Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Review: LEGO Pirates

Just as the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie hits the big screen, Traveller's Tales works its magic once again and a LEGO version hits the small screen. But with the market already awash with LEGO titles, the question is whether this iteration can "build" on the success of the previous games...

First impressions are positive - largely because there are few surprises in store for those who have already experienced one of the plethora of LEGO games in recent years. It sticks to the same old formula - and that's just fine. Like those that came before it, LEGO Pirates oozes charm and wit, and although it's clearly aimed at a younger audience, it proves instantly accessible to all.

Importantly, the developers have managed to transfer the style and swagger of Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow and capture the essence of around 70 other key characters from the movies. The plots from all four films are neatly bundled in this package over more than 20 levels, providing many hours of swashbuckling, treasure hunting and yo-ho-hoing.

Each playable character has their own abilities - the idea being to switch between them to overcome various obstacles and challenges. Sparrow, for example, has a compass that can highlight buried treasures, whereas others are handy with tools, flexible enough to get through confined spaces or adept with pistols.

A myriad of cut scenes punctuate the various chapters, the mute yellow-headed caricatures acting out the various plotlines before throwing you into the action. And there's plenty of action to be had, from sword fights to puzzle solving, collecting trinkets and enlisting the help of others to help you on your quest. A dock area acts as the mission select screen, while also holding a few secrets of its own for the intrepid explorer.

And there's plenty to explore in this absolutely vast LEGO world. During a playthrough, you'll no doubt accrue a tidy sum of coins but there will be plenty of treasures missed along the way. The free play option is therefore extremely welcome and offers the opportunity to discover all those hidden areas. Your coin stash can also be used to buy cheats and modifiers that will change your gaming experience... and help you on the way to that elusive 100% completion.

As ever, a second player can leap into the proceedings at any given time to help solve those occasionally taxing puzzles. There's nothing too tricky in the game but there may be a few occasions where plenty of headscratching will ensue. Even early in the game, you'll have to fathom how to get a dozy donkey to pull his cart by enticing him with an apple, or how to wake a compatriot by filling a bucket with water and dumping the contents all over him. It's all very amusing and never tough enough to prove frustrating.

Nevertheless, some may be irked by the signposting in the game, which isn't always clear. The correct path you have to take sometimes isn't apparent - not a problem if you're remotely familiar with the films but newcomers to the series may struggle.

Ultimately, however, there's very good reason why there aren't collective groans when yet another LEGO game hits the shelves, and that's because they're damn good fun. It's rare that movie tie-ins are actually any good - LEGO Pirates is not only great but it's arguably the best LEGO title yet!

*Reviewed on Xbox 360