So for those who have no idea how awesome pirates are (I'm looking at all you ninja fans), being a pirate is awesome because you don't have to shower, ever, and you get to spend your time getting into awesome sword duels and gathering up treasure to hoard. Lego: Pirates of the Caribbean seeks to bring the awesomeness of pirate existence to gamers everywhere by using the Pirates of the Caribbean movies as a backdrop.
In it, your main character is Captain Jack Sparrow; reprobate and slightly insane pirate captain who manages to outsmart loads of people and prove time and again that he really is the best pirate ever. Following his exploits through the four Pirates of the Caribbean movies, this game tries to pull out key moments for your Lego characters to play in, giving you the experience of living out the movie. As you progress through the game, you are treated to cut scenes showing plot from the movies and then getting the opportunity to play the events and make them happen.
The game is played with characters from the four movies; each different section of the game allowing you to use the characters that were important to that section of the movie. For example, during a scene in one of the movies where two characters are stranded, it's those two characters you play in the game. Each different character type has different skills that are needed to complete puzzles in the game to progress, much like any other Lego series game. And as the game is completed, more characters with different abilities open up, allowing the player to revisit stages to open previously inaccessible areas with the new character abilities they've acquired. Beyond playing the actual game there are tons of items to collect over the course of the game world, as well as multiple different areas to unlock if you're seeking to gain 100% completion of the game itself.
Fighting is necessary to progress but limited, with the game more focused on puzzle completion. For example, in order to progress in an area you may have to roll a barrel over to a depression in the floor to get a gate to open. And because it's a Lego game, you may actually have to bust open an object with your sword first and then put the bouncing pieces back together to form the barrel. Because all Lego games seek to encourage the actual Lego experience, players are often required to break stuff up and put it back together again to form something else that's awesome and useful.
The game can be played with one or two players cooperatively. Unlike in many games where the characters share the same screen area with the camera progressively pulling out to show both characters moving around or with a fixed split screen, Lego Pirates features a unique split screen experience. As the characters move onto different areas of the screen, the display splits in half, allowing each character to shift around without the other needing to be near them. And as one character needs more area of the screen, say for instance to jump around, the split in the middle of the screen shifts around to provide more viewing area. So instead of being stuck in the middle of the screen, the split may be at a diagonal as the game tries to compensate for everyone's movements. It's an interesting take on the split screen experience but it can be a little disorienting for some as they adjust to the screen constantly shifting the viewable area as the players move around. If you don't have a second player to help out, the game can be entirely played solo. The second player is more helpful in this game than necessary, as the puzzles have been designed to allow one person to easily switch between character types to complete all of them.
Story is simply handled by following the movie storyline, but one thing I did notice right away is that if you don't know the plot from the movie, you won't be able to understand it in the game. Sure, the Legos do a pretty good job of showing us 'something' that's going on that has something to do with the pirates we can see walking around on the screen. But because it's Lego, some of the meanness is censored and in doing so, makes several scenes very different from how they actually play out. Limitations with the Legos movements also makes it difficult to get certain ideas across; and the fact that the Legos don't speak at all simply tops it all off. After a few cut scenes I was really sick and tired of listening to the grunts and sighs of the characters. Although, I have to admit, Jack Sparrow's sounded very much like they took actual sound bites from the movies for his grunting which was interesting to hear. The other characters made me want to start plugging up my ears or at least hitting the mute button during some of the cut scenes.
But then hitting the mute button would have prevented me from hearing the music in the game, which is taken straight from the movies. And as you all know, music can help make or break a scene in a movie. The soundtracks from the Pirates' movies are appropriately epic and having that carry into the game was a fun experience. Hearing the fight music from the films during fight scenes in the game was enough to get your heart pumping while you cheered your Legos onto battle and rooted for them to defeat all of the baddies in their way.
And defeat the baddies they did, with lots of sword swinging, axe throwing and super big gun shooting. The combat was fun, handled nicely and looked awesome with the characters swinging their swords or fists to beat their enemies into exploding, like good little Lego villains. But because the fighting is not the focus of the game, my companions could often be very useful in distracting enemies while I went about solving the puzzles, even killing some of the enemies for me. When I had to fight, I had the pleasure of being able to beat them until they broke into pieces. And if for some reason they defeated me instead it wasn't really a big deal; following the tradition of other Lego games, the characters don't really die. When all of your health runs out you explode into pieces and then immediately reappear. The only penalty to dying is that you lose some of the 'studs' you've been collecting over the course of the game. Studs are the currency used to unlock other game features and characters, but because the levels can be infinitely redone in free play you can always go back for more studs.
The level design was interesting and fun to play in, with the Legos needing to perform multiple physical stunts in order to progress. I found the Lego characters needing to balance themselves on beams, run around, dig up objects, jump onto bars and climb trees and ladders to progress. One of the stages even had the Legos moving around in rolling balls which was a lot of fun to maneuver around the screen. They also swam around in some of the stages, even being able to dive under the water. Tip: If you want an easy Xbox 360 achievement, swim past the algae in the water. Go on. You know you wanna.
It was a lot of fun seeing all of the different things the Lego characters were able to do with themselves. Most of the Legos are able to perform all of the basic tasks with each type having specialized skills. For instance, the female characters can double jump while the short characters can crawl into tunnels. And Jack Sparrow is able to use his magic compass, finding objects of interest in the stages, some of which are needed to progress while others simply contribute to the optional 100% completion goal. The main issue with level design is one that's endemic to the way Lego games are set up. Because you need to play the whole game to unlock all of the character types, there will always be areas that you cannot explore initially in the games. That can lead to some frustration as you attempt to solve the puzzles to move forward only to realize that instead of completing the necessary puzzle you are in fact trying to solve an optional one that you don't have the capability of completing yet.
And the environments were just plain fun to watch the characters move around in. Many of the objects are breakable for studs, and all that destruction is just plain awesome. For the portions of the environment that aren't breakable, they're really nice to look at, with a lot of attention being paid to detail. It was easy to believe that the characters were moving around the Caribbean islands, fighting and making their way through the richly decorated scenery.
Overall, Lego: Pirates was a game experience I'd be willing to play over and over again in order to complete all of the side objectives in the game. Initially getting through the puzzles is engaging and being able to go back later and unlock all the things I couldn't access before is made less tedious by just how nice the game looks to play and the de-emphasis on the combat. And the fact that I'm playing with pirates, which as we all know are far more awesome than ninjas.