If you're a fan of the Lego series of games, you know that there are now enough of them that they can be divided into two clear groups: the really great ones, like the first Lego Star Wars, and the ones that suck, like Lego Indiana Jones. Lego Pirates of the Caribbean is not only part of the really great group, it's one of the best examples of the really great group. It takes everything that a good Lego game does well, and does it even better.
Like the other Lego games based on movie franchises, Lego Pirates roughly follows the action of the movies, from Captain Jack Sparrow's arrival at Port Royal in Curse of the Black Pearl all the way through the fourth movie, On Stranger Tides. The Pirates movies adapt remarkably well to the Lego treatment; the cut scenes share the winking sense of humor and general silliness that made the movies such good romps. It's like the two were made for each other.
For the most part, Lego Pirates is standard Lego fare. You work your way through levels based on the plot of the movies, breaking things, assembling other things, and collecting studs, the game's currency. Though each level has specific characters associated with it, different characters have different skills. Female characters can double jump, for example, while characters with big guns can destroy silvery objects, those with hammers can assemble red glowing things, and so on. The skills repeat across several characters, but are used in a varied enough mix to prevent levels from feeling too identical, even when they're comprised of similar elements.
Jack Sparrow has a unique attribute that's also one of the game's many unlockables. Each level has eight items for Jack to find using his magic compass, some necessary for finishing the level, others just silly extras. Track them all down and you'll earn yourself a gold brick, which can be used back in port to unlock new locations or Red Hats that give you boosts like double treasure or extra fast digging. All of the Lego games have hidden bricks, but the compass is an engaging twist on the mechanic. After all, who doesn't like an old fashioned treasure hunt?
The game throws in a few new gameplay elements that are particularly piratey: cannons and spyglasses. Every so often, you'll get to switch to first person view to aim and fire a cannon at another ship or targets. In other sections, you'll use a spyglass to find a particular person (or crab!) of interest and track them until they do something significant. They're quick little snippets that break up the bash-and-build gameplay wonderfully, staying just long enough to make you miss them when they're gone.
Lego Pirates is charming, has a great soundtrack, captures the feeling of the movies just about perfectly, and none of that would have mattered one bit if it hadn't also completely nailed the character of Jack Sparrow. Everything about Lego Jack is absolutely perfect: the half-drunk tottering reel, the gold tooth, the way he says "Oi!" Just watching him run around with his little Lego hands fluttering is a good time, but as great as Jack is, the game wouldn't be any good if it was only fun when you got to play as him. Lego Pirates does a fantastic job of giving the supporting cast a lot of fun things to do. Nobody's about to fight over who gets to be Mr. Gibbs or Marty, but when you do play as a member of the B-team you still feel like you're contributing something important and fun.
It's a shame that Lego Pirates is stuck with the same awkward camera and iffy collision detection that plagues all Lego games, but even when it's being problematic, Pirates is so much fun that you're willing to grin and bear it. The control issues never get in the way of the fun for very long, and nothing is so frustrating that you ever want to throw up your hands and quit. The game is also very helpful at giving you signposts without holding your hand too much - a great blend that keeps the game entertaining for both less experienced gamers and old pros.
Bottom Line: Lego Pirates of the Caribbean is a rollicking good time. You have to play through a few times in order to track down all of the secrets, jokes, and prizes, but even if you just play once, you're bound to enjoy yourself.
Recommendation: This just might be the best Lego game yet. Definitely give it a try, and bring a friend.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.
Susan Arendt is disappointed that you she didn't get to captain a full-sized Black Pearl in the game. Drink up, me 'earties.
Game: Lego Pirates of the Caribbean
Genre: Action Adventure
Developer: Traveller's Tales
Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios
Release Date: May 10th, 2011
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, PC, PSP, DS, 3DS, Wii
Available from: Amazon (Xbox 360), Amazon (Wii), Amazon (PS3)