Sunday, August 21, 2011

Megabits Column: LEGO Pirates

Megabits of Gaming contributes a monthly column in Charged Middle East – a leading Dubai-based gadgets and games magazine that provides news, reviews and features on the latest home and consumer electronics.

Each month, Megabits takes a look at a new release in a gaming franchise and considers how its evolved over the years and what makes it great!

Here’s the latest of the articles from the August 2011 issue. For more about the magazine, check out its Facebook page after the jump.

Movie tie-ins are generally disappointing; a hotchpotch of ideas bundled together to promote a new release on the big screen. Review scores are often laughable, with critics questioning what on earth the developers were thinking. So much so, that the very mention of a new release that shares the name of a film has almost become a running joke among gamers, who quiver at the very premise.

Fortunately, the LEGO branded video games never fall foul of these traps and instead provide a comprehensive adaptation of the big budget movies – in building block form.
The latest to be given a LEGO overhaul is Pirates of the Caribbean, and it proves to be a great game both fans of the franchise and newcomers alike will relish.

LEGO Pirates takes all the best bits from the four films, with 70 characters crammed into the game as yellow-headed figures to make their way through its 20 levels. The virtual Captain Jack Sparrow is a perfect rendition, right down to his trademark swagger. Other characters are “collected” as you progress, each having their own set of skills and abilities to help you in your quest. Everyone’s favourite seadog is armed not only with a cutlass but a compass to help him seek out treasures, whereas others have guns, tools or the ability to crawl through tight gaps and leap to distant ledges.

Coins spew from scenery and soldiers as they’re destroyed, allowing you to buy upgrades and abilities. As you’d expect, there’s plenty of swashbuckling and puzzle solving thrown in for good measure too – and the two player co-op option returns, allowing friends to drop in or out of the action. Then when you’re done with the extensive story mode, there’s the freeplay option to mop up all those hidden achievements, hard-to-find coins and undiscovered pathways. The puzzles are never too taxing but certainly require some degree of headscratching to work out how to progress. Even when stuck trying to fathom how to move some stubborn animal blocking your path or get across a collapsed bridge, there are plenty of boxes to smash or things to climb. Fortunately, it seems there’s been little change to the winning formula seen in the previous LEGO titles.

Arguably Denmark’s most famous export, LEGO has taken the gaming world by storm in recent years - the colourful building blocks making a successful switch from the toybox to the console. From the numerous Indiana Jones chronicles and the epic space battles in Star Wars to the magical world of Harry Potter and crime fighting capers of Batman, developer Traveller’s Tales has managed to capture the very essence of these popular tales in LEGO form.

So why are other developers unable to work their magic and release games that are faithful to the films but enjoyable to play?

While opinion remains divided, the general consensus suggests that the likes of King Kong, Jumper, Quantum of Solace and Avatar all fell short of expectations and paled in comparison to their blockbuster movie namesakes.

Jumper, for example, could only muster a meagre 29% review average on score aggregating site Metacritic. It was roundly criticised for its “monotonous gameplay and lacklustre visuals”, while another review labelled it a “typical movie tie in game, in that it follows the tried and trusted formula of being completely rubbish”.

Thankfully, it’s not always been the case and back in the old days some licensed games were hugely successful. Remember Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker on the Sega Megadrive (1989) or the Die Hard Trilogy on the Sony PlayStation and SEGA Saturn (1996)?

Here’s hoping that those halcyon days will soon return. Looking at new releases like Rockstar’s LA Noire, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that games could once again be both accurate renditions of a film and entertaining. With decent motion tracking, face scanning and voice acting, the film element should be pretty easy to pull off, it’s just up to the guys behind the programming to ensure the fun part.