Lego Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game

Well it can't possibly be as bad as the films... Can it?

It's been six years since developer Traveller's Tales unleashed Lego Star Wars: The Video Game on unsuspecting gamers - and in doing so demonstrated that it was possible to successfully transform the popular building brick toy line into pixel-based entertainment. Much of that success hinged on the personality that Traveller's Tales were able to inject into the Lego characters through the application of the Star Wars licence, giving the title both a sense of focus and humour that had been sorely missing from earlier 'edutainment'-centric Lego titles.

Encouraged by the success of the prequel-based Lego Star Wars: The Video Game, Traveller's Tales soon began work on Lego Star Wars: The Original Trilogy, which was as much of a smash as its predecessor. Before long they were joined by the likes of Lego Indiana Jones, Lego Batman, Lego Harry Potter and even Lego Rock Band - which saw the block characters join forces with Harmonix's best-selling music game series. And as ever, the law of diminishing returns started to take effect. With each subsequent iteration the gameplay flaws became more pronounced and the charming characterisation and humour that initially glossed over these issues seemed to fade into the background. What was once an enthusiastically received gaming experience now seemed to be content to coast on its former glories.

This brings us rather neatly to Lego Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game, which finds the game series partnered with a once-celebrated movie franchise that has itself lost most of its lustre over the course of increasingly disappointing sequels. Can the marriage of these two blockbusters somehow bring a spark of life back into the Lego gaming franchise?

Shiver me timbers!
To put it bluntly, if you've played any of the previous games in the series (excluding Lego Rock Band) then you'll already have a pretty good idea what you get here, as the central concept has barely changed one iota. Starting from a central hub, the player (or two of you in co-op mode) can work their way through a series of levels based on events from each of the four Pirates of the Caribbean films. As you work through puzzles and platform-based action you collect Lego studs that can be used back at the central hub to buy new character models, find hidden gold blocks and locate buried items with the aid of Jack Sparrow's compass.

Once levels have been completed you can them revisit them in Free Play mode, which allows you to use any characters you have purchased or unlocked to gain access to areas you couldn't reach in the story mode (characters with guns and bombs can blow up metal items blocking doorways, female characters can jump higher, and others like Blackbeard have specific magic locks that only they can open). So, while the basic gameplay is pretty simplistic, its longevity is ensured by aiming at the sort of completists who won't put a game down until they've unlocked every secret, stumbled across every Achievement and finally managed to get that elusive 100 per completion cent rating.

Walk the plank!
So it's business as usual for the series – right down to it featuring the same niggling issues that have plagued it since the get-go. Such as duff AI for computer controlled NPCs that often leaves them trapped as they try to follow you through a level, and a lack of obvious signposts for what to do next, which can leave you wandering around aimlessly for minutes at a time trying to figure out what you're supposed to do next to progress further in the game. Neither of these is a major issue, but both have been present throughout the entirety of the series and surely we weren't expecting too much when we hoped that the developers could have ironed out these problems after six years of dealing with them?

But if you can live with these issues, then there's still plenty to like about Lego Pirates of the Caribbean. First of all there's the fact that it is the most visually impressive title in the series so far. The films' exotic sun-drenched exteriors and spooky galleon interiors have given the games artists plenty to work with and they've really delivered the goods with astonishing and expansive locations for your cute little Lego characters to inhabit. Speaking of which, once again it's the Lego characters themselves that make the game such a joy to play. The amount of character packed into each is simply remarkable - despite the lack of dialogue (the Lego folk just grunt and groan) the tiny little Jack Sparrow moves and acts just like Johnny Depp in the films. And this really carries over into the cutscenes that link the levels together. Concise, easy to follow and full of hilarious gags, they do a damn fine job of demonstrating just how over-written the Pirates... sequels were and definitely aren't afraid at poking fun at the films' various shortcomings.

Pieces of eight!
So there you have it. Lego Pirates of the Caribbean is just more of the same, albeit with improved graphics. Thankfully it's got the same overload of charm and wit as the early Lego Star Wars games, which goes some way to papering over some of the cracks in the gameplay. But if Traveller's Tales intends to carry on the franchise, it really needs to take a serious look at those little problems that have affected the games since the beginning and look at giving it more than a cosmetic overhaul for future outings.

PS3 (version tested)/Xbox 360/Wii/DS/3DS/PSP, Disney Interactive, £50 approx, On sale now