In this multi-part article on Digital Distribution, we will explore various aspects of the digital distribution model along with successes, failures and speculate on the future of this model based on current and past trends. This series will be primarily aimed at video gaming and media such as film and television.
Every journey begins with a first step. In the first of several articles on Digital Distribution, we will start with documenting an understanding about what Digital Distribution is – using today’s real world examples. We will try to keep the hyperbole and conjecture to a minimum. Read more
Is anyone else getting tired of “Lego” themed games? I mean, I understand the IP and I get what they are trying to do with it; making family friendly skinned platformer/adventure games using safe, bloodless, no-way-to-lose themes like Legos.
I get it. Maybe if we weren’t whoring version after version in the SAME IP space over and over again – maybe I would be more tolerant. But it seems we have to have a Lego version of not just ONE Pirates of the Caribbean or Indiana Jones or Star Wars – but each movie PLUS a “greatest hits” version for each one too.
Based on the above, I wasn’t all that interested in “Lego Pirates of the Caribbean – The Video Game” – but we all know that 3DS software has been a bit anemic so far, and I wanted something new to play.
Let me start off by saying if what you want is a less Lego and more “pure” Pirates of the Caribbean experience – albeit in 2D – I seriously recommend the Nintendo DS platformer versions of Pirates of the Caribbean (Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End). The first one is exceptional – and while the latter one is pleasant enough, they changed up the formula a bit and it wasn’t kind to the game IMHO. They are native Nintendo DS games, so they may not look as pretty, but they are representative of some of the finest platformers on the DS family.
But enough digression … how does the latest Lego engine matched with the Pirates IP fare?
For those unfamiliar with the Lego family of games – let me give you a quick overview. Those comfortable in the Lego world may skip ahead.
As mentioned above, Lego games take more serious IPs like Star Wars, Indiana Jones, etc. and model them into the Lego world as adventure/platformers. The games often take minor liberties with the storylines and add a little more humor and quirkiness into the game and its missions. They also remove some of the stumbling blocks to making the games more casual-friendly; for example, while you “die” in the games (you have a health meter), there is really no penalty for it. You spawn back to life and carry on. Sometimes you could be moved back to a previous “checkpoint”, but overall – there is no way to really “screw up”. Eventually, everybody wins; and for some gamers that is a huge turn off.
However, Lego games are more about experiencing the storyline and finding all the hidden stuff littered throughout the game. Hidden rooms/areas, hidden objects/collectibles – some locked away behind places you cannot get to until you replay the level with some other character – offer the more story-driven game the replay value it needs.
Regardless of the IP represented in the Lego game, these standards are pretty much upheld – offering a consistency across the Lego game universe. You know what you’re getting going in – regardless of platform or IP – love it or hate it.
That being said, Pirates of the Caribbean – The Video Game (from this point on known as “POTC”) falls into the “greatest hits” Lego game meaning that the game covers the first three films of the Pirates series as well as dabbling briefly into the new fourth film coming out this summer.
The game begins (and continues) telling the story via cut scenes (thankfully – SKIPPABLE cut scenes; an offer not afforded on the Wii version of the game – just hit the START button during playback) where you take on the action at various scenes of the films. You’ll start off in the blacksmith’s shop at the beginning as the Orlando Bloom character – trying to awaken the smith and get a sword made. As you know from the movie, Captain Jack Sparrow eventually shows up and you will have to fight him. During the initial combat with Captain Jack, you’ll use on-screen “quick time events” (QTEs) to progress. This lends to the drama of the scene – and fortunately combat resumes to standard button mashing later on.
During each scene, you will engage in combat and solve basic puzzles. Puzzles range from simply figuring out how to get from A to B by rebuilding Lego structures (or destroying an existing one first and harvesting its pieces) all the way to gaining control of on-screen non-player characters like dogs and parrots and using them to assist you. There are gears and pulleys, pressure plates, explosives and more to align to progress through each level.
Almost all scenes have “something extra” outside the normal mission parameters to accomplish – normally in the way of gathering “collectible” items, uncovering hidden coins (coins are the means of currency across all Lego games) or performing alternative tasks for some other gain. Some “areas” of a scene may be off-limits to the character(s) currently at your disposal. These “locked” areas are what keep you coming back to play the level again later – after you’ve unlocked another player character that can fullfill the requirements. Jack Sparrow also has a “magic compass” that will show you where some hidden items are.
As you adventure, you’ll pick up new party members based on the film’s cast and availability during that scene. As you get new players, you get new “abilities” needed for upcoming puzzles. The game will make sure you know who is needed for what challenge – so if you’re worried about having to figure that out for yourself, don’t be concerned. When you move near the objective, the player required will flash on the bottom screen and you will use the L / R shoulder buttons to toggle through them. What I find COMPLETELY annoying is that you cannot just touch the character on the touch screen. What’s …. THAT all about? I’m cool with being able to do it with buttons, but why not allow both?
Your character has a “health” meter, which as always in Lego games seems pointless – since you just keep respawing after death with no penalty. Falling off the edge of a large drop will kill you outright and a hit from a guard’s weapon will deduct damage. Players appear to have different skills – Jack Sparrow is a better sword fighter than any of the other characters I’ve unlocked so far.
Folks – it’s a Lego game – you know what you’re getting in game play (for the most part). What we will focus on next is the 3DS implementation.
How Does It Look?
Visually speaking, POTC is a visual treat for your 3DS – in either 2D or 3D mode. The game was created really to be played in 3D and you’ll find something missing from the ambience. The 3D is never gratuitous or overbearing and simply adds to the depth of the game you’re playing. Quite handy for the 3D jumps you’ll be making throughout the game. Funny how much better it looks than the Wii version.
You will find some very minor frame rate issues in a couple of levels. The game never stops or stutters, but you can definitely tell the framerate takes a hit. Fortunately the issues are far and few between. Still, it would be irresponsible to not mention it.
The engine itself is very well done. Rarely do you see any issues of getting stuck on the geometry, seeing things stick through other objects, bleed through, object tearing or other such typical “new engine” issues. It is much appreciated when they maintain the illusion of the game.
The advanced lighting functionality of the 3DS really shines in this game and it is worth noting when comparing it to the Wii or DS version – lighting makes a difference. It is a very nice show-off game.
The rendered cut scenes look fantastic – again, far better than the Wii edition (which uses the engine to render the cut scenes). They are skippable too – which is always great. It must’ve been overall cheaper to use a bigger cartridge for video clips than to spend the man hours creating the cut scenes with the engine.
How Does It Sound?
Everything is here you would expect – the ripping POTC movie theme music, the swashbuckling sounds of the sword fights, etc. The “Lego engine” sounds are all present and accounted for as well (building Legos, getting coins, etc).
The music loops noticeably at times if you spend long enough on a level. Not everyone notices things like that, but it stands out to me. It isn’t awful, but worth mentioning.
If I had any complaint about the audio presentation it would be the slightly quiet volume throughout. Playing it in a quiet room offers no resistance, but if you have anything else going on, you’ll probably need headphones.
Well, I’m still confused about something. Why is there any significant “load time” with a cartridge-based game? I understand “Loading …” with a DVD or CD or UMD. But what’s the deal on a handheld? The load times between levels on POTC are long; too long for a portable game system. Yes, yes the game looks and plays great – and some people are willing to wait. But 40 seconds at a time? That’s kind of crazy if you ask me – if I wanted those kinds of load times, I could play UMD games on my PSP. 🙂 These load times happen between each major level change.
Overall, this game is a solid addition to the 3DS line up. It looks and plays great, the 3D is worthwhile and it has very good replay potential. If you’re a big fan of the Lego universe, this is a no-brainer top-notch entry in the series. Even if you’re not, the slight change up in focus to more puzzle solving over action platforming might win you over.
As a bonus, you won’t be ashamed to show your console-playing friends your version of the game.