Traveller's Tales appears to have mastered the art of transforming popular properties into thoroughly enjoyable co-operative affairs, and the developer's whimsical take on Disney's somewhat convoluted Pirates Of The Caribbean tetralogy is no different.
Set across the original trio of rum-fuelled adventures, plus the brand new escapade, On Stranger Tides, LEGO: Pirates Of The Caribbean masterfully plots the antics of the loose-legged Captain Sparrow and crew as the loot obsessed nautical risk-takers go in search of the Black Pearl, all pieced together with the familiar LEGO wit. Those with a reverence for the source material will get more out of LEGO: Pirates Of The Caribbean than others, but the slap-stick style of the entire package's delivery will raise a chuckle whether you're familiar with the cast or not.
Similarly, the gameplay is as refined as the story-telling. This is a LEGO game afterall, and it does little to break the formula already deeply rooted into the series. It's playable co-op but equally enjoyable alone, as you utilise LEGO pieces to tear down or build structures that aid you in your plight. Switching between the game's roster of main and periphery characters opens up new sub-abilities that you'll need to accomplish in order to solve puzzles and collect the game's catalogue of hidden goodies. As in the movies, Jack is the star of the show, using a new compass mechanic to track down treasures — sometimes conducive to the adventure, often times not; but equally satisfying either way.
LEGO: Pirates Of The Caribbean will take you around eight hours to see through to its conclusion, but it's in the game's collectathon core that you will get the most playtime, with an outrageous number of goodies being dangled like a carrot on an ever distancing stick.
As in the movies, Captain Jack Sparrow is undoubtedly the star of LEGO: Pirates Of The Caribbean. While the roster stretches out to include periphery characters that you probably won't even remember from the movies, Sparrow is at the heart of the game with a bottle of rum and beautifully apt stagger. Sparrow has more abilities than most other characters in the game. While others settle for pistols and shovels, Sparrow's compass and rope-tricks make him the go-to character for many of Pirates Of The Caribbean's puzzles. And even without the use of dialogue, Depp's personality is perfectly embodied in the miniature LEGO recreation of the character, bringing wit and humour to the part with childish jokes and lashings of self awareness.
None of LEGO: Pirates Of The Caribbean's puzzles are especially challenging, but they do force you into using your noggin. In many ways the game is a case-study for great design. The game encourages you to interact with its beautifully rendered environments before you happen upon the solution that will take you into the next room. And that forces you into seeing everything the world has to offer as opposed to haplessly wandering from room-to-room in search of your next narrative fix.
There's a semi-realistic charm to LEGO: Pirates Of The Caribbean that underscores the great puzzle design and humorous story-telling. It's not realistic in the gritty, photographic sense — but the game does manage to capture the essence of a Pirates Of The Caribbean diorama recreated in LEGO. It's like a child's playbox brought to life without the obstruction of chubby fingers. There's an unwritten rule in video games that states the number of platforms a game is released on defines its quality. LEGO: Pirates Of The Caribbean side-steps that philosophy, looking beautifully polished on PlayStation 3 despite releasing on six other platforms.
What is it that games like LEGO: Pirates Of The Caribbean and Ratchet & Clank do so right? In most games we couldn't give a toss about collectables, but here they mean everything. From the little niblets of LEGO currency that bait your direction, through to the miniature ship kits and golden bricks. You want to stop searching, you want to say, "No, these collectables don't matter." But you can't. They are pivotal, and you want them. Worse of all, you've no idea why.
The semi-fixed camera perspective of the LEGO games is as functional and limiting as ever in Pirates Of The Caribbean, with the placement occasionally obscuring your viewpoint and making the platforming more challenging than it really should be. For the most part its an unnoticeable window into the action, but occasionally — particularly in co-op — that window gets muddied and the action will frustrate.
With the exception of the ridiculously ambitious sword fight atop the rolling wheel from Dead Man's Chest, LEGO: Pirates Of The Caribbean falls into the trappings of familiarity once the initial excitement has worn off. As unique and interesting as the puzzles and level design feels at first, the game quickly wanders into a state of simplicity that makes the whole affair a touch predictable.
LEGO, as a toy, is all about creation. So it doesn't quite make sense that Traveller's Tales has yet to fully tackle the subject of building in its LEGO series. What's worse, Pirates Of The Caribbean seems more encouraged by the idea of destruction rather than creation. While knocking down blocks is still one of the most satisfying aspects of the game, it would be nice to see the title balance that sense of destruction with more aspects of creation.
LEGO: Pirates Of The Caribbean is a formulaic but lovingly designed foray into the nautical escapades of Captain Jack Sparrow and crew, pieced together with smart level design and whimsical presentation.