Indy’s Back … In a Slightly Different Form
With three Lego-themed Star Wars games under its belt, Traveller’s Tales has moved in a slightly different direction. Not veering far from the comfy creative base of George Lucas, this time the world revolves around the first three Indiana Jones movies. This is similar to an approach taken with the 1994 SNES game “Indiana Jones’ Greatest Adventures” developed by Factor 5. Like that title, players trek through key moments in Raiders of the Lost Ark, Temple of Doom, and The Last Crusade. The key twist is the Lego moniker – players are treated to a unique mix of humor, platforming, and knuckle brawling – all charmingly recreated using Lego play pieces. For the most part, the title succeeds in blending all these elements, but may come off as a little too shallow to the audiences beyond its low ESRB rating.
From a story standpoint, the game has a unique challenge: most players have probably seen all three movies, so there won’t be any big surprises in terms of plot development. What makes the presentation unique is the delivery of cutscenes. Aside from being rendered using LEGO pieces, there is an uncommon omission: there’s no voice acting (at least in the traditional sense). Now, at first this may seem like a big mistake – shouldn’t we hear Indy deliver his one-liners about snakes and inevitable run-ins with Nazis? However, once you move beyond that initial thought, it comes off as a strange critique – hearing Lego characters voice acted by celebrity-sounding counterparts would probably end up being less immersive. The developer’s choice of near-silent voice acting is a better alternative – the characters let out grunts and squeaks during story sequences – all this makes for a quirky, good time. Even with their original nature, criticism can be leveled against all the game’s cutscenes: why can’t you skip the sequences you’ve already seen or simply aren’t interested in? It’s a small note to check off, but nonetheless it should be on every developer’s checklist nowadays.
The first time through you’ll play the game’s Story Mode. All these levels have you in control of Indy and a compatriot character. This secondary, playable character is always essential to each level in some way. Whether it’s Marion, Short Round, Willie, or Henry Jones Sr., they all pack one special ability to help solve puzzles and traverse tricky environmental obstacles. Sometimes these abilities come off as a clever homage to the movies, while at other times they seem like unnecessary additions. For example, Willie (from the Temple of Doom) can shatter glass (revealing key items and treasures), an obvious reflection of her loud, ditzy, on-screen personality. However, Marion (from Raiders) simply jumps higher than Indy. This leads to you constantly switching between her and Indy just to climb to get on top of a ledge. Why not just allow Indy to jump higher in the first place?
There is always the option to insert another controller and let your friend play as the other character, but if you’re playing solo, then it’s up to the A.I. to control them. The intelligence quotient of your computer-controlled friend comes off as uneven; it seems to run at two extremes – when it’s smart, it shows, but it can be extremely stupid as well. As an example of the former, your computer-controlled friend can traverse pits and kill snakes to help you stand on a switch – a respectable, heroic moment. However, on numerous occasions you’ll find your A.I. buddy not helping you in a fight or repeatedly jumping into a pit, dying over and over again.
Each level in Original Adventures is a series of puzzle rooms. There is always a piece of machinery in dire need of repair, a buried key, or a series of levers that need to be pulled. Most of the time, these puzzles are easy to figure out – for example, you may just need to get both characters to stand on a switch. At other times, they can be mildly confusing – a key may be hidden in the level, but the only way to find it is to literally bash every Lego-like object until you find it. Speaking of bashing objects, anytime you destroy anything made out of Legos you’re rewarded with gems. These can be used later on to purchase unlockables like extra characters. During the level, your treasure supply will rack up quite quickly and the only thing that causes a loss of hard earned Lego gems is death – instead of giving you a set number of lives, the game deducts from your overall gem score (however, even if you have zero gems you can’t die). The way death is handled is forgiving – if, for instance, you fall in a pit, instead of a spawning you at the beginning of the screen, the game merely plops you back near the start of your jump for a second try.
Once the game gets outside the puzzle and platforming aspects and moves more in the direction of pure action, things take a noticeable stumble. Fighting is a pure button mashing affair and just doesn’t come across very well. Aside from spotty punches, you can use your whip and an assortment of other items like shovels, guns, and swords, but they really don’t mix up things much – you still just repeatedly press the attack button. Trying to use projectile-based weapons isn’t easy – there’s no auto-target button so you have to line up each and every shot. This wouldn’t be so bad if the computer seemed to follow the same rules – it’s frustrating to see common bad guys shoot you with pin-point accuracy from across the screen.
The fruits of your gem collecting efforts can be seen at anytime by returning to Indy’s teaching post – Barnett College. Here you can buy new characters and replay cinematics as well as accessing three hub screens corresponding to each one of the movies. This is a welcome feature, as it allows you to jump from levels inspired by Raiders to ones from the Last Crusade at any time – you aren’t punished for not completing all of one adventure before moving on to the next one.
From a visual standpoint the game does a good job of depicting its Lego source material. Anything Lego-based (whether it’s characters, cars, or a simple plant) has a great look. However, backgrounds and other textured objects lack the same attention to detail and are just placeholders to keep the environments from being completely dominated by Legos. The PlayStation 2 version has noticeable framerate dips that occur from time-to-time but they thankfully don’t last more than a few seconds. The score and sound effects do a great job of recreating their film counterparts.
Traveller’s Tales is still very much inside its Lego comfort zone, and that’s not a bad thing – fans of their previous games will find a lot to like here. Those that think the Lego formula needs some reinvention won’t be as satisfied – the developers are obviously playing it safe. Still, the game is an enjoyable romp and does an admirable job paying tribute to its source material.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.7 Graphics
The Lego characters have charm, but most of the environments lack detail. 3.5 Control
Platforming works well enough – although there is the occasional missed jump. Combat is a mess and too simplistic for its own good. 4.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Music and effects are translated faithfully from their film counterparts. The unique, near-silent style of voice acting works rather well and comes off as genuinely funny. 3.7 Play Value
Co-op play is where it’s at – playing through the main quest solo just isn’t as fun. The in-game secrets and massive amount of collectibles will encourage “complete-ists” to keep playing. 3.8 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.