On LEGO Tides
The bricks are back, and this time it is Jack Sparrow and his motley crew that are getting the LEGO treatment. With past adventure franchises like Star Wars and Indiana Jones, it was only a matter of time before Pirates of the Caribbean were added to the ranks. Over seventy characters from across all three films, plus the soon to be released fourth film, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, will be making an appearance.
We recently sat in on a short demo presentation with TT Games to get a rundown on the latest additions in the LEGO series. With a significantly larger focus on pirates, TT Games wanted to bring out a few basic gameplay elements that were specific to the new theme. The first was something they called Buccaneering. This was their general term for the platforming elements of the game. Things like swinging from ropes, climbing up riggings, and even walking planks, will all be a part of the fundamental gameplay; but they also wanted to take things a step further.
Certain sections will be on what the developer called “LEGO rails,” which allow players to lock-on to specific areas for dueling, swinging from ledge to ledge, or executing a variety of other activities while remaining safe from the pitfalls of standard platforming. This sounds like a new addition that will certainly bring LEGO’s adventurous side to the forefront, and could make for some thrilling in-game sequences taken straight from the films.
Another new aspect to their pirate gameplay is called Pirate Powers. These are elements that are a bit less dexterous than Buccaneering, but are essentially a set of new abilities for a wide array of characters. One such feature will be used when accessing the newly expanded water areas of the game. Characters will now have to worry about maintaining their breath when searching sunken ships in underwater segments. Objects from the environment will prolong this experience, but undead characters will obviously be unaffected.
Jack Sparrow will also have a special ability to help with the progression of the game. His compass, which he finds in the film Dead Man’s Chest, remains true to the mythos of the story to reveal his true heart’s desire. This will grant the opportunity for players to locate additional treasures in the game or to help find the location of primary objectives. In addition to these added abilities, the developers have incorporated a new “crew” feature. This is basically a new way of swapping characters on the fly without needing to be in a close proximity, and can be done with up to a party of eight characters.
Lastly, they’ve also included the new element of Curses. These will primarily be featured to expand the free-play portion of the game. For example, the crew of The Flying Dutchmen will be able to access specific areas that are unreachable by normal means. This is due to their ability to become a part of particular areas within the ship, but they will also be hindered slightly because of their vulnerability to moonlight.
The main level we were shown was from the film Dead Man’s Chest, and gave a great sense of how they plan to implement a bit of quirky action into the story. Jack was among the natives on the island of Pelegosto, much like in the film, and it was up to Will Turner to come to his aid. The section kicked off with the two heroes in round vine cages, apparently after Will’s failed rescue attempt, as they proceeded to roll down various pathways in order to escape. They were, in essence, inside of giant hamster wheels; avoiding traps and tumbling debris, while attempting to outrun the natives. It was a quirky gameplay moment in a typical LEGO fashion, and was actually quite amusing.
The puzzles felt a bit more interesting as well. There was a moment when Jack and Will had to roll their cages inside giant turning wheels in order to move each other up to higher platforms. It seemed more complex than previous games, as there was a great deal of timing involved, in addition to an obvious need for communication between co-op partners.
Even though it was still an early build of the game, it looked promising. There was no music to accompany the gameplay, and many placeholder textures were still present. It was hard to get a general idea on the overall polish of the final product, but if their previous games are any indication, we should expect nothing less than a deeply fun and eccentric experience. LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game is targeting a delivery to coincide with the release of the fourth film, On Stranger Tides, which is expected this year in May 2011.
Walking the Plank
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
That may be a cliché, but it also seems to be the official motto for the LEGO videogame series. In the six years since the smash hit LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game, developer Traveller’s Tales has spent most of its energy repeating the formula with one movie after another. In the typical LEGO game, you play as LEGO versions of the main characters, exploring 3D LEGO environments based on scenes from the film. To break up the easy action/platformer gameplay, you watch cutscenes in which LEGO figurines act out events from the movie, usually with a whimsical twist. In addition to Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Batman, and Harry Potter have gotten the LEGO treatment.
In May of this year, Pirates of the Caribbean will join the list. Don’t expect any surprises: Going by the trailer and pre-release buzz, there will be a few tweaks to update the formula and make the action fit the franchise, but this is the same LEGO game you’ve been too grown-up to admit you love since 2005. You’ll be collecting studs, solving simple puzzles, fighting enemies with quirky personalities, and bringing shapeless piles of LEGOs to life. It’s a pretty safe bet that dying will cost you only a few studs.
Plot-wise, the game will cover all four Pirates movies — that’s right, including On Stranger Tides, which will come out the same month as the game — with five chapters for each movie plus some bonus sections. Starting at port towns, which serve as hubs, you’ll explore the Pirates world, including Tortuga Island.
Certainly, Traveller’s Tales hasn’t lost its sense of humor. The game’s trailer is a case study in how the developer gets laughs by juxtaposing the seriousness of Hollywood blockbusters with LEGOs. Jack Sparrow’s ship sails to epic music, approaching an island. He’s standing at the top the mast, and when he looks to his side, he sees three men hanging upside-down. Then the ship crashes into Port Royal, sending LEGO pieces flying as the hull explodes. Sparrow grabs hold of the mast as the rest of the ship is destroyed, and keeps hanging on as the mast drags along the ground, one LEGO piece breaking off at a time. That’s just enough to cushion his fall — he lands, laughs, and walks away. You just know he’s seconds away from getting into trouble, but probably a much lighter and funnier kind of trouble than we see from his film incarnation.
The game will be released on all platforms, but naturally, the trailer appears to come from a current-generation console. The graphics are up to the series’ standards, with realistic landscapes mingling with lifelike, impeccably well-drawn LEGO items. It’s the world of every child’s imagination brought to life, a world where toys are living, breathing characters and everything around them is exotic and exciting.
To solve puzzles and kill enemies, Jack Sparrow will have a sword for melee strikes and axes to throw at longer-range targets. In addition, he’ll have his trademark compass, which reveals secrets, as well as a barrel that allows him to explore underwater. In the unlikely event you get stuck, a new hint system (a skull icon that appears near important areas) will help you out.
For those of you who are wondering whether your favorite features from past games will be included, here’s what’s been confirmed so far: There will be no online co-op or vehicle segments, but there will be local co-op and Pirates-appropriate animals for you to ride if the mood strikes you. There will also be a character creator, and you can re-play stages with characters you unlock to find new items. More than seventy characters from the Pirates series will make an appearance.
Our only significant worry is that most previous LEGO games came out long after the movies they were based on, giving the developers the time they need to create a polished product. Pirates has a hard deadline to hit. The early signs are that this hasn’t affected quality, and by this point Traveller’s Tales could make a LEGO game in their sleep, but movie games have a bad reputation for a reason, so we’re maintaining a healthy dose of skepticism.
Even if the game doesn’t turn out well, or if Pirates of the Caribbean just isn’t your thing, don’t worry: A new LEGO Star Wars game will come out this year as well (it’s based on the Clone Wars animated series, and it’s due next month). Also, Pirates is the first Disney franchise Traveller’s Tales has LEGO-ified, which opens to the door to a whole world of adaptable movies. Pirates won’t be the end of the LEGO franchise, but hopefully it’ll be a worthy entry in the series.