The series of LEGO videogames has gone from strength to strength, while at the same time never losing the basic formula of good, honest entertainment that the whole family can enjoy.
At the heart of the game is LEGO: the humble plastic brick that has fascinated children and adults alike for generations (equally it has frustrated parents with its uncanny ability to be discovered in the middle of the night as your feet encounter its sharp edges). Its foray into games has been pretty chequered, with some racing and adventure titles not really setting the gaming industry afire; however this all changed with the release of LEGO Star Wars back in 2005.
Using the plastic bricks as a foundation, Traveler's Tales (the developer) created fantastic 3D platform game levels. The well-received gameplay (a successful mix of shoot/slash, with a few puzzles thrown in for good measure) gave birth to a series of very successful games based on all sorts of movie franchises. Why were they so appealing? Largely because of the uncomplicated mechanics, and that no one really died; they were just reduced to their component bricks. If the player was broken up, they were immediately reconstructed to carry on. Simple to learn, the game had many unlocks and achievements that had you coming back for more again and again.
To coincide with the release of the 4th movie in the Pirates of the Caribbean series, and also in conjunction with the release of the new LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean kits, all four movies in the series have been put together in one game package. Each of the movies has been broken down into five missions. At first, this might sound modest, but each is packed full of heaps of puzzles and action sequences that will keep you interested right through to the end.
Initially, we were concerned about how they were going to handle the more adult aspects of the movies. Rest assured though, the game has been created with the younger set in mind, and while the missions adhere roughly to the original movie story lines, scenes such as the hangings have been replaced with stocks, accompanied by vegetable and pig throwing.
We tested the game out on a few junior members of the NZGamer.com family, and there is no doubt it was a hit with them. All of the favourite characters are there, including Jack Sparrow, Elizabeth Swann and some 70 other playable characters. The LEGO figures don't do too much for the female form so Elizabeth has some pretty solid looking hips… good for child bearing (or so we hear).
The game is centered around a hub in a similar vein to previous LEGO titles. In this case it is Port Royal. The graphics are superb with a mixture of LEGO bricks and painted scenery. Just the right combination of strong colours and brightness to attract the younger audience. As you guide your character about the levels you realise that you can interact with just about anything. If you can't bash it and expose brick coins, you can climb it, break it, assemble it into something else, or use it to interact with other things. There are a heap of simple puzzles to solve, which unlocks more and more of the game and, while funny and innovative at times, none of these are too taxing to complete. The mix between combat and puzzle solving is set just right to keep the younger player interested.
New in this game is the amount of underwater areas to explore. Swimming is a bit of a chore until you get the swimming hat, or the gold medallion, which turns you into a skeleton; however it’s worth the wait as the underwater effects are great. Most of the character abilities are fairly standard; however, Cap’n Jack has a compass that he can use to unlock and expose treasure and item clues. The controls are very easy to master and the action is smooth and forgiving (particularly when jumping and grabbing onto sail lines and rigging).
The game has the usual formula of unlocks and achievements, including ships in a bottle, gold bricks to collect and coins that you can use to purchase additional characters. It’s surprising how much you are driven to obtain 100% of the secrets or achievements - no more so than the younger players, who will happily explore areas again and again just to get that elusive gold brick.
Taking into account the games target audience (we like to avoid the trap of reviewing younger targeted games as an adult); we believe LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean really hits the spot. The ‘opt in’ at any time by another player, the resizing of the split screen and the general game play delivers a lot of entertainment value. This is no more evidenced by how much our young testers have thrashed the game. Highly recommended.