…Walk into a Lego game.
Oh, alright – yes, one does. After all, Lego has something of a reputation now for picking up licences and turning them into cool (if increasingly expensive) toys and highly enjoyable computer games. And to be honest, there’s not a lot new here that we haven’t already seen before.
There is, however, something we’ve not heard before: actual film dialogue spoken by the mini-figs during cut scenes. I must admit, I was incredibly sceptical that this was going to add anything to the gaming experience, and was quite frankly concerned it would lead to a degree of programming laziness if the designers no longer had to rely on visual gags and some clever lateral thinking to get the point across.
Fortunately, I needn’t have worried: there are still some warped moments of silent comedy joy (Boromir’s death scene being one of the highlights, along with Peter Jackson’s cameo appearance), and the overlaid dialogue is kept to a minimum. They’ve also done remarkably well in getting people who can grunt and argh in convincing impersonations of the original movie cast.
There are, as ever, two methods of play: story and free, along with an incredible open world that you can smash to buggery. The backgrounds are beautifully rendered and there’s plenty to break in your quest for cash and glory (trust me, there’s something deeply satisfying about wrecking Tom Bombadil’s domicile and beating the bejeebers out of Rivendell). Fortunately, everything’s quite close together, so you won’t have to walk too far to satisfy your thirst for wanton destruction.
There’s also a rather fascinating split-screen technique in two-player mode that enables you to handle the action when things begin to fall apart. And I don’t mean split-screen in the way it’s worked in previous games (although that’s still there, too): no, in this version, the story literally splits, with Player One on the left hand side controlling a character running through a completely different (though often parallel) storyline to Player Two’s on the right hand side. The only downside to this is that you inevitably end up missing part of the plot because you have too much to concentrate on on your side of the screen, but you can always swap over during freeplay and see what you were missing.
Lego has a tried and tested formula which they really haven’t altered for this latest release; after all, they dealt with the worst glitch in the Star Wars games fairly early on (the one where one player could drag the other player off the screen to their death if you got too far apart). Sadly, this means that the hit-and-miss jumping issues still remain, and until you buy the Fall Rescue red brick, you’re at the mercy of dodgy camera angles and falling off things because you weren’t pixel perfect in your aim. And it’s probably best if you’re really nice and calm before going through the Dead Marshes in the open world, because there are some truly evil bits of jumping that will have you cursing lily pads for the rest of your days, otherwise.
As well as completing the story, quite a major part of the game is questing for mithril bricks and blacksmith’s plans, from which the baldy dwarf in Bree will make you allsorts of insane weapons and toys, including a carrot bow, a squeak sword and a disco light phial that makes anyone near you dance to what is a truly terrifying theme tune dialogue rap mash-up. Many of these items are required to get access to the red bricks which give you extra powers, all the way from the very useful (Fall Rescue and Invincibility) to the downright silly (8-bit music and animals pooing studs when you ride them).
All in all, this is another fun game from Lego and Traveller’s Tales. It’s so much fun, in fact, that for the first time ever we kept on coming back to it until we’d won all of the in-game and X-box achievements (including the almost obligatory Boromir meme one). There is DLC available: 2 character packs (one includes a miniature Balrog, which I really hope is as cute as mini-Sauron) and a weapons and magic pack, with possibly another character pack on the way. I’m not sure I entirely approve of Lego DLC, but I suppose you can’t blame them for trying to rake as much cash as possible from our tiny, battered hands…
I love (most of) the Lego games; let’s face it, the Traveller’s Tales’ version of the Star Wars prequels is far superior to the <expletives deleted> movies delivered by Uncle George. Quite a lot of other people obviously thought so too, meaning that before too long the original Star Wars movies were also given the same loving treatment. And then it was the turn of the first three Indy films to be masterfully translated into mini-fig form (personally my favourite of the franchise so far). But it hasn’t all been plain sailing; I didn’t get on well with the Batman game for a variety of reasons and J. K. Rowling really doesn’t need any of my money, so it’s been a while since I’ve played. That didn’t stop me from getting a bit over-excited when I saw that there was going to be a Lego Pirates of theCaribbean game, though.
So I was very pleased when my lovely husband brought home the X-box 360 version of the game for my delectation and delight. I’ve not done much on the X-box; having small hands, I have some issues with the sheer size of the joypad and therefore comfort during extended play. It’s taken a bit of getting used to, but on the whole it’s not too bad (even if I do still call all the buttons by their PS names).
All four films are included and they’ve been translated well, particularly given how unnecessarily complex Dead Man’s Chest and World’s End were. The Black Pearl chapter is a fun introduction to the game before you’re plunged into wondering what the heck you’re supposed to be doing in quite a bit of chapters 2 and 3. This is partly due to the difficulty of getting tortuous plot points across via the medium of mini-fig mime and because some of the sets are a little dark and viewed from a weird angle. Still, we only had to resort to a walkthrough twice in the entire game (albeit after much scratching of heads and “So, what do you think we’re supposed to do now?” moments). This may be because I’ve only seen the middle two films once each and I didn’t really like them all that much so the details haven’t stuck, but it was a bit frustrating at times. At least the game version of World’s End makes better use of Chow Yun Fat that the movie did; yes, you do get to play Chow Yun Fat, and it is good. The current film (Stranger Tides) is nicely abridged; thankfully the Bloom/Knightley cipher characters are mostly side-lined (although what they’ve done with the preacher is hilarious) and the plot is back to being much more easy to follow.
One of the major problems in previous games was with the multi-player option; you know, the lethally dragging your partner off the screen when you wander off somewhere, forcing them to drop-out of the game if you want to save your precious pennies. This has now been fixed with a split-screen mechanic. Not that it’s entirely perfect, but it’s a massive improvement over what went before. The only other real niggle with the game play is that in the multi-player story mode far too many levels rely on one player going off and solving quite a large proportion of the puzzles while the other player has to stand around and wait for them to finish. Thankfully, though, the vehicle levels are much more straight-forward than in previous incarnations (no trying to catch and then lob giant snowballs down wampa holes, for instance).
The quality of the animation is superb, as you would expect, not only in the game itself but also in the loading screens, which are incredibly cute cut-out puppets frolicking aboard a variety of pirate ships. The animators have captured Captain Jack’s bizarre mincing walk perfectly and provided proof that Orlando Bloom is, in reality, an escaped giant mini-fig. In many cases, the quality of the acting on display has gone right up when compared to the original portrayals; I mean, it’s not as if you could ever accuse the mini-figs of giving a wooden performance. Seeing as, well, you know, they’re made of plastic (or in this case, pixels; I’ll get my coat). There’s the usual slap-stick humour, including an obsession with pigs, and the standard story and free-play modes where you run round trying to become a true pirate and collecting ships in bottles. And thankfully there’s still the same high level of gratuitous, utterly wanton destruction which helps to make these games so much fun in the first place.
The designers at Traveller’s Tales have a winning formula and an obvious love and respect for their subject material. There are hours of obsessive game-play if you’re determined to collect everything, but it’s just as easy to dip in and out as the mood takes you. If you’ve never played a Lego film adaptation game before, this is a pretty good introduction; I mean, its pirates AND Lego – where can you possibly go wrong?