In the past I have shied away from LEGO based games. The last one I played, LEGO Harry Potter, simply bored the tears out of me with its repetitive nature and lackluster gameplay. To be fair, my kids didn't enjoy it very much either (don't worry, they're not as jaded as their father).
With that said, when we got in LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean for review I was less than enthusiastic about what could potentially be a repeat performance of my previous LEGO experience. On top of this, it was mighty suspicious the timing of this game's release with the upcoming release of the fourth film.
All of this combined would possibly equal out to be a horrid LEGO experience, right?
LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean is different than previous LEGO games of its type. The game is divided up into the four Pirates of the Caribbean films, where you get to run through each story in fun LEGO fashion. Once you complete the first film it unlocks the rest and you can jump back and forth between them. Having that solid structure, and that much fun available to you, is quite cool. On top of this, somewhere along the way Disney Interactive Studios found a perfect balance between action and puzzles, which was a bit of a problem in games like LEGO Harry Potter.
Harry Potter had an issue where you would have to spend a large amount of time trying to solve puzzles and constantly go through repetitive motions to complete tasks. It felt more like work than it did fun, and my kids felt the same way. This time around Disney Interactive Studios has gotten it right with their latest release. They combine some great action (mainly sword fighting) and balance it well with some fun puzzles to progress the storyline. For example, in the first portion of the game, The Curse of the Black Pearl, Captain Jack Sparrow and Elizabeth Swann get stranded on a remote island together after a ferocious battle at sea. The pair must explore the island to find a way off, which leads them through different caverns and shipwrecks. It's simply not destroying things and finding pieces, rather it's working together and playing off each others strengths that make this level work well. Just before you grow tired of doing this sort of work the level is finished and you move on to the finale in the overall level where you battle Barbossa. Again, it's a good balance of puzzle and action, which is something the LEGO series desperately needed to solve.
Along the way through the many levels, you also get to pick up unlockables and achievements. These can come in the form of characters, clothing, LEGO Studs (which you can use in shops later on), mini-kits and the quest to become a 'true pirate'. There's enough variety here to entertain adults, but completely 'wow' kids into playing a very long time. My kids were completely glued to this game when I started reviewing it days ago. Coming from a Club Penguin generation, where collecting things and obtaining 'new things' is a must, they simply could not put this game down... but they had to because they had homework to do. I digress, there's plenty here to keep your fancy. On top of a story mode that goes through all the films, you also get 'free play' mode. This allows you, and a friend, to go back through the levels of the game and open up passages and collect items that you couldn't have collected the first time around. This adds a ton of value to a game like LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean.
With all of this said, how's the game look and feel? Disney Interactive Studios and their developers seemed to have improved the series visually with this particular game. The water effects are darn good, the character designs are pretty spot-on (even Captain Jack Sparrow's patented drunk walk is represented pretty well) and the environments are really alive. For example, when you start off in the second film you spend some time rolling around in a round bone cage (just like in the actual film). As you're rolling around a 3D Sonic the Hedgehog-esque layout, you can see Sparrow running from the natives in the background; it's amusing, and sometimes distracting. Regardless, it's really quite cool to see that much detail put into the game that will probably sell well anyway. Visuals aside, the biggest plus in the game (that no one seems to have mentioned yet for some reason) is the inclusion of the orchestrated soundtrack. Perfectly placed in the right spots, you'll go with the music when it comes to scene by scene action. When you're sword fighting against Barbossa at the end of the first film the music picks up. When you're trying to figure out a puzzle, you get that slow tune from the film that is led by Cellos. It's quite cool and encouraging to hear the actual music. What's even more remarkable is that the devs actually placed it appropriately in the game.
So after so many compliments is there anything wrong with the game? The only complaint I can possibly give is that once in a while you're going to run into a puzzle that is slightly frustrating. Keep in mind what is 'slightly' frustrating to us is going to be 'very' frustrating to kids. That might be the opportunity for you to be the hero parent that swoops in and saves the day. That's my only complaint about the game, though. Other than that, there's a lot to like here. The game is fun, long and there's plenty of replay value in it. For $49.99 you simply cannot go wrong with what Disney Interactive Studios has brought to the table.