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Gamer Tuesday

May 17, 2011

Pap the Disney Gamer's Higlights: Pirates Week Special: LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game
Developed by: Traveler's Tales
System: Wii, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PSP, 3DS, DS

In just a few short years, Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean went from being a very popular theme park attraction to a worldwide phenomenon, all thanks to the release of 2003's "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl," directed by Gore Verbinski and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. Thanks to a story rich in pirate lore mixed with the amazing Academy Award nominated talents of Jonny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, a haunting musical score and amazing special effects, the film went on to become one of the biggest surprises of the summer, leading to three additional movies ("Dead Man's Chest," "At World's End," and "On Stranger Tides," which premieres this Friday in theaters nationwide and in 3D) and a presence in Disney's already expanded world of magic, fairies, and princesses. So it comes as no surprise that in order to capitalize on the popularity of the film series, as well as hype up the release of the new movie, Disney interactive has teamed up with Traveler's Tales in order to bring us LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean.

But before I begin to talk about the game, let's go back to 2005. The LEGO company came up with an unique idea: they decided to make video games based off of their famous licensed block sets. These sets are known for being based off of a famous franchise, letting children (and adults, of course) build their own vehicles and sets from the series. The first film franchise to receive this LEGO video game treatment? Star Wars. Starting with the prequel films (as a way to commemorate the release of "Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith" and the culmination of the prequel trilogy), the tongue in cheek humor combines with the fascinating lore of the Star Wars franchise made the game one of the most interesting releases of that year. It was so successful critically and commercially that a sequel, LEGO Star Wars II (which chronicled the original trilogy), was released the following year.

Soon enough, they decided to turn other film franchises into LEGO video games. Indiana Jones, Batman, and Harry Potter soon joined the ranks of the LEGO elite. As I stated at the start of the article, with all the hype surrounding "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," it was now the Pirates franchise's turn to be LEGO-fied.

For those not in the know, the gameplay behind the LEGO series is very simple. They are platforming adventure games with a strong emphasis on puzzle solving and co-op mechanics. That means that you will be trying to solve an environmental puzzle while battling other baddies in order to complete the level and move onto the next segment. A second player can join in at any time allowing each player to help each other out in the completion of puzzles and collecting items.

LEGO Pirates retains these mechanics, adding to it some enhancements based off of the mythos of the Pirates series. For example, as Captain Jack Sparrow you can use his compass in order to find hidden objects. There are many other playable characters as well including Will Turner, Elizabeth Swan, Captain Barbossa, and many, MANY more (each of which has their own unique skills). This is important as the levels often have places that some characters can't reach or puzzles they can't solve on their own, but if players come back to the level with another character and use his or her special skill, another part of the level is discovered. This inspires the player to go back and replay the levels in order to obtain all of the collectibles. But really, it's just fun to play as many of the characters. Heck, you can even play as the famous guard dog that holds the key from both the ride and films!

The gameplay design is one that is very easy to understand and enjoy while still retaining a moderate level of challenge that everyone from hardcore gamers to young fans can fully grasp and enjoy. Your character doesn't die, but you will lose a good chunk of you have collected.

Speaking of which, one of the biggest ideas behind the game is the collection of items. All of the levels in LEGO Pirates are filled with lots of goodies and objects to find. Everything is added towards your score, so that's why not dying is important: if you do, you will lose a great deal of the stuff you worked so hard to obtain.

Knowing where the LEGO series originated from, it uses the concept of building stuff as a gameplay mechanic. Often you will run onto various LEGO blocks lying on the floor. If you stand right besides them, you can put them together in order to solve a puzzle or move forward. It is a very neat idea that celebrates the toy franchise's mission towards imagination through creation.

But easily the biggest appeal of the LEGO series is how it is all an affectionate parody that pays tribute to the film it is based on. What that means is that the LEGO games will often loyally follow the plot of the movies right down to the smallest detail, all while spoofing some of its quirks and nuisances. LEGO Pirates follows the plot of all four movies, recreating each chapter from beginning to end. For example, Jack Sparrow's famous introduction from "Curse of the Black Pearl" has been presented here, but in a very amusing LEGO way. In the movie, Jack salutes hanging corpses, indicating to the audience that this is a very dangerous, cruel world of piracy. In the game, however, not only are these pirates alive and well, they are very happy and wave back to Jack.

Even some of the darker scenes, like Jack's charge into the Kraken at the end of "Dead Man's Chest" as it swallows the ship, is spoofed upon by having Jack run in with a toothbrush and brush the Kraken's teeth. While it may seem that the LEGO games are insulting the film franchise they base their games on, it is all done in good fun. In fact, it does a fantastic job of celebrating the film franchise.

This is done through various means. One of the most compelling is the music. Rather than creating new melodies for the games, the developers actually use the film's original score by Hans Zimmer and places it on top of the game. So not only do you have a story that follows the plot of the film series well, it does so by incorporating the iconic score as well. The very famous and iconic "You are a pirate" melody is present and placed upon many of the action sequences.

The characters are presented as LEGO men, and even though they don't speak, the grunts and pantomime capture the emotion of the scenes very well, while being very cute and charming to boot. LEGO Jack Sparrow, in particular, is very loyal to Johnny Depp's portrayal of the character, right down to the little swagger in his walk and reluctance to cooperate on various scenes. Even his grunts sound like they were done by Mr. Depp himself!

So that's why despite there being over ten games in the LEGO video game series (not counting original LEGO titles) with very little change in mechanics in between releases they have been very successful with players and critics: anyone, regardless of level of skill, can play this game and have a fun time by either themselves or with a friend or family member. Add to this a grand feeling of nostalgia caused by the presence of a great film series and it's no wonder that the LEGO games keep on selling.

I am happy to report that LEGO Pirates is not an exception to the rule. The fun and excitement of the film series is perfectly captured in LEGO while injecting a great dose of humor and silliness. Even if you have played the previous games in the series I recommend you to check out this game.



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