I've been feeling nostalgic for old-school LEGO PC games lately. If you had a LEGO game on your PC back in the late '90s, it was probably LEGO Island—an open-world adventure game primarily about a pizza delivery boy who accidentally lets the island's only criminal, the Brickster, loose.
There wasn't much LEGO in LEGO Island, though, because you couldn't really build anything. Sure, you "built" a few vehicles—essentially picking the colors for a few pre-determined builds—but for an island made of Lego, things were pretty static. Where LEGO Island succeeded was the vibes—imaginative, a bit surreal, and full of personality.
So the year after LEGO Island, the LEGO Group followed it up with three very different games: LEGO Chess, LEGO Creator, and LEGO Loco. You can almost see the LEGO Group hastily throwing them together—looking back, they look more like demos than full experiences. I had all three—and LEGO Island, of course—and for a kid obsessed with real-life LEGO, they were digital candy, despite their shortcomings.
LEGO Chess was exactly what it said on the tin, a straightforward chess game with either a pirate or western-themed skin and a few fun cutscenes. On the other end of the spectrum was LEGO Creator, a fully 3D sandbox game designed as a virtual replacement for your bins of real, physical LEGO. Somewhere in the middle was LEGO Loco, my favorite of the bunch.
LEGO Loco was a sandbox game, too, but a very different kind of sandbox. Instead of LEGO, your building blocks were train tracks and town buildings, all rendered in a cartoonish 2D. It was like a mix of Transport Tycoon and one of those kids rugs with a town map on it. While not as technically impressive as Creator, Loco was full of the same personality that made Island such a success, with little surprises around every corner. Put four fountains together and you'll create a rainbow. Put a radar station next to an office building and it'll turn into a kaiju robot. Follow a complicated series of horticultural steps and you'll invoke the Loch Ness Monster. And while you were limited to a small patch of virtual land to build your locomotive network on, you could design and send virtual postcards to other players using your dial-up internet connection. While these easter eggs weren't limitless, they invoked a core tenet of what makes LEGO fun: imagine it, and you can build it.
With this trio of games, you could see LEGO exploring various paths forward for their virtual IP, a spirit of experimentation that continued over the next two decades. LEGO games run the gamut from kart racers to social sims to real-time strategy games. There's a straightforward soccer game and a massively multiplayer online game. They even made a LEGO Rock Band.
But we've never gotten a proper sequel—or even a spiritual sequel—to LEGO Loco. This little locomotive simulator has the potential for so much more—a full-featured transportation simulator, or even better, a city-builder on par with SimCity. They've never fully taken advantage of the LEGO possibilities to build an entire city, brick by brick, with all of the imagination and surreal fun—the "loco"—that LEGO could bring.
Revisiting LEGO Loco today isn't really worth it—as both an adult gamer and compared to today's offerings, LEGO Loco is particularly shallow—but I hope there's someone at LEGO HQ who remembers it as fondly as I do. If we're lucky, we just might get LEGO Loco 2.