The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
At this point in the LEGO series’ lifespan, you’re either on board with the concept or have already abandoned ship. LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean doesn’t enhance the LEGO franchise as the Clone Wars game did a few months back, but it offers another well-executed entry.
Not surprisingly, the game loosely follows the adventures from the four Pirates of the Caribbean movies. If you didn’t fully understand what was going on in the films, don’t expect to gain any insight here. The minifigs’ pantomimes and slapstick routines provide plenty of chuckles and odd references to pigs and carrots, but even they can’t make any sense of the series’ convoluted mythology. Suffice it to say, all you have to worry about is slashing the bad guys, breaking crates, and collecting piles of valuable LEGO studs. You know the routine by now.
As with other LEGO games, characters are divided into several classes that define their roles in puzzles. Captain Jack Sparrow and other swordsmen can go against common sense and use their blades as levers to open doors and switches. Others can blast silver components apart with explosives, drag heavy objects, and double-jump to reach otherwise inaccessible areas. None of these feel like they add anything to overall formula, aside from the introduction of a few undead pirates who can walk on the ocean floor. LEGO Pirates has more in common with puzzle-focused entries such as LEGO Harry Potter than it does with the more action-oriented Star Wars games. Don’t worry – you’ll still swap steel with more than your share of scurvy dogs before the credits roll. It’s just that there’s a whole lot of item fetching and environment manipulation between those battles. These puzzles aren’t difficult, and sometimes it seems overly charitable to even call them puzzles. They essentially boil down to lugging objects onto highlighted platforms and building new objects.
With his bizarre appearance and woozy mannerisms, Sparrow is undeniably the draw of the movies. He fills a similar role in the LEGO version of the game. One of the problems with LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean is that the campaign isn’t populated with many interesting characters. Sure, you can unlock Davy Jones and Blackbeard for use in free play, but during the actual campaign you’re either playing as Sparrow or someone who may as well be called “Not Captain Jack.”
When I played the game with Reiner, I was in the second player slot. That meant most of my time was spent escorting Sparrow throughout levels, standing passively by as he dug up the majority of the treasure, explored the most interesting places, and essentially hogged the lion’s share of the fun. I played through the game again with my oldest son, realizing that the game is nicely balanced for younger players. He was more than happy to take on a supporting role, and he didn’t seem to mind so much that he was a glorified doorman for the bulk of the time. Older gamers may not be quite so forgiving.
Players who aren’t controlling Jack are missing out on more than the character’s charming animations. In addition to his switch-flinging skills, Sparrow makes good use of his enchanted compass. Players activate the device by standing on specially marked areas and then moving a radial menu to track down hidden items. He can also take advantage of ziplines that give him quick access to special areas, such as the upper parts of a ship’s mast. The only time the game feels like it treats players equally is when it makes them both suffer through awful platforming sections. LEGO games have always had a rough time with platform sections, and this game’s no different. Expect to fall a lot, thanks to occasionally finicky controls and poor camera placement.
Fortunately, since the characters in the story are grounded relatively close to reality, there aren’t sections that require you to move blocks into position using the force or magic wands, as LEGO vets have previously endured. Those free-form sections have rarely worked well and I was more than happy to see them absent here.
A few months ago, I reviewed LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars. That game introduced some light RTS elements to the series, along with loads of vehicle-based missions, and a huge cast of playable characters. LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean falls short of that high mark, delivering a more traditional LEGO experience. That’s not to say that Pirates is a bad game – quite the contrary. It’s just puzzling to see a series that has struggled to evolve take a step back. Where are the epic ship-to-ship vehicle battles? Why is the pirate-infested port hub so boring?
Having said that, Traveller’s Tales continues its legacy of providing some of the best co-op options around for families. I only hope that the next inevitable entry in the series is as ambitious as I know it can be.
Email the author Jeff Cork, or follow on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, and Game Informer.
The LEGO version of Captain Jack Sparrow is every bit as charming and
weird as his silver screen counterpart. His drunken prance is
beautifully captured, and his magical compass brings enjoyable treasure
hunting gameplay to Traveller’s Tales’ established LEGO formula. The
remainder of the content – while drenched in Pirates of the Caribbean
tones – could easily be in any other LEGO game. Hardly any of the
gameplay takes advantage of the license. Yes, there are sequences aboard
pirate ships, but they are only used as backdrops; you never get to
control them outright. When stacked up against Traveller’s Tales’ other
LEGO games, Pirates isn’t nearly as ambitious as Harry Potter or the
latest Star Wars; its design falls more into the realm of Batman and the
early Star Wars titles. Regardless of the somewhat dated design,
Pirates is another enjoyable brick building venture.