LEGO video games are plentiful on the Wii, and LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean has arrived to claim its share of the spoils. Is this franchise another treasure in the series, or an empty chest?
Fans will no doubt be delighted to see all of the films, including the latest release, included in this title. Playing through all four movies is enhanced with the heavily comedic cut scenes, all infused with typical LEGO wit and humour. These sequences are lengthy and look terrific, successfully satirising and mimicking famous scenes; most players are likely to be entertained and charmed.
These cut-scenes do an excellent job of setting the scene for each level in the adventure, and there are plenty of them. With five levels per movie, there are twenty levels to work through. Some of these stages are fairly long, so even a rushed playthrough will take some time, roughly ten hours. Unfortunately, some of those hours are less fun than they should be.
One thing that's immediately clear in this iteration is that the developers aimed to portray the epic scale of the movies. A series full of large-scale set pieces and locations is perfect for video games, but in the case of this title it leads to gameplay problems. Areas are so impressive in scope that the camera will often pan-out to allow to you take in its splendour, making it difficult to see what you're doing. Frustration and confusion occur too frequently as a result.
Issues with level design aren’t restricted to the size of the level, but are also exacerbated by common features from the series. While smashing objects for lego studs is as fun as ever, the puzzles and general level progressions run into problems. This is partly due to the team dynamic, meaning that you are often running around with around half a dozen other characters. The AI is a nuisance, with so called team mates often getting in your way and occasionally even pushing you off ledges to your doom. When in smaller areas it becomes completely chaotic, with too many characters on screen. Maintaining teams with only a couple on screen would, in our opinion, help to alleviate these problems.
It isn’t always team members who slow down progress, but sometimes obscure environmental puzzles. Playing in both single player and co-op, we experienced a number of puzzles and areas that would halt our progress for up to 20 minutes at a time. We consider ourselves experienced gamers here at Nintendo Life, but near-impossible jumps, puzzles that defied logic and exits that are barely perceptible to the naked eye almost destroyed a few Wii Remotes. It is entirely possible that inexperienced or easily irritated gamers will have similar experiences.
On the other side of the gold doubloon, however, there are moments where the game delivers solid gameplay. The Wii Remote and Nunchuk controls are reasonably intuitive, the puzzles can be challenging and engaging, while some platforming and combat is fun and smooth. It is just a shame that for every moment of enjoyable gameplay, there are red-mist-inducing sections around the corner.
It is no surprise that the game places such importance on local co-op gameplay, as it is a mainstay of LEGO titles. You are often reminded that another player can join in, and a second player certainly adds to the experience. In practical terms, the game employs a clever dynamic split screen to assist you. When you’re close together it is one big screen, but part ways and you each receive your own screen, which shifts in perspective depending on your proximity to the other player. It’s a neat feature, though occasionally the camera in split screen isn’t perfect, with items and platforms not always visible when they should be.
Playing with a friend is undoubtedly fun, with the charm and absurdity of the levels and character interactions seeming funnier in the company of others. It must be said, though, that the aforementioned controller-gnawing frustration is sometimes accentuated by the split screen. There is no online co-op, but considering that this hasn’t been a feature in previous LEGO titles, it's to be expected.
Whether playing alone or with a friend, the point isn’t to beat the campaign and put the game away, with plenty of hidden items and unlockables for which multiple playthroughs are required. The various talents and abilities of different characters are vital in ‘Free Play’ mode for reaching previously inaccessible areas. Once you select ‘Free Play’ you choose one character, with the remainder of your team selected for you, though identifying who has each ability is left to you; quite a challenge considering the number of character and the lack of hints and guidance provided.
Accessing your various unlocked items is also a rather confusing and baffling experience. While choosing a level is a simple process, the various other extras are spread across two separate areas, both locked initially. Purchasing extra characters is reliant on walking past them in the hub environment and interacting with them; if you want a particular character then you may need to cross your fingers. In order to view bottle ships and unlock benefits such as doubled treasure, you will need to explore and have a good grasp of what particular perk you want. For those new to LEGO games, this sprawling hub is likely to cause a lot of head scratching.
In terms of the presentation, this title generally hits the spot. Cut scenes look terrific, despite the occasional blocky texture; yes, we appreciate the irony. In game graphics are similarly mixed, at times looking excellent by Wii standards but with occasionally muddy and indistinguishable environments. Frame rate is reasonable, though does suffer a noticeable drop in split screen co-op levels. The sound is a complete success, however, with swashbuckling sound effects such as clashing swords, as well as gorgeous orchestrated music.
LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean is the perfect gaming analogy of Jack Sparrow. At times brilliant and able to thrill, while on other occasions accident prone and unsteady on its feet. This title has strong production values, moments of terrific gameplay and witty humour to make anyone smile. Unfortunately, level design can be frustrating, excessive chaos and confusion sucks the fun out of the game and newbies to the series could potentially get very, very confused. It's decent family fun, as long as the family know what the heck they’re doing.