LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game Review

By Adam Rosenberg - Posted May 10, 2011

Unfortunately, LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game carries the heavy stench of a cash-in. The charm is there, but so is janky platforming and lackluster gameplay. It all adds up to an uninspired experience.

The Pros
  • LEGOs and pirates! Together in one game!
  • Improved character management.
The Cons
  • Janky platforming.
  • Little to play with outside the LEGO-fied movies.
  • Franchise isn't fleshed out enough for a LEGO game.
  • Uninspired. Smells, at times, like a cash-in.

LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean Review:

TT Games has built an entire business in recent years out of giving video gamers virtual LEGO sets to play with. That’s just the basic building block, however (pun definitely intended). What really makes or breaks the LEGO-based video games is the strength of the franchise the license is applied to. Star Wars and Harry Potter both worked brilliantly, thanks to the intricately developed fictional universes they already live in. LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game falls far short for the very same reason: despite the fact that pirates and LEGOs have long gone hand-in-hand, Disney’s theme park ride-based fantasy world just doesn’t have enough depth to support a retail LEGO game.

A Pirate's Life for Me. . .

The execution should be familiar to fans of the LEGO games. Players work their way through each of the movies – four in this case, including the as-yet-unreleased Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – which have been broken into a series of five chapters apiece. The first time you play through a given chapter, you follow the story and use set characters to solve puzzles, break things and collect studs (i.e. LEGO currency) according to the demands of the narrative. Once you’ve finished a chapter once, it can be returned to in Free Play, during which you can use any character to solve a wider range of puzzles. The ultimate goal is to unlock all of the characters, ship-in-a-bottle minikits, gold bricks and red hat cheats (“extras,” the games call them).

What’s made recent LEGO games work so well – and what undoes Pirates – is how that formula is tweaked. The game’s hub, Port Royale, slowly becomes more open as gold bricks are unlocked and additional areas are revealed, but the heart of the game boils down to the events of the four movies, spread across 20 chapters. While that’s a fair amount of content, it is significantly less than the standard set by other recent LEGO games.

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Falling Off the Plank

It would be a forgivable offense if the game were actually good, but a number of issues hold LEGO Pirates back from realizing its full potential. The platforming, which always tends to be wonky in these games, is particularly frustrating. Several sections of the game call for precision jumping, which doesn’t really work so well with the imprecise controls and the fixed camera.

TT Games made landing jumps more “sticky,” meaning you theoretically have to just point yourself in the general direction of your target and you’ll land there. In practice this works roughly half the time, especially when it comes to pole-jumping and leaping between balance beams. That stickiness is also likely what encouraged the developer to rely more on platforming -- that and the whole swashbuckling pirates motif, of course -- but it’s to the game’s disadvantage. Platforming and fixed cameras rarely go well together, and this game is proof of it.

Out of Character

The characters bring a range of new abilities, many of them pirate (and Pirates) themed. Jack Sparrow, for example, swings along on grappling hooks and carries around his trademark magical compass. Each chapter has eight hidden items -- some relating to specific puzzles and some just for fun -- which can be found using the compass; dig up all eight and you get another gold brick.

Zombie pirates can walk normally and breathe underwater, but anyone can pick up that ability if they happen to be carrying a cursed gold coin. The rest of the new abilities don’t really have much to do with the movies -- the ladies can all double-jump, hammer-wielders can fix broken mechanisms, characters trailed by a yellow glow can use super-strength to pull on orange handles, etc. -- but they are essential to solving the game’s puzzles.

There are some inventive puzzles to solve in many of the chapters along with some new challenges, such as putting together a crew by locating various items that each person requires. This actually ties to one of LEGO Pirates’s most welcome innovations: improved character switching. Holding down Y (or triangle on a PS3 controller) brings up a selection window, allowing for easy jumps between different characters. This is felt most dramatically in free play and in the Port Royale hub; holding down Y brings up the entire list of unlocked LEGO-folk for you to access. A welcome change there.

Visually, LEGO Pirates is on par with the other most recent games in the series… which is to say, it looks great. The shiny plastic quality of each character gives the impression that you could reach out and snatch any one of them off the screen. The environments are also fun, and TT Games clearly enjoyed working in variations on LEGO’s long-established line of pirate-themed playsets.

The expected charm is there in full effect as well, both in the playful ways that each story unfolds and in the adorable LEGO versions of the franchise’s stars. Jack Sparrow seems especially well-suited to a LEGO transformation. Johnny Depp’s already-exaggerated swagger is in full effect in the movies, and it looks utterly ridiculous – in a good way – in the game. What’s unfortunate is, once you get past the core cast of characters, you’re left with a rogue’s gallery of nameless seafaring scoundrels. “Tattooed Pirate” is a slightly more inventive name than “Pirate #1,” but the impression it leaves is the same: this is filler.

Ultimately, LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game carries the heavy stench of a cash-in. That the game doesn’t feel rushed mechanically – other than the janky platforming, that is – is a credit to TT Games’ long experience and skill with LEGO releases. It feels astoundingly uninspired, however, an afterthought of a LEGO game that would make more sense with a $30 price tag and/or a packed-in ticket to see the movie.

Still want to play it? Why not rent it at Gamefly?