LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean (Xbox360)

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It seems Traveller’s Tales can do nothing wrong. As if we didn’t already have enough quality LEGO games to savour, Traveller’s Tales has brought us two more back-to-back releases in 2011. Following hot on the heels of recently released LEGO: Star Wars III comes Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean, and the cynic in me wonders whether this is the best strategy sales-wise. We currently have more than seven games in this gaming niche and that alone suggests the development firm is at risk of overcrowding the franchise.

LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean Screenshot 1

Not to mention that a game rushed to market to tie in with a cinematic release (in this case, On Stranger Tides) might result in a buggy and unfinished game. My apprehension with reviewing LEGO: Pirates was that it would end up a dull, rushed window-dressing of another LEGO game that would ruin my love for Disney’s Pirates and spoil my affinity for Traveller’s Tales. The burning question on my mind when I cracked open the box was do we really need a LEGO game about Pirates to tide us over?

I am pleased to say that the answer to that question is a resounding yes! With LEGO games the building blocks to a successful title have always been about offering a high quality adventure for gamers of all ages and LEGO: Pirates not only keeps up with this creed with its polished and inimitable rendition of our favourite pirates, but in some ways actually manages to even raise the bar for all future LEGO games!

Bar? Where there’s a bar, there’s RUM!

Gameplay in Pirates is similar to previous LEGO games with drop-in / drop-out co-op and a hybridised split-screen. The game is broken into separate chapters spanning the storyline of the cinematic releases, with each movie comprising five levels. Die hard fans will be pleased to note that all four of the Pirates movies are included (including On Stranger Tides), bringing the total to twenty normal levels (and one secret level – shhhhhh!).

LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean Screenshot 5

In addition to the refinements of the old interface, Pirates offers a few new features. Since pirates aren’t renowned for their land-lubber tendencies LEGO: Pirates has a lot of sea (there’s reportedly seven of them, and they’re high) so most characters now have the ability to swim. The main hub of the game is a dynamically growing and unlockable Port to reveal more bonuses and power-ups. In true LEGO fashion, the swimming feature also opens up a new set of characters with the added ability to not only swim, but also survive exploring underwater (Davy Jones and the crew of the Flying Dutchman), opening up another dimension of truly immersive gameplay.

Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight!

You are now also able to control any one of up to eight onscreen characters thanks to an easy to use character wheel and, with seventy playable characters from the movies, there’s a healthy dose of variety in character abilities. Although there are fewer levels than most other LEGO games, these levels seem slightly longer than they have traditionally been and probably owing to the mental attrition of a long level, some of the puzzles can be quite confusing. Pirates places more emphasis on the actual storyline with a greater incidence of cutscenes. You’ll be treated to a bounty of humorous videos in-between levels, during levels, and at the end of each chapter – all with the unavoidable Traveller’s Tales twists, of course!

Since we’re dealing with a few additional elements of complexity in terms of larger levels, tougher puzzles, and a mysterious shark-infested deep blue sea, the developers have made your life just a little bit easier – as Captain Jack Sparrow you have Jack’s handy compass which always points to what his heart most desires, which can be employed to good measure in the game showing you where to find objects crucial to completing the level, as well as extras which will help to unlock more Gold Bricks.

LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean Screenshot 15

Despite the handful of improvements, LEGO: Pirates still generally looks and feels like the other LEGO games but manages to set itself apart with (in my opinion) the best approach to humour and comedy yet in a LEGO game. It’s clearly a lot easier to be funny when you’ve got an unburied treasure like Captain Jack Sparrow to play with and this opportunity has not been lost on the developers.

Most LEGO characters tend to grunt and murmur but in Captain Jack’s case, he will on appropriate occasion let out his characteristic wail of horror and dismay in many humorous situations. Likewise, LEGO Captain Jack runs around just like Johnny Depp’s arm-flapping, rum-enhanced Captain Jack which makes for many moments of light entertainment in the game.

Some fans of the movies may argue that the true star of the Pirates movies isn’t Johnny Depp but the romance between Orlando and Keira and to them any omission of the romance would simply be unfathomable. For such purists I assure you that there’s no need to fret: you get almost as much time playing and observing the romantic couple while Orlando’s love Blooms for his LEGO lass.

LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean Screenshot 2

Perhaps the one feature that most sails LEGO: Pirates into a league of its own is an area in games that is often overlooked and not taken seriously enough – the music. The same iconic music from the movies has been used to superb effect in the game and brings a wonderful edge of mystery and adventure to LEGO: Pirates. The orchestral skills and renditions contribute greatly to the game’s score.

It be cursed by The Black Pearl…?

Unfortunately LEGO: Pirates is not all plain sailing. While improving on the game’s code the developers appear to have inadvertently inserted some Pirate’s Code too and, as we all know, Pirate’s Code is more guidelines than actual rules, which may explain a few minor problems you may encounter. The enhanced graphics result in much longer loading times both initially and during a level. Although these delays can prove bothersome they can be obviated by a local install to hard-drive (but to really enjoy the experience of being a pirate remember that the longer loading times do allow you more time to think… therefore you AAAARRRRRR). (sigh – Ed)

There are also the occasional frame-rate issues which are compounded while in split-screen mode. Notwithstanding the fairly infrequent frame-rate problems, the entire world of Disney’s Pirates is faithfully ported into the realm of LEGO and you will be hard pressed not to admire the booty-ful visuals.

LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean Screenshot 4

The age old adage of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” continues to hold true for LEGO: Pirates and if you’ve been a fan of any of the previous LEGO games you’ll most certainly find yourself hooked to playing a pirate in Traveller’s Tales’ latest and funniest release. The good far outweighs the (infrequent) bad in LEGO: Pirates and there aren’t many other family-friendly games that measure up to the raw fun and entertainment for the whole family that LEGO: Pirates has to offer.

All the LEGO games have been designed with co-op multiplayer in mind but even playing this on your onesies won’t detract too much from the overall experience. LEGO: Pirates is twenty thousand leagues ahead of any other family games around at the moment and if romance, mystery, adventure and thrills on the high seas are what you’re looking for, then this game comes highly (pi)rated!

Yo Ho, LEGO, a pirate’s game for me

We pillage, we plunder we rifle and loot
Drink up me hearties, yo ho
We collect little studs and don’t give a hoot
Drink up me hearties, yo ho

Yo Ho, LEGO, a pirate’s game for me
We smash, we jump, we flip over back
Drink up me hearties, yo ho
Take control of our fav’rite Captain Jack
Drink up me hearties yo ho

Yo Ho, LEGO, a pirate’s game for me
We puzzle and fly, inflame and ignite
Drink up me hearties, yo ho
We turn up the ugly on occasion and fight
Drink up me hearties, yo ho

We’re moulded, plastic, and made up of studs
Drink up me hearties yo ho
There’s Wills and Elizabeth – and boiling mud
Drink up me hearties yo ho

Yo Ho, LEGO, a pirate’s game for me
There’s co-op and split-screen and cle’er sly traps
Drink up me hearties, yo ho
Aye, this game be loved by all folks and all chaps
Drink up me hearties, yo ho!

The Good:

- The orchestral score is fantastic.
- A wonderful world of fantasy of adventure.
- Integrating splitscreen allows for more open play.
- Pirates are cool!
- Sea turtles, mate… sea turtles.
- Captain Jack Sparrow.

The Bad:

- Loading times.
- Occasional frame-rate issues.
- LEGO Shaaaaarrrrrrks.
- When the rum’s gone.