I’m having a good time with Lego 2K Drive, a jolly take on the open-world racing genre that just so happens to have one of the dullest names ever conceived. So dull in fact, my son laughed when he watched the trailer and then asked me if that was serious or not. It is, but the game definitely isn’t. It’s also, and you might think I’m stretching here, got me thinking about how an open-world Mario Kart would work. If it ever happens it might not be far off Lego 2K Drive.
Before delving into what Lego 2K Drive does really well, it’s worth looking at the way the game tries to squeeze (or to put it more politely, tempt) money out of you. There’s a currency you earn through playing (Brickbux), but there’s also a premium currency that costs you real money (Coins). There are a lot of cool cars and kit to buy from the store, but using the earned currency feels like a slog. In general play through the story mode you should be able to afford to buy a new car after about five-six hours, but it’s worth noting that replaying a race earns less brickbux than the first time you win, and online races pay out a tiny amount of bux.
So it’s easy to see how you might want to add more Brickbux to your wallet by exchanging coins, bypassing the effort at the cost of your actual bank balance. I expect the season activities will also reward you with some bux… speaking of which.
Lego 2K Drive is also set to roll out seasons, each working like you typically find in play-to-earn games like Fortnite. There will be premium and free versions of these seasons, with the premium version offering better rewards. It’s too early to see how these will work in the game, but they won’t be time-limited, allowing players to work through them at their own pass without the risk of running out of time to earn all the rewards.
Make of that what you will. I think a lot will come down to if you are playing this as an adult or giving it to your kids. As an adult you hopefully don’t pester yourself about a cool car to the point of rage. Children have no such ability to rein in their requests.
The game, then, the bit you play rather than shop, is great. There’s a story that leads you through several open, explorable maps, and it’s actually a lot more entertaining than what the likes of Forza and even Need for Speed have managed. It helps that this isn’t wearing a trendy spoiler or a gritty bumper – it’s just Lego characters doing Lego things, which happens to be mostly stupid, dumb, fun things. At times there’s a Wacky Racers sensibility, others it’s cliched but fun genre tropes, but never is it anything but entertaining.
Central to progression are flags, awarded for winning key races, but the bulk of the game is how you earn the XP needed to access these race events. There’s a feast of side activities to find and take part in, awarding you a slew of rewards and XP. Do enough of these entertaining side missions and challenges, and you’ll unlock new races – complete those and you’ll then be back on earning more XP to move the game forwards. Some of these activities are roaming, some are more signposted and enclosed, but on the whole the game does a good job of making use of its open environments.
How is this at all like Mario Kart, you ask? Well, it’s the feel more than anything. Cars drift satisfyingly, without a great deal of skill needed from the player. Power-ups litter race tracks and make big differences to outcomes, and the whole thing just has that enveloping blanket of joy nestling on top. The multiplayer options even include Mario Kart-style cup events, doing away with the open-world element and focusing on the race events.
Even the way the cars transform into different terrain-suitable vehicles is kind of like what happens in Mario Kart. Go into water and you’ll turn into your chosen boat, head off-road and you’ll be whichever vehicle with big wheels you’ve selected, and head to the streets and you’ll suddenly be behind the wheel of a sports car (of sorts). Speaking of the vehicles, 2K Drive includes some pretty great creation tools, allowing you to build new vehicles from scratch on top of pre-set bases. You have some limits in terms of bricks used, and you need to send off for approval to use these creations online, but there are already some brilliant creations out in the wild.
I don’t know if Mario Kart will ever divert majorly from what has worked over its history, but Lego 2K Drive has made me keener than ever for it to try something new. Lego characters offering up missions, wildly designed worlds that lean heavily into the fantasy of the licence, a sense of adventure and discovery, all with driving physics that feel just right for an arcade-like experience. That would translate perfectly to a Nintendo world. Even if that doesn’t happen, at least we’ve now got this – just beware of the pestering.