Travel the Oceans in Search of Booty
In May of 2011, Traveller’s Tales and Disney invited gamers to set sail with Pirates of the Caribbean by combining the swashbuckling adventure of the blockbuster movies with the sense of innocent curiosity of Lego. Following in the wake of other successful film franchises Star Wars, Inidana Jones, and Harry Potter, this game’s release was set to coincide with the latest movie and spans the plot of all four films in the series, including the newest one, On Stranger Tides.
This game doesn’t aim to reinvent the wheel; it takes the same, admittedly proven, formula of portraying the milestone events from each movie through the use of Lego characters pantomiming their way through the story, all the while injecting whimsical humor appropriate for all ages. The light-hearted silliness that ensues comes off as attractive to gamers young and old alike, and collecting Lego studs and unlocking bonus content is still as much fun as it always was.
Nevertheless, although the familiar gameplay has a new intellectual property behind it, there is really absolutely nothing new here for players familiar with previous entries in the Lego games franchise, and at this point this by-the-numbers approach is beginning to lose some of its appeal.
Deep Blue Sea
To its credit, Lego Pirates certainly isn’t broken. The graphics are bright and colorful, not just pleasing to youngsters but also keeping the flavor of the movies: the tropical and lush jungle settings, and the feeling that a pirate’s life is as much about being a rough-and-tumble, fun-loving scoundrel as it is about sailing the oceans blue and pillaging glinting gold from undeserving noblemen. In comparison to the previous Lego game, Lego Harry Potter, the color palette is much more appealing, trading in the dull grays and browns of a decrepid castle for the vivid sun-drenched blues of oceans and warm reds and ambers of smoky taverns rife for a good bar fight.
The graphics seem otherwise to be on-par with just about every other Lego game to date, as they haven’t improved drastically over the course of the console generations. A bit of praise, however, must be showered on the animation department. The Keith-Richards-imitation Jack Sparrow has been translated into a Lego statue in an incredibly convincing way! The character moves and runs in the game in a 100% accurate likeness of Johnny Depp’s movie characterization, creating a type of lope with a Jack Sparrow-like unsteady forwards and backwards bending and a peculiar angling and swinging of his arms. It’s uncanny that the animators were able to reproduce this so faithfully.
If You Hold It to Your Ear, You Can Hear the Ocean…
Likewise, Lego Jack Sparrow’s “voice” is a dead ringer for Johnny Depp’s. It makes me wonder if they brought the actor in to record some original grunting, gasping, and general humming for the game.
Overall, the game’s music is taken directly from the movie’s soundtrack and sounds great! At its high points, it communicates the exciting and, at times, cheeky feel of the movies’ kid-friendly action and debauchery. At its low points, such as the game’s hub world of Port Royal, however, the music gets quite glum and dull. There were a few times when I found myself nodding off during these – thankfully brief – sections of gameplay between stages.
Repeat Offenders Walk the Plank!
Somewhat to its detriment, the Lego franchise’s core gameplay has been kept intact, and by that I mean it has virtually not changed at all. Different characters each have their individual abilities, and players unlock characters by completing levels or buying them from the hub world. It takes characters with swords to operate certain levers; some characters have projectile weapons; women jump extra high and can shatter glass by screaming; certain other characters use rifles and other guns to destroy shining metallic obstacles – the list goes on. But for the rare exception, it’s the same list of abilities we’ve seen before, and a problem arises when trying to figure out new abilities, such as Bootstrap Bill Turner’s new ability when you control him on the Flying Dutchman.
Basically, you’ll play through each stage in ‘Story Mode’ to progress and unlock new levels and characters; after you’ve completed each level you’ll go back through the game in ‘Free Play Mode’ to access any off-limits areas using new abilities now at your disposal. You’ll collect Lego studs, gold bricks, pieces of ships-in-bottles, and special ‘Red Hat’ unlockables to augment your game experience; all pretty standard fare for anyone who’s played any other Lego game.
Just Sit Right Back and You’ll Hear a Tale
Speaking of story… prior to playing, a big question on my mind was: “How are they going to make any sense out of that confusing story without words or exposition?” As it turns out, and despite the folks at Traveller’s Tales’ best efforts, the story is still completely unintelligible without a healthy dose of working knowledge of the movies (and sometimes not even then). I get the plot of Curse of the Black Pearl and Dead Man’s Chest, and thus those story levels made sense to me, but by the time I got to the garbled mess that passed for a story in At World’s End, I was completely lost during the game’s lengthier than usual cutscenes. It goes without saying, then, that the newly released On Stranger Tides may bear a theatrical viewing before attempting to play the corresponding game levels.
The Final Verdict
Lego Pirates of the Caribbean delivers exactly what younger audiences are looking for, and many favorite scenes from the movies are included, such as being trapped in a bone cage and navigating it around the cliffs and jungles of Pelegosto, or Will Turner and Commander Norrington teaming up together against Jack Sparrow, chasing him through the church ruins on Isla Cruces, culminating in a fight atop and inside a giant rogue water-wheel as it crashes through the jungle. But older gamers who are looking for something a bit deeper will be left dissatisfied with the lack of any innovation, and even the same semi-addictive collecting of items isn’t exactly fresh anymore. With nothing new to show, and a story that’s still as confusing as ever, it’s hard to be as excited for a new Lego game as it was once upon a time.