Right in time for the holidays, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment has released Lego Friends, a video game based on the construction toy line of the same name. While the game is all-ages-friendly, the target demographic appears to be young girls in particular: The box art features many of the characters that appear in the game—fresh-faced ladies of various hair colors, skin tones, and hobbies.
I first heard of Lego Friends, developed by TT Games and Hellbent Games for Nintendo 3DS and DS, months before, and even then I was interested in how it might differ from titles intended for more of a boys’ audience. Eventually, I got to demo it alongside Lego Marvel Super Heroes, a game that if not specifically for boys, is certainly a more testosterone-heavy affair. The art direction and color palette for Lego Friends are cuter and brighter, respectively. But do those factors alone—and that the main avatar and supporting characters are all female—qualify calling it a video game for girls? Could it still conceivably appeal to other audiences?
It seemed worth playing the first 25 percent of the game to find out. My observations are wholly unscientific, and based entirely on Lego Friends’ objectives and game play style. The premise is that you are visiting your cousin Olivia, who lives in Heartlake City, where you meet an ensemble of other girls, each of whom opens up the game’s universe via missions based on their respective interests. Mia, for example, is into outdoor activities, while Stephanie is an aspiring journalist who could use a photographer. For every set of tasks successfully collaborated on, the friendship between the player and the new friend strengthens.
Although strengthening a friendship is not exactly “leveling up,” in that the player’s avatar doesn’t have attributes that change, she does pick up various animal companions that enhance game play and are integral to accomplishing certain missions. In that sense, Lego Friends isn’t all that different from most other adventure or role-playing games, in which good deeds help gain allies or progress the storyline. If building and expanding one’s character and furthering friendships is what’s supposed to make this a “girl’s game,” that argument doesn’t seem very strong.
Looking at game play, Lego Friends alternates between world-building with a top-down perspective—a pretty neutral style of presentation—and mini-games such as practicing kicking a soccer ball on goal or busing tables at a cafe. There are also mini-quests, like hanging up posters around the high school, most of which take only a few minutes to complete. The shorter-duration games jibe with something a game developer once told me about how girls prefer games they can readily pick up, put down, and pick back up again, while boys are more likely to settle into marathon gaming sessions. Technically I’m not a girl, but personally, I liked how I could play for just a few minutes and then reach a save point, meaning I was free to stop without my progress being lost. That’s an aspect that definitely has appeal beyond the game’s initial demographic, in my opinion.
Lego Friends also has the refreshing lack of a timer, something that seemed present in every console game I’ve ever played, regardless of for whom it was made. The missing equivalent of that finger constantly nudging the player along encourages those who find a mini-game they like to keep coming back to it. Meanwhile, the emphasis on repetitive game play, albeit with incremental increases in difficulty, reminded me a lot of certain mobile games—which as the statistics show, are not just for young girls. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that Lego Friends was developed for the Nintendo 3DS and DS, each of which features a touchscreen, just as mobile devices do.
The bottom line: Lego Friends has cosmetic qualities that could conceivably make it stand out as a “girls’ game,” but it also has features that would appeal to gamers in general. It feels kind of strange to be making an argument for non-girls to try a game intended for the girls’ market—as if dudes don’t have enough options—but hey, there’s nothing wrong with having a varied game collection.
For more commentary from Phil, check back often. Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Toy Book as a whole. We hope that you will share your comments and feedback below. Until next time!