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Lego Pirates of the Caribbean

 The latest LEGO video game, LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean, takes the now tried and tested formula of basic combat and platforming mixed in with simple puzzle solving, and lays it over the top of the four films starring Johnny Depp (including the yet to be released On Stranger Tides). The result is a typically tongue-in-cheek adventure for all the family to enjoy, but there's little here that we haven't seen in numerous other LEGO titles and a bit more frustration than I'd have liked.

 Pirates of the Caribbean features one of the most iconic characters of modern cinema in Captain Jack Sparrow, so it was essential Traveller's Tales nailed his movement and personality. The studio has done an excellent job, with Jack's swagger coming through perfectly and his mannerisms in cutscenes being spot-on. Other characters, such as Elizabeth Swan and Will Turner, are well animated and convey excellent emotion given their brick appearance, but they're nowhere near as fun or stylish as Jack.

The game recounts the tales told by the Pirates of the Caribbean films, including the yet-unreleased fourth installment, with chunky Lego figures stepping in for the films' stars. Even if you're the world's biggest Johnny Depp or Geoffrey Rush fan, you may not always know exactly what's going on in the last of these included adventures, but the game does a fine enough job of giving you the gist. Besides, what happens isn't as important as how it happens. Lego Pirates eschews dialogue in favor of adorable details that are sure to put a smile on your face. When two characters walk the plank, they remain suspended in midair for a moment before plunging into the sea. Monkeys and pigs are given prominent comedic roles. Jack Sparrow's flamboyant strut is so exaggerated that it's a wonder he can remain upright. Almost every cutscene has some silly surprise or another, and the breezy winks and nods are the most compelling reason to push through to the end. 

The gameplay seen throughout most of LEGO Pirates is more or less what you'll expect if you've played any one of Traveller's Tales' previous outings with the plastic bricks. Depending on your playable character you'll punch, slash or shoot enemies and destructible objects, while pick-ups grant you the ability to operate certain bits of machinery, dig the ground or mend broken bits of equipment. On top of this there's some rudimentary platforming and plenty of 'find the right bit to put on that platform' puzzles.

Gameplay sequences tied directly to moments from the films offer the most creativity, such as giant balls you can roll around in and the runaway wheel from the second film - each delivering something more than another fetch puzzle or basic combat. Big moments from the films also serve as impressive encounters, such as the giant Kraken from Dead Man's Chest.

The levels following those scenes are copied and pasted from the Lego template. You meander through various environments filled with objects to shatter, all while pulling blocks and activating push plates to gain access to new areas. While you only control one character at a time, you can usually switch personas among several choices, morphing into whichever avatar allows you to perform necessary actions. Those actions include hammering on glowing broken items to repair them, activating your compass to find hidden items, using a grapple hook to swing from platform to platform, and more. It's a shame that Lego Pirates drops the cooperative play that invigorated some of the previous handheld Lego games. Solving involved cooperative puzzles with a friend in tow could have provided some much-needed excitement. As it is, you put almost no thought in how to proceed. The game always tells you exactly what to do and exactly how to do it, without the added benefit of someone else's company.  

Completing the four movies will take a good 10 hours or more, and linking all these together is a large hub that can be fully explored. If you wish you can play the entire game alongside a friend via split-screen, which divides the screen in a way that lets you identify the direction your co-op partner can be found. There's no online play, but in reality LEGO Pirates is the kind of game you wouldn't play online.

You could complete all four stories in as many hours if you don't linger, though every level is filled with secrets that are accessible only by returning to them in free play. You can also create your own character using a selection of body parts, weapons, and special skills, which brightens up your return visits. But even then, you must still go through the motions of solving puzzles that aren't puzzles and cutting down enemies that have no sense of self-preservation. Lego Pirates of the Caribbean is adorable, but it takes a lot more than a cheeky attitude to gain infamy on the high seas. 

As far as movie-licensed games go, LEGO Pirates will likely be one of the best this year, and it's also up there with the best LEGO titles released. It's not quite as whiz-bang as LEGO Star Wars III and feels quite formulaic at times, but there's no denying it has charm and widespread appeal. A few irksome bugs and glitches hurt the overall package, but it'd be hard not to get enjoyment out of what Disney and Traveller's Tales have put together.

Watch Lego Pirates of the Caribbean game trailer.


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