Review: LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean
One freezing Christmas morning myself and my brother slipped on our matching slippers and dressing gowns (twins in all but reality) and proceeded to do our yearly task of waking everyone in the house up at a stupidly early hour. When we finally got downstairs, with my Dad doing the now traditional bad joke of “he hasn’t been this year”, we ran into the living room overwhelmed with excitement. Amongst the mass of presents was a large blue box. This box would provide years of fun, keeping us quiet for hours and allowing our childlike creativity to soar. It was a box of thousands of LEGO pieces – complete with LEGO men, assorted accessories and bits of landscape – which my dad had bought for £20 from a mate at work (given the extravagant price of a single LEGO set this was an absolute bargain).
From that day forth I adored LEGO, and I give it massive credit for allowing my creativity to burgeon to epic proportions. We’d create cities full of bizarre buildings, creating vehicles and selling them to each other with Monopoly money. We’d have battles in space, or recreate a scene from a war film we weren’t supposed to be watching. We also had quite a few pirate men amongst our set, so we set to work creating a massive pirate ship. One of my friends owned an actual LEGO ship, but he was the kind of friend who got everything your parents wouldn’t buy you. Who needs the real one when you can build your own? All you needed was your mind and enough bricks to turn your idea into reality.
I’d long since put my LEGO away when the first Pirates of the Caribbean film was released, but I always remembered those fond days of our LEGO pirates sailing the high seas of our imagination. I settled for enjoying the Pirates films, but with the excellent LEGO Star Wars games I always wondered if the same treatment would be applied to the Pirates films. Thankfully Traveller’s Tales didn’t let me down, and although I might not be a kid anymore I still relish every chance I get to enjoy a mash-up of two great loves of mine; LEGO and video games. Moreover I don’t think you need to be a kid to enjoy these games, as they’re genuinely fun games that people of any age can enjoy.
Anyway, I think three paragraphs of my childhood history is enough for now, so if you’re still reading then let’s get on to why this game is such a blast to play.
All four films are represented here (for the uninitiated that’s The Curse of the Black Pearl, Dead Man’s Chest, At World’s End and the recently released On Stranger Tides), and with around 5 or so levels for each film there’s a lot of content from the off to get your imaginary pirate hooks into. However, there’s a big difference in how each film tells their story and how it’s represented in the unashamedly wacky world of LEGO. LEGO games don’t sit there and try to tell the whole story piece by piece, instead they manage to give you the short version while making it absolutely hilarious. The humour is so random that it genuinely raised a smile on my face during every cut scene, but this is coming from a guy whose favourite comedies include The Mighty Boosh. For instance, during an escape attempt from the pursuing Black Pearl the crew are trying to empty the ship of junk to make it lighter, which results in a quicker getaway. Amongst the random objects thrown out is an elephant, which proceeds to swim along in the sea. Then there’s the matter of a saluting pig! All these random events lend charm and humour to a storyline that has been boiled down to its base component parts. The only negative is that you may not get some of the parodies if you haven’t seen the films, but you’ll still appreciate their quirkiness.
LEGO games are best played with a friend, and this one is no different. Local co-op play is available – with online co-op strangely still missing – and you’ll always have a fair amount of companions to switch between in each level (up to 8 controllable characters can be running around a level at any given time). It’s all about helping each other out, such as getting one person to operate a lever while the other runs through the opening door. Each character has their own specific abilities; Captain Jack has a compass that uncovers relevant items you need to complete the level (and other bonus collectibles), while Will Turner can throw an axe at objects unreachable by anyone else. Other characters can jump higher than others, with another able to whack forgeable LEGO creations with a hammer in order to create a working part. Unfortunately this is yet another game that doesn’t let you create anything other than pre-conceived structures, which surely continues to defeat the object of LEGO?
If you don’t have a friend available you can flip between each character available in a level on the fly, with the AI being competent enough to know when to operate levers and other objects in order to help you through areas. They’re also pretty good fighters, but there’s always a downside when it comes to AI in video games. They often get in the way, and since there’s so many of them following you around it can be a bit of a confusing mess at times. There’s one level where you have to walk across planks on a swamp, but the AI kept getting in the way and pushing my character into the swamp. It’s funny at first, but gets annoying after the 5th time. Thankfully there isn’t a massive penalty to death, although you do lose some LEGO parts (like Sonic’s shower of coins you can try to get most of them back before they disappear).
One thing Traveller’s Tales has nailed perfectly is Captain Jack’s signature walk. He stumbles along, arms flailing wildly, like he’s had one too many bottles of rum. He’s also not bad with a sword, with the fights feeling fluid and looking fancy with a flurry of swooping clashing swords and an extremely light on the feet dancing motion. In other areas the controls can be a bit iffy at times, especially when you’re trying to jump from ledge to ledge. It’s quite hard to judge where you’re going to land so I found myself completely missing the ledge more often than not.
There aren’t as many fights as I thought they would be, although sometimes you can be repeatedly drawn into a fight when you’re trying to concentrate on solving a puzzle. The game seems more focused on solving simple puzzles and presenting you with glorious set pieces; such as fighting on a gigantic water wheel rolling down a hill or firing cannons at the Black Pearl. The puzzles themselves are never overly complicated to figure out, after all this is a kids game at heart, but they sometimes make you stop and think about just what you’re supposed to be doing next in each level. The solution is almost always using the unique abilities of one of your party of your characters, although you’ll often have to come back to a level with a character unlocked at a later level in order to fully explore each location. That’s what this game is about though, it’s a completionists dream and with only 50% of the game completed once you’ve finished the story mode there’s plenty of content to come back to in the free play mode.
There are ten ships-in-a-bottle and eight pieces of treasure to collect in each level, while collecting enough LEGO studs (which you can collect by destroying the majority of solid objects in the game, creating a shower of studs that you have to quickly pick up before they vanish) will fill a bar to give you True Pirate status and award you with a golden brick. These golden bricks can be used to unlock new areas in the hub of the game – Port Royale – that allows you to access all completed levels and gives you even more collectibles. All the characters you’ve encountered in the game so far can be found here, although strangely you have to run around and find them if you want to purchase them (with collected studs) for use in the free play modes. A menu would have easily sufficed for this task.
Graphically this is the best looking LEGO game to date. The lighting effects are stunning, shining on a lush and vibrant tropical landscape. The environment is also littered with smashable objects, raining down hundreds of glittering LEGO blocks when you go on a rampage. The LEGO characters even manage to have character in their facial expressions, which is a hard feat when you’re working with a yellow brick. There are also some beautiful looking paper crafted esque pop-up cut scenes and loading screens.
Overall LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean is the most fun I’ve had with a LEGO game, and I’m going as far to say that it’s the best one yet – even given some iffy source material with the 3rd film. It certainly has its flaws, and the lack of online co-op knocks some points off as it’s simply unforgivable in this day and age. However, it’s a charming and hilarious adventure that manages to match the spirit of the films while also re-doing them in its own unique way. It might not allow me to create the kind of adventures that illustrated my childhood, but until a LEGO game can truly capture that, this will more than do for now.
Review: LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean Results
What we liked:
Hilarious and downright silly parody of the films.
Packed with enough content to keep you - and of course your kids - busy for a long time.
The best looking LEGO game to date.
What we disliked:
No online co-op, only local.
AI can sometimes get in the way.