Also available on: PlayStation 3, Wii, 3DS
Developer: Traveller's Tales
Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios
Not content with releasing two superb LEGO games in the past 12 months, Traveller's Tales has produced yet another entry in its best-selling line of franchise spinoffs. While it's timed nicely for the arrival of the latest film, LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean is no slouch in terms of content, delivering quirky representations of all four movies through the lens of these bright and colourful building blocks. Although awkward platforming and harsh puzzles make it a difficult game to get on with, the success with which it translates yet another blockbuster franchise into LEGO form is highly commendable.
As with its previous tie-ins, it's respectful of the source material and yet happy to poke fun and play around with it. Jack Sparrow and his crew grunt and gesture their way through speechless cutscenes, adding a dose of slapstick comedy and swapping out the more mature scenes for family-friendly copies, such as pirates drinking cups of tea instead of grog or replacing executions with a spot of vegetable throwing. It's genuinely funny and absorbing to watch, and that level of enjoyment carries over into the levels themselves, with Jack Sparrow's quirky mannerisms replicated to a tee as he runs, and level items springing to life with swings of a sword. There's also a wonderful amount of pigs, crabs and sea turtles to ride around on, too.
It features the same reliable gameplay ideas of previous LEGO outings. Players go from scene to scene (either solo or co-operatively with another player) finding items hidden in the environment, fixing and combining them together to find the path onward. While two characters are active at any one time, a crowded cast of up to eight can potentially be on-screen, each with their own uses and abilities in certain situations. Mr Gibbs is a reliable fixer of red-hot broken machinery, for example, whereas Will Turner throws axes perfect for hitting distant switches. There are a few improvements too, with Jack making use of his compass to direct him towards hidden items, and on-screen arrows pointing out where things need to be placed.
Since the game sticks firmly to the events of each film, there's the occasional action-packed moment to enjoy as well, with the rolling wheel scene from Dead Man's Chest and the horse and cart chase in On Stranger Tides proving to be real highlights. But that also applies the other way, with the films' plot heavy moments seeing players stuck inside the belly of a ship far too often. However, once you visit the right locations, the sun-kissed beaches and stormy seas are simply gorgeous, and although it's seemingly at odds with the basic and brightly-coloured LEGO theme it's definitely the best looking in the series to date.
Although a four-film campaign offers plenty of value, it struggles to maintain a sense of momentum in its difficulty. At times the route onward is obvious, paving the way for some simple but hassle-free stages that are enjoyable to just plough through, or stop your progress for a puzzle that requires a clear but inventive and challenging solution. But far too often it's a real struggle finding items, or it springs upon you some out-of-the-blue challenges that require tedious experimentation to prevail. Slight hints in these moments would pay dividends, and even the new navigation systems don't help, with the compass often not pointing out key items, or arrows occasionally misleading players to the level's final task even though you're a step or two behind.
Furthermore, it plays much more awkwardly than other LEGO games. Platforming can be incredibly fiddly at times, making it easy to miss platforms or become trapped in the environment. Character specific abilities are often mapped to the same buttons as environmental options, having you drop items by accident. Also, as well made as they are, there is no way to skip cutscenes on a first playthrough, which is not only an annoyance considering their length, but when the game is prone to crashing (no, there still aren't any mid-level saves) you certainly wish it was an option.
Listing such issues may come across as almost nit-picky, but when bunched together, it makes the game a testing endeavour more often than not. Like the films themselves, LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean offers a flawed piece of entertainment, but one that ultimately wins you over with its bags of charm and humour. In terms of sheer value and co-operative hijinks it's certainly recommended, especially for younger gamers, just be aware that it has plenty of frustrating moments as well.
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