There is a long-running misconception in the gaming community that the Lego games are simply for kids. While this may have been the case for the first few installments in the series, developer Traveller’s Tales has constantly refined and improved its Lego-branded offerings to reach a wider audience. The latest entry, Lego Pirates of the Caribbean, is a further improvement over its predecessors, and one in which gamers of all ages will find something to love.
Fans of the series will immediately be impressed with the level of detail and authenticity shown for each movie. From the original Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl to the upcoming POTC: On Stranger Tides, all the films get represented in distinct story arcs split into five chapters each. The characters are rendered with outstanding animations — especially Johnny Depp’s incredibly eccentric Jack Sparrow. How the animators were able to capture so much of the caricatured nuance in Depp’s performance, and then transfer it into a super-simplified Lego minifigure is beyond me. As you control Jack, you’ll notice his arms flail with a slight flimsiness just like his big-screen counterpart. Animations during the cut-scenes are especially excellent, with gesticulating hands (or claws) and simple facial contortions conveying the mood each character had in the movie. It really is amazing how much these mute representations of plastic toys can emote without ever uttering more than a grunt of gibberish. Speaking of which, what little voice work there is depicting the movies’ dialog is quite good. Jack Sparrow’s occasional scream, as he haplessly falls into each perilous situation, is a spot-on impersonation of Depp himself.

Click the image above to check out all Lego Pirates of the Caribbean screens.
This is also, without a doubt, the prettiest and most graphically interesting of the Lego games yet. It only slightly beats out its predecessor, Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars in this respect, if only because much of that game was set aboard dull gray ships in space. Lego Pirates’ color spectrum is much wider, with contrasts of lush forests, tropical beaches, worn-out buildings, expansive ocean vistas and dank, dark caverns. The level of detail in the textures of all non-Lego materials is stunning and wouldn’t look out of place in a non-Lego game. Playing Lego Pirates of the Caribbean in high definition is a special treat indeed.

While there is quite a lot to like, there are also some downsides that can significantly impact the level of enjoyment you’ll have. As I played through the game’s four segments, it completely crashed twice; my character fell through the world into a blank white oblivion; and I got caught on too many pieces of invisible level geometry to count. I also encountered several bits of framerate slowdown whenever there was a lot of action on the screen — though it wasn’t frequent enough to be jarring.

More worrying than the occasional glitch though, I fear that some players may be off-put by the difficulty. While I appreciate Traveller’s Tales’ attempt to create a more broadly reaching game, there were times that I scratched my head in confusion at some of its puzzles. Level objectives are seldom pointed out — relying instead on the players’ patience with a trial-and-error approach. Some may simply throw their hands up in frustration before seeing the simple-but-nonetheless-obfuscated solution. Likewise, some platforming sections can be infuriating as your character sails past the surface for which you were aiming (landing on the game’s many narrow planks is overly hard, for instance), or simply refuses to ascend to the next rung of a climbable surface. Despite these flaws, I still think that the developers have fallen on the correct side of the fence between simplicity and difficulty. A few more context-sensitive clues and text prompts might be happily received in the next Lego outing though.

The run of Pirates of the Caribbean movies already leaned toward the darker side of the spectrum — especially for Disney — but have smartly kept enough comedic and adorable segments to be endearing to a wide swath of people. Like Star Wars and Indiana Jones before it, POTC fits perfectly into the Legoverse for just these reasons. For a game based on building-block toys based on a series of movies based on a theme park ride, Lego Pirates of the Caribbean is a somewhat unlikely conglomeration of ideas, but a very welcome one. Now, if only we could get a ride based on this game, then the circle would be complete.