We are one step closer to the day where we can expect weekly releases of licensed Lego titles. This time it's Lego Pirates of the Caribbean, based on the blockbuster movie franchise, based on a classic Disney Land ride, which itself is based on a poor understanding of what life as a pirate was like. Traveler’s Tales and Disney Interactive teamed up to make this game, coinciding with the release of the fourth film, "Pirates of the Caribbean On Stranger Tides". The result is a decent movie tie-in game that follows the basic tenants of the Lego franchise with a charming but overly conventional result.
The game spans the events of the entire movie series thus far. Most of the levels star Jack Spa... sorry, I mean Captain Jack Sparrow, and as many as seven supporting characters. The game starts with Jack Sparrow saving Elizabeth Swan from drowning in Port Royal and then evading capture. From there you take control of Will Turner and another Blacksmith to confront the wacky pirate invading your shop. There is no dialogue or text written explanations, so pantomiming is all you get. If you are unfamiliar with the story of the films or found them incredibly labyrinthine and could not quite pay full attention, you will have almost no idea what is going on. For fans with a good grasp of what happens, it can be amusing to see all the licenses and kid-friendly workarounds the developers used to convey the story.
Gameplay mostly consists of sword fighting with other swashbucklers, light platforming, puzzle solving, smashing every Lego-made object to bits, and collecting studs - so many studs. There are two or more controllable characters onscreen at all times; cue for a second player to drop in or out at his or her own leisure. Playing in co-op provides the best experience as that is what the developers intended, however it is still not available online. Online play would free up the constricting camera angles necessary for two players and make playing with the companion AI a last resort. When playing by yourself, the computer AI accompanies you through the levels. Don't expect much from your AI companion; they even find it hard to keep up with the player and often are stuck several steps behind after failing to navigate the level. Really, they are there only for when something calls for two people to progress or to manually take control of should the other characters’ unique abilities be necessary.
Platforming is usually straightforward and satisfying but there are times when the camera and other issues tarnish the experience. Because only female characters can double-jump, the player can sometime overestimate the precision needed for jumps. The rest of the characters sort of switch into a dolphin dive when you hit the jump button twice that doesn't help to accomplish anything.
Other gameplay elements include firing cannonballs and using telescopes to follow a character of interest in the distance until they lead you to something important. Characters use guns and other projectiles to hit specific targets that alter the level in some way to enable progression. Lego Pirates of the Caribbean is at its best when it turns key events from the films into novel gameplay segments. Highlights include rolling around in spherical cages while solving puzzles and a great recreation of the three-way swordfight at the end of Dead Man’s Chest.
The game frequently calls for a specific item hidden somewhere around the level to construct a way to progress. To find these items you can use Jack’s special compass and follow the footsteps to your destination. Some of these objects are extraneous but lead to valuable bonus items. Jack’s compass is one of the more unique gameplay elements in an adventure where you spend much of your time activating switches and blasting open doors.
In other Lego games, a line or two of text appears to point the player in the right direction if they need help. Pirates could have benefitted from such hints. The only assistance here is an indicator pointing you in a general direction. The overall challenge is minimal but it can sometimes be a pain to wander around a level not knowing what you can interact with for several minutes only to figure out a simple solution such as climbing a rope in the corner of the room.
There is also the issue of pacing. The levels of the final film don't quite live up to the spectacle of those that precede it. Lego Pirates of the Caribbeanfeels more repetitive than other Lego titles such as Star Wars or Harry Potter because the special abilities of the individual characters are not as diverse. Every female character’s unique ability is a double jump; I am sure there's women’s liberation subtext hidden somewhere in there but I'm not going hazard a guess as to what it is. Other special abilities include blacksmithing hunks of metal into one cohesive item, playing a guitar to distract enemies, and throwing a poisonous frog at enemies. These abilities seem rather obligatory and very few are put to good use.
The fighting is simple button mashing. The fighting animations are lively and come with a great sense of humor such as when your character defeats an enemy by throwing a banana for them to slip on or smashing a bottle over their head. The combat has its own issues though. Some levels feature none at all while others have segments where enemies endlessly respawn while you try to solve an important puzzle, which is unnecessarily frustrating.
The game sounds great. You get the usual assortment of Lego sound effects. There is obviously no dialogue outside of a few emotional grunts and whimpers. Hans Zimmer's awesome musical score accompanies the action though.
Visually, the game impresses. The locales of the films are recreated beautifully with a keen attention to detail. The Lego caricatures are faithful recreations of the series' characters and even mirrors Johnny Depp’s spirited gait. Storytelling utilizes in-game cutscenes as well as a visually appealing stick puppet and paper craft-like technique to explain important plot details. The game usually runs well but on two occasions I had to restart a level because of some glitch that impeded progress.
In all, the story mode consists of five levels per film for a grand total of 20, along with a few hidden levels. The game takes around 5 hours to beat which is about half the length of the film series. The game tries to provide incentives to play longer such as areas within levels that you can only access in free play with unlocked characters. There's no shortage of collectibles and a few neat extras to discover in your ever-expanding hub. There are plenty of characters to unlock but many of them are simple variations of the same key characters. Lego Pirates of the Caribbean does very little new to distinguish itself from other Lego titles but it is the only one that has Lego Penelope Cruz, which counts for something in my book.
Lego Pirates of the Caribbean is a fun tie-in game with great charm that both young and older gamers can enjoy. That said it is also the best definition of an average Lego game because it doesn't do much to differentiate itself from the others, license aside. For fans of the movies, it makes for a very enjoyable rental, but those who have played other recent Lego tie-ins could probably skip this game without missing anything they'd regret.