LEGO Star Wars
was a special game back in 2005. Breaking down a series of films and casting the characters and vehicles as LEGO creations was unique, and perhaps the best part of the game was how simple that it was to play. It didn't matter if you were 10 years old or 70 years old; the control scheme was easy to pick up and play and the difficulty level was challenging but never frustrating. As Travellers Tales
branched out from the Star Wars
franchise and took the LEGO scheme to other films, however, things seemed to change. From LEGO Indiana Jones
to LEGO Batman
, and especially with LEGO Indiana Jones 2
and LEGO Harry Potter
, the formula that made the LEGO games great seemed to get lost as the games became more complex and introduced features which didn't necessarily improve the overall experience. As the LEGO games continue to mount in number and arguably seemed to have lost their magic in recent iterations, it is easy to look the other way with the release of LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean
. If you do, you'll be missing out on a game that returns to the addictive and accessible enjoyment that the LEGO games started out with in the beginning.
As with most of the LEGO games, LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean revolves around the series of movies that share the title. Captain Jack Sparrow and the rest of the cast from each of the four films-- including the recently released On Stranger Tides-- are faithfully recreated in LEGO form and the movies are played out in a summarized and action-filled format. Some characters are swashbucklers and great at combat, but they can also operate certain devices. Blacksmiths can fix red "hot" items to create a way to move to the next area. Other characters are better with heavy weapons, or can maneuver through small openings. There's even a dog that can dig up items when a shovel just isn't available. Jack Sparrow has the use of a special compass that can guide him to certain buried treasure, which are items that can be used to advance through a level or find certain secrets. A character wheel makes it easy to select the right LEGO character for each situation, and it's quicker than toggling from one character to the next. Certain puzzles will require certain characters, and players looking to find all of the game's secrets will be replaying the game's 20 levels more than a couple of times in order to find and use the proper character combinations.
The tried-and-true formula of melee combat, attacking anything breakable to collect LEGO studs and goodies, and simple puzzle-solving shines in LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean. There are plenty of enemies to break down into LEGO bits with some boss battles thrown in. The boss battles usually revolve around pattern recognition and can be challenging at times but never to the point of frustration. Since players have unlimited lives, there really isn't much of a penalty for losing all of a character's hit points aside from being docked some LEGO studs. Players will pick up plenty of those studs as they make their way through each level, and by smashing a lot of breakable objects and defeating enough enemies, players can shoot for True Pirate status which is a component of the game's overall completion. Scattered between the combat and item collecting are some puzzle sequences. Some of these require the use of barrels to roll onto switches or gain access to underwater areas, while others involve finding keys that open doors or activate other switches or devices. Some of the puzzles may require some trial and error as the solutions aren't always obvious, but none of the puzzles are controller-crushingly difficult. LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean does have a hub that gradually opens up as players accumulate Gold Bricks. These bricks can be earned by attaining True Pirate status, completing levels, and locating secrets. Within the hub, players can find and purchase Red Hats which activate special options like double treasure or character disguises.
The LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean experience is never a solo one. Playing the game by yourself teams you with an AI-controlled second character, and it's possible for a second human player to jump in and join in the adventure. This kind of drop-in, drop-out play has been one of the most successful staples of the LEGO games, and with good reason. In family situations, LEGO Pirates allows another family member or friend to play along when they want to. It's certainly a better experience with two players, especially in certain puzzle situations. AI characters have a tendency to run around randomly before identifying that they're needed for a puzzle solution, which can be a mild annoyance. Playing with a friend or family member can also be a little perilous to your LEGO stud count if you decide to engage in some combat with your partner as you can be dispatched by a friendly weapon. The cooperative play option is also perfect for younger players as it invites parents to get involved in what their children are playing without overwhelming them too much with complex controls or trying difficulty.
The gameplay in LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean may be a return to a more simple and fun formula, but the graphics have certainly evolved. Although the characters may be LEGOs, the backgrounds are much more realistic. Lush greens in a forest, sandy beaches, and storm-tossed pirate ships all serve as impressive backdrops to the action. There's a bit of a motion blur effect, which can be turned off, but the characters animate smoothly and there really aren't many technical issues to speak of. Cutscenes advance the story, and there's a mix of hand-drawn scenes and scenes driven by the standard graphics engine, which has made impressive progress as the LEGO series has grown. In terms of sound, the soundtracks for each of of the Pirates of the Caribbean films are well-represented here. Expect to have the Pirates of the Caribbean theme to be stuck in your head for days after spending some time with this game. Sound effects, such as clanging swords, explosions, thunder, and cannon fire are clear and sound great. As with all other LEGO games, there are very few voice samples to be heard here... although Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow yell can be heard with regularity when making jumps or falling.
It's true that LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean doesn't do much different than other LEGO games. In this case, this similarity is not necessarily a bad thing. There aren't epic ground battles like in LEGO Star Wars III or a decided turn from melee combat as we saw with LEGO Harry Potter. This game marks a return to what made the LEGO games great in the first place and delivers an impressive visual presentation. I had a blast playing LEGO Pirates, and this was after being somewhat disappointed by the past few LEGO offerings. It feels like Travellers Tales went back to basics with this game, proving that fun and ease of play are more important than additions or subtractions. There's plenty of replay value, if you want it, and LEGO Pirates delivers an enjoyable, amusing, and accessible experience for players of all ages and skill levels.