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Review: 'LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean'

The game recounts the first three movies and also includes the yet-to-be-released fourth film.
The game recounts the first three movies and also includes the yet-to-be-released fourth film.
  • Game has great humor and animation, appeal for all ages, and massive replayability
  • Each "Pirates" movie is broken down into five gaming levels
  • One drawback to the game is the two player co-op play

(CNN) -- "LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean" holds fast to the pirate code with great humor and animation, appeal for all ages and massive replayability after the main story mode is complete.

The latest LEGO block video game (Disney Interactive Studios, Traveller's Tales) recounts the first three movies in the popular series and also includes the yet-to-be-released fourth film, "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides."

The new movie is scheduled to debut on May 20 -- 10 days after the video game -- so you have been appropriately warned about spoilers. Each movie is broken down into five gaming levels.

This outing follows the typical LEGO game style with straight platform action involving sword fights, cannons and collecting "studs" -- single-connection LEGO blocks. Items can be smashed into smaller LEGO block components, and then collected for points or re-formed into another item that can be used in the game.

Players can use up to eight different characters on each level during story mode, but that can lead to a crowded screen. There were a few times when I couldn't see what item needed to be collected or got pushed off a narrow ledge because the five characters who were traveling with me all wanted to be in the same spot.

Matt Ellison, associate producer at Traveller's Tales Games, said 70 characters can be unlocked and bought throughout the entire game. Each character has a special ability that makes it unique from others, including Captain Jack Sparrow (portrayed in the films by Johnny Depp).

"Jack's compass is really different from anything else we've done (with LEGOs)," Ellison said. "It will point to things Jack can find and also helps point to things to solve puzzles in the game."

Ellison said the settings are as iconic as they could be and the team tried to put the LEGO spin on the movies. Since the films' characters are so well known, he said the team wanted to make sure to include little details to help players relate to each character.

For example, Captain Barbossa is often seen with an apple in his hand. And Jack's running style -- arms straight out, waving frantically -- is humorously well represented.

"A lot of time went into making sure we got Jack's running right, his character right," Ellison said.

The game play is all about exploring the vast scenes in each level. Puzzle clues and treasure are all over the place, waiting to be discovered.

"Eight collectibles in each level and 10 ships in a bottle can be found," Ellison said. "There is something always hidden to get."

While the story mode only took me about nine hours, I barely collected 40% of all the items that could be found.

Using Jack's compass helps discover the missing booty, but there are also sign postings to help players find key elements in the level. Since the scenes are so big, it would be easy to get lost or frustrated without those helpers.

Said Ellison: "The exploration game play ties into the ideology of 'Pirates of the Caribbean.' Plus we wanted to make a distinctive change of pace between the levels, so you are treasure hunting in one level, and then fighting foes in the next."

Even on ship levels, players will need to go up into the rigging or down into the ship's belly to find all they need to find. Ellison said each scene has to be solvable for all ages, and the game teaches you what to do and where to look as it goes along.

There are lengthy story-developing "cut scenes" and cinematics between the levels. The humor from the movies really shines in LEGO form, which uses its blocky medium to put interesting spins on the tale.

"The humor appeals to all ages. We took the iconic movie settings and twisted them slightly to make them funnier. Plus we took the same slapstick humor from the films and just made more of it."

As I said, the fourth movie is also included, so I was worried about spoiling my future enjoyment. Ellison smiled when asked about it but assured me that no details about the story line would be ruined.

"We will have some of the same locations but none of the dialogue (LEGO characters do not speak, only grunt). We do have some of the action from the movie, but it shouldn't ruin the film for anyone," he said.

If you remain concerned, then wait until after the movie comes out before playing the fourth level.

The one drawback to the game was the two-player co-op play. As in other LEGO video games, two people in the same room can drop in and out as separate characters and solve all the puzzles.

Unlike previous LEGO games, which forced the two characters to stay in the same screenshot, "LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean" actually splits the screen as the characters walk away from each other.

However, the split in the split screen moved around in relation to where the characters were on the level. As the characters got closer to each other, the scene slowly changed back to a single screen. It was difficult to focus on what my character was doing or where it was in the split-screen action.

My co-op player and I found it confusing and, at times, frustrating to figure out where we needed to go or what we needed to do unless we were on the same screen.

There was never a time where a puzzle needed to be solved in split-screen mode. After a while, it just gave me a headache. While I often lamented being kept in the same screen in previous LEGO co-op versions, the split-screen action as presented is not the solution I was looking for.

Once each level is completed in story mode, free play mode is unlocked, allowing you to use any of the characters you have available to solve puzzles that couldn't be previously figured out.

Those characters will also get you into previously unavailable areas. Finding all the collectibles and solving all the brain teasers will keep play going for many hours after the story mode is complete.

The game is also available for the Nintendo 3DS, but there are only 16 levels, and you can use only one character during each level. Ellison said the 3DS version is tailored to the single-player experience and everything can be solved by one character.

"LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean" is a fun spin on the blockbuster (pun intended) movies. It ramps up the humor from the films and offers plenty of action for players. Exploration is the key.

Overall, the game is lots of fun despite some playability glitches.

And following the adventures of Jack Sparrow ... I mean, Captain Jack Sparrow ... is worthy of any would-be pirate.

"LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean" is now available in the U.S. and, as of Friday, in Europe. It will be released May 19 in Australia.

It is available on the PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, Nintendo 3DS, and PSP. It is rated E10+ due to cartoon violence and comic mischief. This review was done playing on the Xbox 360 in story mode, co-op mode and free play.


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