With a theme-park ride, a Hollywood blockbuster hit, and building blocks, Pirates of the Caribbean is a franchise that has come a long way since the initial attraction opened in 1967. Disney has a fourth movie coming out in May, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, inspired by the book by Tim Powers. TT Games has been on a roll, tackling huge franchises like Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Harry Potter (we can only hope Lord of the Rings is in the future). It has also transformed these beloved tales into video games that are suitable for anyone to play. Lego Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game will cover the content across all four movies and will be familiar to anyone who's been playing the Lego games. However, TT Games' goal is to capture the essence of what makes a particular franchise special, and in the case of Pirates, it's all about buccaneering.
Due to the nature of the movies, the game will have an action-oriented approach with more of an emphasis on platforming than puzzle-solving this time around. Our demo was of the second movie, Dead Man's Chest, where we started off on the island in which Jack was captured by the natives and they were planning to eat him. You may remember the fight scene where Jack winds up in a wheel. In the game, Will is on his way to rescue Jack while rolling around in a makeshift hamster ball. There's a lot of rolling down the side of a mountain, avoiding traps, and figuring out what switches to hit to move forward. While you're busy playing roly-poly, crushing objects and all sorts of vegetation, you can see Jack running in the distance either being chased by the natives or vice versa. Even in the build's pre-alpha state, the view of the hilly island looked great and made us feel like we were on a tropical island with access to all the fun and colorful plastic building tools we needed to proceed.
We skipped ahead to another part of the island where we were able to see what it was like to go underwater. Your health meter turns blue and you have a limited amount of time before you need air, but from what we saw, we're looking forward to exploring the world beneath the waves to see what kind of treasure we'll find. The engine has been reworked since Harry Potter, so the lighting in certain areas really added to the atmosphere. This was particularly noticeable when we moved to the Flying Dutchman portion of the game where the ghost lighting established a spooky tone for the level and was quite different from other Lego areas we've seen. Undead characters can use portals that living characters can't, and if it's possible for Lego pieces to look gross, the pink tentacles wiggling around deck definitely came close.
You can play with more than 70 characters from the movies, including the undead, which come with special powers. Jack has a special ability where he can whip out the compass he acquired in the first movie; white footsteps will then appear and lead him to "what his heart desires." This usually means treasure marked with a bright red X. As mentioned, the focus of the game is more on platforming, primarily because pirates spend most of their time swinging on ropes to commandeer a ship, climbing masts to avoid getting caught, and walking the plank when things don't go their way. TT Games' goal was to have the characters be more dexterous and give them interesting pirate powers to use. Another new feature is that you have access to a crew of up to eight characters. Using the Y button (or triangle on the PlayStation 3), you'll be able to pull up a wheel that lets you easily manage your party. They aren't always onscreen with you, but we're guessing that there will be some commandeering involved at some point where we need some extra hands on deck.
Lego Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game will come out on almost every platform, including the Nintendo 3DS. This is the first time where the same game from the console versions can be experienced on a handheld. It's only a single-player experience, but it's the exact same one, with the exception of a few tweaks to make it more portable. For example, the story levels are split into smaller chunks for easy pick-up-and-play options, and the street pass mode allows you to do random battles if you happen to pass by other players with street pass active. You pick a character and select your offensive and defensive order (high, low, medium), and the fights play out like rock-paper-scissors. These battles can be replayed later with animations, and depending on how you do, they will earn you coins, which you can then use to purchase characters that are only available via this mode. The 3D effects also work well, but we were told that eye fatigue was something that TT Games looked into extensively. What it discovered was that your eyes get tired when your characters move around in a 3D plane because you are making your eyes focus and then un-focus. What TT Games did instead was keep the ocular deck fixed on the character, so that what you're looking at will always remain fixed. Other things in the environment will also pop out, such as all the tiny Lego pieces that you collect and certain objects.
Lego Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game looks to be another solid entry in the library of Lego games, and we look forward to seeing more. We didn't get to see any funny cutscenes this time around, but we were told that the original score has been licensed, so you'll be able to get into the swashbuckling mood with its invigorating score. We'll be sure to see the game again before it ships sometime this May for the PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Nintendo DS, PSP, and 3DS.