LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean hands-on preview

The LEGO games are coming out fast and furious (well, maybe not so furious with those affable yellow faces) with the latest Star Wars version recently released and LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game close on its heels, coming up already in May. Since it’s the first LEGO Pirates game, but the release coincides with the fourth Pirates movie, LEGO Pirates manages to cram all four Pirates movies into its story, which we’re sure will lead to bite-sized individual movie portions, but is that really a bad thing? Particularly with how convoluted and bloated the movie plots increasingly became, a bit of snipping here and there would probably result in no loss of coherence while at the same time tightening up the pacing (which was certainly needed in the last two movies).

Above: All screens from the 360/PS3/PC version

The core mechanics of the LEGO series haven’t changed, so you’ll be bashing environmental objects and gobbling up endless trails of studs while swapping characters to solve puzzles and engage in blood-free combat. The draw here, of course, is the whimsical LEGO approach to a familiar film franchise, which fits perfectly with Pirates since the films are already rather tongue-in-cheek on their own. Little details matter here and the devs haven’t missed out on the opportunities, such as nailing the goofy way that Jack Sparrow runs, with his legs out in front of him, his shoulders leaning back to where he’s about to fall over.

We saw a level from Dead Man’s Chest where you’ll roll around in the ball-shaped cages made from human bones in a fashion that reminded us of Marble Madness. With an AI or co-op partner in tow, you ascend a cliff face by rolling over enemies and activating water-powered pulleys and giant Ferris-wheel like devices. The environments are particularly pretty and certainly the best looking amongst the LEGO games so far, with trees swaying in the breeze and luscious waterfalls shimmering everywhere. You can also swim underwater now to explore the fishy depths, and if you happen to be one of the cursed characters (who are essentially undead) you’ll sink like a stone in water and can walk around on the bottom indefinitely.

Next we saw the Brethren Court from the third movie, which perfectly captures the look of the actual Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland that the movies are based upon – there are rickety wooden walkways snaking around a rocky mountain-island, with waterfalls and huge sections of wrecked ships protruding from the land as makeshift apartments. Here you can make use of Jack’s compass, which creates a trail of studs that you can follow to invisible buried treasure. This level also showcased the puzzle-heavy elements of the game – there was no combat whatsoever in this level, instead tasking the player with various mini challenges involving switches and physics puzzles.

Lastly we got to play another level from the third movie, this time on the deck of the Black Pearl within the Maelstrom from the film’s finale. Our job was to assemble the ingredients needed to free Calypso and cause her to grow into a giant. It was a hybrid puzzle/combat level, punctuating each LEGO-building puzzle with enemies leaping onto the ship’s deck. Aside from the simple hack-and-slash sword fighting, we also built cannons and fired upon the Flying Dutchman. Part of the adventure involved climbing the ship’s rigging and zip-lining across the masts while the secondary characters provided some goofy comedy relief.

We also got to play the 3DS version, which plays almost exactly like the bigger console version with some key differences: it’s a single-player only game, so that means no partner AI along with the lack of co-op. On the same Maelstrom level we had some swordfights with Davy Jones but they were underwhelming QTE affairs designed to not tax a child’s patience. On the plus side, the Street Pass feature allows you to build your own custom fighter which then has automatic “fights” with other 3DS owners, which will net you money to buy more characters, so it sounds like a surprisingly robust feature that could have easily been throwaway.

We didn’t get to see anything from the fourth movie so sadly we can’t spoil anything about its plot. LEGO Pirates is shaping up to be exactly what you expect from a LEGO game, with all the humor (we chuckled more than once during our time) and the best visuals to date. It’s not daring to break the mold, but then it’s main point for existing is to charm the kids and we have no doubt it will do exactly that.

Apr 22, 2011

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