LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean Review
For the record, I enjoy the LEGO games. They’re simple, accessible, entertaining, and perfect for a couple players who want to spend a laid-back, family friendly afternoon collecting colorful LEGO pieces. Most titles follow the same formula, which means we never see anything revolutionary, but we always get a consistent presentation typically devoid of glaring flaws. And while the latest effort, LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean, maintains much of that accessibility and constancy, it sort of regresses due to some changes that only emphasize the franchise’s failings. Really, these drawbacks have always been in existence, but they’re just more noticeable now. Still, it’s fun for the Jack Sparrow fans.
Graphically, the game is bordering on impressive, with some great backgrounds and plenty of nice detail. The expressions on the faces of those LEGO characters never cease to be amusing, the animations are just as fluid as ever, and the comical cut-scenes are professionally orchestrated and implemented. The visuals are a definite highlight, especially because of the variety: the game isn’t short and there’s plenty of environmental diversity, which continually offers you new looks at the beautiful Caribbean atmosphere. For something so blocky, one wouldn’t assume such a depiction would be quite so pleasing…but it is. The downfalls are few and far between and although it isn’t God of War, it works.
If you’re familiar with the LEGO series, you know the characters never speak. They just sort of make noises now and then; usually grunts of effort or hilarious gasps of surprise. That hasn’t changed, and neither has the decent soundtrack, which helps to drop us into that fantastical, engaging world found in the movies. That being said, the music doesn’t quite take the leading role it should; it should play a bigger part in our adventures. The effects are as crisp as ever, even if there aren’t a lot of them. Overall, if you combine the graphical and audio accomplishments, LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean is one of the most polished LEGO titles yet. I seriously doubt any young followers of the films will be disappointed.
Off you go on a voyage headed up by Captain Jack Sparrow and his motley assortment of characters. You’ll recognize plenty of familiar faces and for the most part, the gameplay won’t surprise anyone. You move about easily with the left analog stick and despite some smaller-than-anticipated environments, there’s always plenty to do. Characters have different weapons and unique skills, there are multiple scenarios, levels, and puzzles, and lots and lots and lots of little LEGO bits to collect. As usual, there’s enough to last you quite a long time, especially if you intend to unlock everything. The controls are solid, the backdrops are quaint, and the comedy is genuinely funny.
But little eccentricities quickly make themselves known. It has nothing to do with the overly simple puzzles (c’mon, consider the demographic), nor does it center on a few small camera and collision detection issues. No, the problems stem from new features, I’m sorry to say. The pacing takes a big hit due to respawning enemies and these one-on-one duels that are nowhere near as fun as they sound. On top of which, despite the responsiveness of the controls, they seem to lack even more preciseness this time around, because platforming can be an uncomfortable chore. But these are all relatively minor, and wouldn’t have stopped me from wholeheartedly recommending this game to big-time fans of the movies. Like I said, most everything from past LEGO installments remains intact.
But they went and made one big mistake- rather than just one partner that follows you around (which can be the friend sitting next to you, if you wish), you often have a whole party trailing after you. At first, I thought this was a cool idea. But after some time, I realized the core of the game just isn’t strong enough to support this progressive concept. Firstly, the AI is still very questionable, and trying to get a half-dozen party members to follow you without encountering silly problems is…well, it’s annoying. Then there’s the fact that you sometimes have absolutely no idea what’s going on. You don’t know which character’s skill you require, or you don’t know which character has the ability you need.
As I said above, the pacing really drops off because of such issues. The game just doesn’t move along in that happy-go-lucky, charismatic way. Sure, it’s still charismatic, even charming, but this one becomes too much of a muddle at times. The on-screen prompts aren’t exact and there are plenty of times when they just don’t exist at all. I’ve never before had so much trouble playing a LEGO game; I’ve never encountered so many situations where I’m sitting there going, “…uh…so…now what?” At the end of the day, the game’s lighthearted personality and surprising technical achievements put a smile on my face, but it’s unfortunate that the gameplay has to suffer from a perceived upgrade.
LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean has all that great charm found in the films; Jack struts and swaggers, your favorite characters are there, the cut-scenes are extremely well done (and often downright hysterical), the visual and sound work is pretty damn good, and the presentation is bound to entertain the young “Pirates” fans out there. But I’m almost certain they’ll notice the problems, which are in greater abundance due to seemingly inaccurate platforming, a lack of direction pertaining to progress and puzzles, mediocre AI, and sluggish pacing. There’s a lot of fun to be had and the longevity is high but we have to tolerate more issues…drop that “group” mentality for the next one, Traveller’s.
The Good: Great backgrounds and pretty detailing. Clean, effective audio. Fantastic charismatic flair. Control is mostly solid. Collecting those studs never gets old.
The Bad: Mediocre AI. A lack of direction for both progress and puzzle-solving. Group of allies bogs down gameplay. Respawning enemies = unnecessary.
The Ugly: “How the hell was I supposed to know she could do that…?”
5/12/2011 Ben Dutka