LEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures Review
Video games based on movies – with a few recent exceptions in The Bourne Conspriacy and Kung Fu Panda – are typically awful, but over the past few years, someone forgot to tell Traveller’s Tales. They have always produced solid, entertaining LEGO titles based on popular movie franchises, and they almost never let us down. This time, they take a shot at one of the most lucrative series in film history, Indiana Jones. Being quite familiar with previous Traveller’s titles, we dived into LEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures with gusto, and for the most part, we weren’t disappointed. This is just about what we expected with the possible exception of some frustrating parts and minor control issues, and if you’ve got a friend who’s a big Indy fan, it offers a great cooperative adventure mode. Furthermore, the developers never sacrifice replay-ability and depth for the cutesy, comedic presentation, so just about everyone should be satisfied with this particular production.
The visuals are both polished and detailed, and although the LEGO games will never hold the distinction of having the best graphics around, Original Adventures won’t let you down. You will be traversing a wide variety of locales, from the dense forests to the dark, intimidating tombs and dungeons everyone remembers from the movies. Everywhere you go, there are little LEGO set pieces to discover and even build, and there are plenty of nice, clean lines and vivid color. We were a little surprised at the brightness of most levels, just because when you think of Indy, you think of dark, dusty, and even scary. Instead, to better match the lighthearted style of LEGO, Traveller’s really spruces up the visual palette to make it shine. They fall short of excellent in a variety of technical aspects, but all of the drawbacks are minor and hardly worth mentioning. The cut-scenes are very well done, and while we had some camera issues that hampered our view of the graphics here and there, we refuse to harp on trivial negatives. It’s not an amazing, jaw-dropping, fall-out-of-your-seat visual feast for the eyes, but then again, it’s not really supposed to be. It works, and that’s that.
The sound excels thanks to sharp sound effects and the classic Indy music, even though the soundtracks can get a touch repetitive if you stick with the same storyline for an extended period of time (you have the option of jumping around a bit, as explained below). But despite the repeating tracks, they’re all wonderfully implemented and the game wouldn’t be the same without them. The effects, regardless of whether you’re in the midst of battling baddies or solving intricate puzzles, are always consistent and nigh-on flawless. The only significant problem revolves around a distinct lack of balance between the music and the effects, which causes small clashes between the two throughout your adventure. We just wish the two had been blended better; the sound certainly isn’t seamless. On the other hand, taken at face value for what they are, the effects work beautifully, and Indy just isn’t Indy without those classic John Williams compositions. Oh, and just like other LEGO games, there is no voice acting, which we continually find strange…but it’s an artistic decision, and very subjective.
If you’ve played any of the other Traveller’s LEGO titles, you’ll know exactly what to expect when you start playing. The controls are never complex and always accessible; you jump with the X button, attack with your equipped weapon with the Circle button, go bare-fisted with the Square button, and switch characters with the Triangle button. Different characters offer different abilities and skills, and you’ll always have a buddy along with you (which is why the co-op gameplay is always so much fun). And furthermore, due to the increased number and frequency of puzzles, there are even more options for two players to team up and conquer tough obstacles. The AI isn’t useless, either, as the other character will immediately work to battle opponents or solve his or her end of the puzzle. The main character, Indy, can use his whip to swing across gaps or knock enemies off their feet, and other characters will contribute in their own way. Some act physically different as well; the girls can jump higher, for example.
You can break a number of environmental objects to collect little LEGO pieces that have always functioned as currency in these titles, and you can also find hidden artifacts and assemble all sorts of cool LEGO machines to help you in your quest. For instance, during the first story level, you fittingly find yourself playing through the intro to “Raiders of the Lost Ark, and you will assemble everything from wooden bridges to a propeller for your escape plane (which Jock must quickly fix with his wrench). This is a mostly linear adventure, but you are encouraged to explore to some extent, as many of the LEGO rewards won’t be found unless you take the time to stray off the beaten path. You won’t ever have far to go, though, so a map isn’t really necessary and your direction and ultimate goal is usually quite obvious. However, what isn’t always obvious is how to go about solving certain puzzles or bypassing other difficult situations. Trying to figure out how to work past the first scene in “Temple of Doom” (Indy is poisoned in that club, remember?) was an exercise in frustration, that’s for darn sure.
And this leads us to one of the major problems we encountered during our time with the game: far too often, we found ourselves confused as to what we were supposed to do. Traveller’s Tales needs to understand that the target audience for their titles is either casual gamers who are fans of the movies in question, or younger players whose parents wish to avoid the more mature video games out there. And while The Original Adventures really is great for that crowd, we expect many will run into frustrating roadblocks more often than not, and for the first time, we might recommend checking a strategy guide from time to time. This isn’t a bonus because it’s unlikely the hardcore are going to be buying this particular title. The other major problem centers squarely on the camera, as it always has in past LEGO installments. You don’t really have any control over it, although some of the areas are just begging for a free-moving camera, and you will often find yourself fighting blind. It’s just plain annoying, as usual.
But we’ve always been able to work past this shortcoming in the LEGO games, and we did it again in The Original Adventures. It took a bit more work, though, as we had to forgive the iffy combat control – Indy has this irritating habit of leaping towards an enemy when attacking with his whip, and the attack delay is no fun, either – and the camera issues when facing a particularly difficult puzzle. This is why the game isn’t quite as good as last year’s LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga, but there are plenty of saving graces. You have lots of motivation to find as many goodies as you can in each level, because they’ll be on display back at the university when you come back from your perilous quests. Furthermore, even though the levels themselves are quite linear, you’re not forced down one particular storyline path; it’s freedom that most any player will appreciate. Once you’re done with the intro section, you can either continue on with the “Raiders of the Lost Ark” story or jump over to start “Temple of Doom.” Nothin’ wrong with that!
Yeah, the game can be more frustrating than we would’ve liked, and the control is just a touch less solid than it has been in recent LEGO entries, but LEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures still fits the bill. Playing with a buddy is best, but going solo offers an entertaining experience as well. Both the graphics and sound are accomplished (but not phenomenal by any stretch of the imagination), the depth and incentive to keep playing is evident, being able to select your own story progression is a huge bonus, and yes, there really are 80 unlockable characters. The puzzles can cause issues every once in a while, and we wish they’d overhaul that camera, but there’s still a whole lot of fun to be had. It’s also genuinely funny from front to back, as they work to give the cut-scenes hilarious spins that you will leave you grinning from ear to ear. They always make that fly, and in the end, there’s not too much to complain about. It’s a worthy purchase if you’re a big fan of “Indiana Jones,” and it’ll help a great deal if you’re familiar with past LEGO titles. Traveller’s Tales has this formula down pat.
8/4/2008 Ben Dutka