Disney Interactive Studios
Not all the Lego game franchises are created equal.
Lego Pirates of the Caribbean came out last week, the fifth major entertainment franchise to be reenacted in a videogame with colorful plastic blocks. Half of the game's intended audience was interested to see if it'd be fun to swing around as Lego Jack Sparrow, breaking Lego Davy Jones and Lego Barbossa into pieces and making their lives a living (or undead) hell. The rest, like me, were just hoping the game could somehow make the plots of the second and third films comprehensible.
Through six years and eight games, developer Traveler's Tales has been plying its simple Lego formula to fantastic effect: Let players wander through the plots of popular movies, smashing everything in site and collecting Lego studs to unlock new characters to play. Nobody utters a word, but toss in a dash of generally hilarious silent sight gags (Imperial Stormtroopers in the hot tub, Gringott's goblins busting a move under the mirror ball) et voilà! A license to print gold Lego bricks.
Of course, not all the Lego game franchises are created equal. Frankly, some have fared far better than others. While we're waiting for Lego Jack Sparrow to finish his search for the Lego Fountain of Youth, let's rank 'em up in order of their general awesomeness.
Sorry, Star Wars fans: The Boy Wizard's Lego adventure is better the one set in a galaxy far, far away. Harry's battle with Voldemort was just heating up when this game dropped, but it managed to capture all the magic of J.K. Rowling's Hogwarts universe.
Just like the Lego Star Wars characters who use the Force to create useful, puzzle-solving objects out of Lego scraps, it makes sense for those with wands to playfully vandalize the shops in Diagon Alley and hurl goblins around Gringott's Bank. The best spell was the great RPG structure that had your lil' Lego Hogwarts students taking classes to learn new abilities that then let them explore previously inaccessible parts of each level. Now that the last movie is wrapping up in a few months, it'll be interesting to see if the developers try to Lego-ize the other four films in the series. Good luck creating a humorous and sunny Lego vibe out of the Deathly Hallows.
Let's get something out of the way right up front: The storyline and characters in movies 4-6 are better than the ones in movies 1-3. This is not debatable, and it's a theorem that also extends to the Lego videogames, which made the mistake of leading off with a game featuring Lego Jar Jar Binks (in the 2005 PlayStation 2) instead of one featuring Lego R2-D2. (We'll overlook the fact that Lego Star Wars also came out before Episode III even hit theaters, giving away major plot points).
The Lego Star Wars series gets credit for pioneering the series' core gameplay concept, a mix of fun and action that appeals to both kids and adults. It also gets credit for introducing one of the Lego videogames' long-running foibles: Puzzles with frustratingly obtuse solutions. That extends to the otherwise awesome Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars, which still leaves you wondering how to destroy those infernal gold bricks. Or, sometimes, what to do next.
Stephen Spielberg's movie series helped cement Harrison Ford's status as an A-list action star in part because it was jam-packed with jaw-dropping cinematic sequences. That and the some of the best sight gags ever lend Indy's games, especially the open-world Adventure Continues, a sense of joyful adventure.
But then there are the missteps, like a pile of hissing snakes. Why does it always have to be snakes?
Problem one. Indy's signature weapon is a whip, and whips, unlike, say, light sabers, are notoriously ineffective at beating back bullets. Dodging the constant rain of gunfire from goons and Nazi sympathizers so you can get close enough to whip it good leads to a lot of unnecessary and annoying death.
Problem two. Outside of Indy -- and maybe Sean Connery's Indiana Senior -- can you name another single character from this series? Too bad, because you're going to be stuck playing these faceless nobodys when it's time to use the characters' special abilities to solve puzzles. Problem three iss woeful AI: If you were playing the game solo, your AI Lego pal was as likely to fall off the nearest ledge (costing you precious Lego studs) as pull a lever and help move the action along.
Bats isn't exactly known as the Steve Carell of the office party -- there's a reason why his villains always overshadow him, in the comics, in the movies, and in this Lego videogame. Being able to play levels as Catwoman and Mr. Freeze (and use their entertaining powers) is what really drives the Batmobile here. Otherwise, Traveler's Tales' trademark sense of humor is totally absent, the difficult puzzles will stop you dead in your tracks, and the all-but-useless AI companions will make you want to eat a batarang. Three deadly blows drop the Caped Crusader to the bottom of the Lego pile.