Lego Pirates a swashbuckling romp

Lego Pirates of the Caribbean is well-constructed and thoroughly amusing despite its convoluted origin.
The puzzle element in Lego Pirates of the Caribbean appeals to gamers of all ages, not just the children the Lego games are obviously aimed at.

It's tough to imagine squeezing another level of product licensing into Lego Pirates of the Caribbean. It is, after all, a video game based on a toy based on a movie based on an amusement park ride. What's next? A book based on the game? A soundtrack based on the book?

However, while many games with only one level of licensing often fall flat, Lego Pirates is well-constructed and thoroughly amusing despite its convoluted origin.

The game will be familiar to anyone who has played U.K.-based Traveller's Tales' previous Lego releases, including Star Wars, Batman and Harry Potter. In the main story mode, one or two players romp their way through the plots of all four Pirates of the Caribbean movies, with everything — from Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow to the Flying Dutchman ship — made out of Lego's iconic plastic building blocks.

Each character has special abilities. Some can throw bombs that blow up shiny metallic Lego objects while female characters such as Captain Elizabeth can jump higher than males and thereby get to hard-to-reach ledges. New characters are unlocked as the story progresses, while others can be bought using accumulated Lego studs back at the central "port" hub, where Jack and the rest can be found milling about between missions.

The real enjoyment of Lego games comes from replaying the stories in "free play" mode, where players can switch between unlocked characters. The idea is to find and gather all the hidden items and work toward 100 per cent completion of the game.

Such a task is often repetitive and daunting in other games but it's usually enjoyable in the Lego titles because it involves solving clever puzzles, which sometimes involve the use of several characters' special abilities. Fortunately, players can also buy cheats in the form of red pirate hats that can make the hidden items easier to find.

The puzzle element thus appeals to gamers of all ages, not just the children the Lego games are obviously aimed at.

Another layer of complexity

As with other Lego titles, it's not necessary to be familiar with the source material to enjoy the game. The films' stories are told through cutscenes at the beginning of each level. If you've never seen the movies, you probably won't understand them — there's no dialogue, only grunts — but there's enough cutesy humour to elicit a few chuckles.

Lego Pirates differs from its ilk in a few ways. One of Jack's special abilities, for example, is a compass that leads him to hidden and buried items, which adds another layer of complexity to some of the puzzles.

The platforming elements have been refined, too, with "stickiness" added, so players can jump from one surface to another more easily. That's important because the game often requires swashbuckling sword-fights atop a ship mast or rooftop.

If you've played previous Lego games, there shouldn't be much in Lego Pirates that's surprising. That's not a bad thing, though — the designers at Traveller's Tales have continually refined their craft, to the point where Pirates is finely polished and honed. There are few noticeable — and thereby frustrating — glitches in the game and there are no long, boring parts, as in the previous release, Lego Star Wars 3.

As such, Lego Pirates doesn't have any monotonous, repetitive filler and is just long enough to satisfy completists. And yes, kids will be amused, too.

Now, if only there were a Lego Pirates of the Caribbean book to read ...