A new genre of video games has been born, and its name is “Lego.”

Successful action movies have always been turned into video games, and the masses have flocked to buy them. Now these same gamers must make a potentially life-changing decision: “Do I buy the normal version or the Lego version?” Lego video gaming has grown to the point where it could even be considered its own genre. Lego games share a consistently playful vibe, a quirky sense of humor and a lot of gameplay mechanics.

This emergent gaming genre began over a decade ago in 1997 with the releases of “Lego Chess” and “Lego Island,” the latter of which introduced many mechanics that are still staples of Lego games to this day. In “Lego Island,” the player travels around an island doing various missions for different people — from pizza delivery to crime enforcement. Throughout the game, the destruction of objects is illustrated by Lego bricks flying off in every direction. There is also a fair amount of building and customization. While Lego games have come a long way in terms of plot since then — mostly by uniting with popular movie franchises — they have kept their endearingly playful nature that began on the beaches of “Lego Island.”

While the appeal of Lego games to younger children is evident, the success of games such as “Lego Indiana Jones,” “Lego Star Wars” and the new “Lego Batman” are a bit more surprising. These are popular franchises, of course, but with so many licensed games out there already, why is there still demand for Lego versions?

Parents are an important factor. As the graphics of video games become more realistic, the quantity and quality of blood and guts increase. Lego games are always rated E (Everyone), while many other recent games in these franchises are rated T (Teen) or even M (Mature). Adolescent males are one of the largest demographics for games in these franchises, and Lego thrives off the worries of their parents. In a few years, these preteens will probably all be playing “Grand Theft Auto VI” anyway, but until then Lego games can keep their innocent eyes protected.

Nostalgia is another major selling point for Lego games. Many of the gamers who pickup “Lego Star Wars” will fondly remember seeing the giant Lego Millennium Falcon in a toy store and begging for it. Those who gravitate to “Lego Racers” will recall the Lego cars they used to build and race through the living room with their friends. For seemingly every Lego theme, there is a video game out there to bring it to a screen.

Most importantly, these games are actually fun. It only makes sense that they would be, seeing how enjoyable and beloved the original toy is. With so many video games based on pop culture staples turning out horribly these days, it’s refreshing to see Lego get it right. Because so many of the popular aspects of the Lego toy are kept in the games, they appeal to basically the same market. You can still construct, destroy, play and pretend all you want in the virtual Lego world. Often Lego games allow players to do all the things with Lego bricks they couldn’t do otherwise. The success of “Lego Creator” is based solely on the fact that most people are too clumsy, impatient or lazy to get all the bricks they need and assemble them into something cool. In the games, finding the right brick and attaching it where you want is as easy as a few mouse clicks.

Lego is enjoying immense success with its take on popular movie franchises, which could lead to creative stagnation if the company becomes content with its recent success. Fortunately, Lego doesn’t seem to have fallen into this trap. The toy brand has teamed up with software developer NetDevil for an ambitious new project, taking Lego gaming in a potentially epic direction. The game in progress, entitled “Lego Universe,” is going to be massively multiplayer online (MMO), allowing Lego-loving gamers around the world to work together to build their own Lego world. From the few images and videos currently available, it looks like the game will have stunning visuals, something somewhat new for a Lego game. Lego has stated that all player interactions will be cooperative, not destructive. The project is slated for release in 2009.

Lego gaming has come a long way since leaving the shores of “Lego Island.” Lego games now consistently rival their counterparts, and the genre is developing at an unprecedented pace. With the release of “Lego Batman” the brand has shown its ability to keep up with current trends. At this rate there could someday even be games like “Halo 4: The Lego Hordes.” Cross your fingers.

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