading skills, but they’re not exactly written in acronym-heavy armed forces lingo. They’re pretty simple too.
But the simplicity of the game’s setting is deceptive. The first full-fledged, non-tutorial mission is quite a challenge, and that element of the game ramps up in later levels. The first time I ever sat down to play this game, before I knew it I’d spent three hours playing it. It’s addictive and aggressively cute at the same time.
Have I raved about the graphics yet? The lighting effects and textures are awesome, and the cutscenes (starring wonderfully CGI-rendered Lego men facing the trials and terrors of the alien world) are very impressive. And when you requisition a vehicle from your mothership, it looks just like the corresponding toy, complete with the prerequisite little pegs and holes that pepper every Lego brick in existence. That, I thought, was just immensely cool.
I give this one four quarters. I love it. It’s a real hoot, and makes me wish I still had some Legos (even if they’re not the fancy-schmancy, pre-molded kits we have today that build specific Star Wars vehicles and whatnot). Why not the full dollar? I have a huge problem with one aspect of the game: there is no true way to save your game. The game relies on the “password” system, and does not allow saves to a memory card. Let me ask you this, Lego: if your target audience is kids, shouldn’t this part of the game be as easy as possible? Granted, real time strategy for children is a novel idea, and entails some complexity. But does that complexity need to extend as far as a two-dozen-character password instead of one block on a memory card? Bad call in a big way – in my opinion, of course.
Speaking of vehicles, this game also had a built-in toy line. Lego isn’t a slow company. If anything, the game will spark the imagination, and kids will pick up the toys and take it from there, creating even more interesting adventures than the ones they can have in the game. As it should be.