Ahoy, lubbers! Th’ latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie, On Stranger Tides wa’ just recently let out o’ th’ shipyards and onto yonder movie screens and, as almost always be happenin’, there be a video game offering as well. The game tha’ we be getting be Lego Pirates of the Caribbean, which sails us through not only th’ most recent swashbuckling film, but also th’ three priors, savvy? The Lego series of games ha’ been ken for their high quality gaming an’ excellent humor, but does Lego Pirates follow this most excellent legacy in a like-minded, sword swinging manner? Onward, scurvy dogs, if ye be wantin’ to know more.
Yo-ho, all together
I initially considered doing the entire review in pirate-speak, but I figured it would be painful enough for both you, dear reader, and me. I do not think natively in pirate. On the other hand, if you feel that this review lacks a certain joie de vivre without the piratical patois, feel free to bung the entire review into this translator and then see if you still feel the same way. That done, let us weigh anchor on this review!
It seems to be my year for LEGO games, because I have just recently come off reviewing LEGO Star Wars III, and you will recall that I saw it a reasonably favorable light. There were obvious flaws with the game, but nothing so game-breaking as to make it unenjoyable. The question, therefore, is whether there has been any improvement in the game engine since then.
Short answer: not really. Take pretty much anything I said from the Lego Star Wars III review, apply it here, and you should have a really decent approximation of LEGO Pirates, minus the whole “Force” mumbo jumbo. The entire game is still almost overwhelmingly cute, the characters and settings are lovingly rendered, and almost everything is gleefully breakable. The game’s humor is still its strongest point, there are a veritable lexicon of characters available (many of whom I don’t recall ever seeing in the movies, but then again… ), and puzzles and battles are still good, block-breaking fun.
Hoist the colors high
A review this thin is not going to cut it with the High Lord Prawn, so let us examine the differences, shall we? The game, as with all LEGO games, has its own hub system that allows you to not only pick and choose which story levels you want to play, but also acts as an expanding play area in its own right. The hub’s setting is Port Royal, and this area is where you can find the Red Hats (this game’s version of red bricks, which allow some modicum of cheating) and the extra characters to round out your selection.
LEGO Pirates includes two types of collectible: minikits (which come in the form of ships in bottles), and compass items. This last item requires that you play as Jack Sparrow, and use his magical compass to hunt down and find the eight items depicted on each of its points. Each level of the game, including the hub, has its own eight items. Some of them will be found during the course of the story, and some of them are bizarrely arbitrary. For instance, the first level, Port Royal, requires that you find a pile of driftwood as part of the story, but then there’s also a conical shell, a length of bratwurst, a chicken drumstick, and a golden sword. The fun isn’t so much in what the items are as going on the treasure hunt to find some wonderfully random things.
Heave-ho, thieves and beggars
Despite all the wonderful, wonderful homages to the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, the game seems almost woefully short in comparison to LEGO Star Wars III, and the hub is far, far smaller, with fewer things to do in both the story levels and the hub itself. The best fun that can be had in the hub is finding the Red Hats and buying all the extra characters, but once you’ve done that there’s precious little left to do other than the story levels.
The other big problems with the game are the same problems that are endemic to the rest of the games in the LEGO series: terrible camera (static camera is SO 1990s!), lack of online cooperative play, and a system that is simply awful at figuring out when you, as the player, are stuck and unable to proceed because of a dire lack of visual clues telling you what to do or where to go next. For example, in the Dead Man’s Chest chapter, there’s the section where Jack, Will, and Norrington fight on the huge water wheel. Anyone who has seen the movie will know precisely which scene I am talking about, because it was possibly the most excruciatingly annoying scene in the entire movie.
While playing through this scene, I could not initially figure out how to progress past the scene (Ed: Use GameFaqs) so around and around and around the stupid wheel I went until I did some button mashing in pure frustration. This bizarrely random, serendipitous happenstance seemed to be exactly what I needed to do, because I had managed to do by sheer chance what I had failed to accomplish through methodical trial and error. It was at purely unintuitive points such as this that I wished the game would figure out that I was, quite literally, going around in circles—in a stupid water wheel, no less, in one of the most annoying scenes from the movie—and would offer me a subtle hint or two.
Having said that, however, I want you to come away from this review with the impression that the game is still a whole shipload of fun, flaws (and they are, admittedly, minor flaws) notwithstanding. Also, the sheer attention to detail is astoundin’, err…astounding. The cut scenes from the game are lifted also perfectly from the movies (and then modified for comedic effect!) For example, the opening cinematic, which emulates the opening scenes of Curse of the Black Pearl, includes such small details as the parasol floating by while Elizabeth Swan watches.
As with any of the LEGO franchise video games, the most fun you can derive from LEGO Pirates is in playing the game cooperatively with another player. My beloved, ever-patient wife was co-opted for the purposes of the review, and we had a great time trying to figure the puzzles out together. I’d certainly recommend this game for couples wanting to spend some quality time together. Initially, of course, we were arguing about who got to play as Jack Sparrow, but this was less a problem in Free Play mode than Story mode (bar one level in At World’s End, and once again, fans of the movies will know precisely which scene I am on about), because the game allowed us to satisfy both our egos and let us both play as Jack.
Never shall we die!
LEGO Pirates is a wonderful and fitting addition to the LEGO series of games (of which I am told there are well over 20!), but one does get the impression that it is about time Traveller’s Tales updated the game engine to allow full camera control. This does mean the loss of the dynamic multiplayer camera, but I’m sure I can deal with that loss if I gained the ability to fully see the environment around my character. Online play would also be a welcome addition. If you are thoroughly sick of the LEGO franchise of games (and who can honestly say they are?), you can probably safely skip this game, because other than the pirate aspect, nothing substantial is added. However, LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean is still a wonderful addition to your gaming library, and having a friend to play co-op mode with you makes it even better.
Score: 8.5/10 (Better than LEGO Star Wars because there is no futzing about with the Force, and the humor is much better. And of course: Pirates!)