LEGO finds new ways to build on past success by giving Captain Jack Sparrow the LEGO treatment.
It's usually Madden, Call of Duty and Guitar Hero that people moan about being annual titles that change little from the formula. But, at least here, we've been hearing the same thing about LEGO titles recently, games which easily deserve the label, for good or ill. To date, I've played every single game but it was around the LEGO: Indiana Jones releases that fatigue was already starting to creep in. With no sign of them stopping any time soon it's a good thing that series developer, Traveller's Tales, has found new ways to breath life into their games.
LEGO: Harry potter was quite possibly the best game in the LEGO franchise in quite some time and the follow-up of LEGO: Star Wars III was equally impressive. LEGO: Pirates of the Caribbean does its best to keep that string alive by pushing new ideas forward, smartly choosing from the source material, and delivering amazing set-pieces and plenty of awesome new locations. While everything isn't perfect, and some old problems still plague the game, LEGO: Pirates of the Caribbean is yet another excellent entry by Traveller's Tales.
There Should Be A Captain Somewhere in There
If you've never played a LEGO game allow me to try to explain how they're done. Big name movie franchises are adapted, usually a trilogy or more, by turning all of the characters and environments into LEGO blocks. The player smashes and builds LEGO as they go, solving puzzles, battling enemies, platforming and choosing whether or not to hunt down the many, many collectibles in the game. After completing a level once players are able to go back, with any of the characters they've collected, and replay the level however they wish. In this case, LEGO: Pirates takes us from The Black Pearl to On Stranger Tides, retelling the escapades of Jack Sparrow and company.
Things play out more or less the way they have in the past with these games. There's a single main hub-world, based around Port Royal, where you go to buy characters, explore, dig up special collectibles, and jump into any of the films you'd like to play. One of the smartest design choices in the LEGO games has been to make these hub-worlds an integral part of the experience and Pirates does that better than most. If you nose around after opening up the world a little bit you'll discover a bunch of Red Hats. These little gems, known in other iterations as Red Bricks, are in-game cheats that let you do things like earn studs faster, disguise yourself, or give yourself regenerating life. Making this such a predominant part of the collecting is indicative of the laid back, fun first, attitude Traveller's Tales lends their games.
Piece by Piece, Stud by Stud
Many of the huge action scenes from the films are replicated here in often funny and exciting ways but they're never overdone to the point that there's no diversity to the gameplay. You'll fight a Kraken, sword fight on a two-story water wheel, and battle with Davy Jones and Blackbeard. But without magic or Jedi powers the characters in the game are at a disadvantage to their LEGO game counterparts. To combat this, the developers work hard to utilize different aspects of the franchise like Jack's majestic compass, Bootstrap Bill's ability to use barnacles to reach new areas and a mermaids abilities in water. There's some modest nods to the series as well, Elizabeth's transformation from royalty to pirate and Jack's multiple personalities for example.
Things don't always add up, though, and there are some strange problems that Traveller's Tales has still not addressed, which perplexes me. We're literally creeping up on double digits for this style of LEGO game and they still haven't implemented online play. If you want to play with anyone you can only do so through couch co-op, a less than ideal way to play. Worse, platforming issues still persist. Anytime you're asked to jump long distances or over dangerous terrain you'll almost certainly die a few times. While you only lose Studs (your currency to buy Red Hats and Characters) it's still a frustrating experience because rarely is it a result of a players skill and almost always a lack of quality controls.
Unfortunately, LEGO: Pirates has much worse aspects than control annoyances and online play. This game has a tendency to leave you hanging in more ways than one. Though you're usually told where everything is sometimes you find yourself completely stuck with no discernible direction. It's usually stupid stuff that you may happen upon immediately or not at all, but the game does nothing to give you even the slightest clue what you're supposed to do or how. It's strange because the game goes out of its way to point you in the right direction almost all of the time and when it doesn't it's never because it's an epic puzzle or a climactic ending - it's just because.
It's usually weird stuff like shaking a nut out of a tree that you've climbed and jumped on a dozen times to no effect, only to realize later you're supposed to jump off and grab a different part of the tree - the only time during the whole game you have to do something like that. Even when you know where to go you might run into a bug that stops you from moving on. Four times I had a character get stuck in the environment when I needed them to come help me with a puzzle. It's really irritating to be able to switch to a character that's stuck in an elevator and not be able to find a way to get them out. A simple suicide button would solve every one of these problems.
There isn't any dialogue in the game, but even without it the characters grunts tend to tip you off to who's mumbling. It's strange to say but Johnny Depp's iconic character is just as well captured by his flailing run and his flamboyant screams, you don't need him talking. Equally strong is the soundtrack, a fantastic representation of the original scores of the films - if not directly ripped from them. Since the LEGO: Harry Potter games these titles have been quite stunning and Pirates of the Caribbean gets top marks in being beautiful. It's been a subtle curve upwards but the graphical prowess of the franchise is spectacular, capturing the aesthetic of each film with almost pitch perfect accuracy. There's not as many effects as they could have used but the game does run superbly.
LEGO: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game is a whimsical ride that you shouldn't let fall victim to LEGO game fatigue. The ideas here keep things continuously fun and interesting, there's a ton of content to keep players busy and if you're partial to the films it's a great adaptation that keeps the magic and fun without sacrificing on the puzzles and action. There are still some issues that have dogged all of Traveller's Tales games, but if you don't care about online play, some tedious platforming and the very odd character bug, then the rest is gravy. This probably isn't the best LEGO video game yet, but it's really strong. Fans of the film should absolutely check it out, and anyone that's loved the previous games won't be disappointed either.
Final Score: 80%
80-84% - "Great" Has loads of promise, but falls just short of its full potential. A great title that leaves you wishing they'd gone that extra mile. Probably worth keeping on your shelf for a rainy day, and always worth trying.