Lego Pirates of the Caribbean Xbox 360
Another Lego game based around a major children’s movie franchise! Brilliant! No, really. The Lego games from Traveller’s Tales are that rarest of beast, a game aimed at the younger audience that us reviewers don’t have to justify poor quality releases with the caveat “it’s for kids”. They’re all top-notch platformers, with some inspired decisions regarding the difficulty and gameplay, aiming for all ages and abilities, all wrapped up in a package that just oozes with charm and fun.
Lego Pirates of the Caribbean is no different. It follows the foundations set by the previous games, eschewing the slight changes made in some of the more recent titles – such as the large scale battles from Lego Clone Wars, or the experimental hub from Lego Indiana Jones 2 – instead focusing on refining and improving upon the already winning formula.
So, if you’re going to be one of those idiots shouting rubbish about how the Lego games have become stale and they’re not moving forward this probably isn’t going to convince you any differently, but more fool you. Traveller’s Tales have been at this for a good while now, and Lego Pirates of the Caribbean is the absolute refinement of what they’ve done to date. As expected, you have a small hub area that links you to each of the four films, which in turn are split into their own series of levels. You bound about these, solving environmental puzzles and using the massive selection of characters’ unique abilities to progress. Combat is still designed to be fun rather than particularly challenging, and the stories are presented in that effortlessly charming way.
So charming, in fact, that they manage to smooth over the flaws of the source material. The second and third (and for all intents and purposes, probably the fourth) Pirates of the Caribbean films were a bit rubbish, hampered by a poor plot born out of an attempt to turn a single film into a linked quadrilogy. Its Lego counterpart isn’t affected by this drop in movie quality, focusing on the the best action scenes and giving a keynote version of the story, at times almost certainly mocking the convoluted nature of the latter movies’ twists and turns. Not that we should be surprised – Traveller’s Tales once made Star Wars episodes one through three entertaining.
All of the major characters are present, with their trademark quirks and features expertly exaggerated by the Lego style – Orlando Bloom’s smug face and all. However, just like the films, the star of the show is Jack Sparrow, whose Lego incarnation drunkenly minces around the levels and provides the games biggest laughs during the cutscenes. He is also in possession of one of the new features, a compass that allows Jack to bring up a trail to useful items that you may have missed and otherwise hidden secret areas – although not all of them may be accessible until you have unlocked the appropriately skilled character.
Finishing a level is easy, but finding 100% of the secrets is where the true depth lies, for those seeking further challenge. Once completed, any level can be replayed in “free play” mode, where you have access to any character and their abilities you’ve unlocked so far. As is the way with the Lego games, certain areas and secrets are inaccessible until you’ve replayed the level with a specific character selected. Instead of having to choose a set two, you can flick between any of the ones you have unlocked at any time during free play, allowing for a bit more creative thinking and less frustrating restarts when you realize you’ve picked the wrong couple of characters to gain access to a secret area.
As a game aimed at literally all audiences, the system in which less skilled players aren’t punished for dying, but more skilled players are rewarded for staying alive is still the core. Solving puzzles and smashing up enemies and scenery will yield Lego bits of varying value, 10,000 of which will net you a piece of one of the game’s many secrets. Easily done, if you’re good enough to stay alive, as upon death you scatter a portion of your findings over the ground, disappearing if you don’t reclaim them quick enough.
From a purely technical standpoint, this is also Traveller’s Tales best work to date. The non-Lego backdrops are superbly rendered, animations are excellent, as always, and the screen-tearing that has plagued the series has been completely eradicated. There’s still no online co-op, which may irk some, but the Lego games have always found their strengths in local play. This has also seen some improvements, with a smart split-screen mode appearing when players wander away from one another.
Of course, your interest in Lego Pirates of the Caribbean is going to be dictated somewhat by how much you care about the franchise, but regardless, it is a perfect fit for the type of game Traveller’s Tales have perfected over the years. This is easily the best Lego game to date, and although lacking any huge leaps forward in the gameplay department, still offers a lot of fun for anyone who picks it up.
I recently had the chance to speak to Jonathan Smith, head of production over at Traveller’s Tales, and he said that “anyone who doesn’t enjoy Lego has no soul”. The same can be said for their games.