Developer: Traveller's Tales
Release Date: June 3, 2008
After seeing the Indiana Jones formula emulated in such a serious, grown-up way (and subsequently run into the ground) by Core Design's Tomb Raider series, it's sort of odd seeing it redone in the LEGO style, with kid-oriented trappings, Charlie-Brown-esque mumbly charaded dialogue, and a brand of silliness that Dr. Jones, Jr., himself rarely entertains. Based solely on the stylized, theme-appropriate visuals and the excellent score by John Williams, LEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures would rank fairly high. However, the static, uncooperative camera, frustrating platforming, sometimes tedious or unintuitive puzzles, and occasional instances of broken gameplay bring it down to being merely average.
The theme alone is enough to bring in quite a few players. Perhaps the only thing more iconic in American cinema than "Indiana Jones" is "Star Wars," and that's already been done. Others could be argued, but I don't think LEGO Citizen Kane would quite have the mass appeal that Traveller's Tales is trying to accomplish. LEGO Wizard of Oz, on the other hand, might be worth looking into (I'll expect royalty checks when you cash in on this).
Armed with the first three movies (no "Crystal Skull" here), TT set out to revamp the gameplay of LEGO Star Wars with 1940s adventurer flair. This included not only covering all the most memorable sequences from "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Temple of Doom," and "The Last Crusade," but also dialing down the amount of combat and retooling stages to emphasize what makes Indy who he is — a clever, globe-trotting puzzle-solver who thinks rather than relying on The Force to do his work for him. The catch is that, here, you have to do the thinking for him.
This makes for a different feel from previous LEGO games, for better or worse, but the heavy reliance on solving puzzles does slow things down. It also forces you to locate and depend upon objects in the environment to proceed, objects that can be destroyed or misplaced, and when that happens, it can become impossible to move on. For example, about halfway through the "Raiders of the Lost Ark" segment, I needed two blocks to put into the eyes of a makeshift sphinx. One got dropped and broke, but the other fit in just fine. I waited around for the broken one to respawn, even left the room and came back, and still it wasn't there. So I was stuck. It happened another way when I picked up a glyph translation book with the wrong character and was unable to hand it back to Indy, the one who needed it.
Sometimes the items or platforms you need to find are hidden behind objects that block your view, largely because the camera is stuck in place and can't be repositioned. For specific parts of the game like the boulder chase, the fixed camera makes sense and brings back memories of the earlier Crash Bandicoot games. But when you have to solve puzzle after puzzle and they rely on you being able to get a good look at your surroundings, the usefulness of this restrictive view breaks down considerably. It's not terrible, but it could be better, and implementation of things like foreground transparency would have helped in some situations.
The camera also becomes something of a hindrance in the multiplayer mode (offline only). Typical 3-D (or at least 2.5-D) brawler games have oft struggled with this, but generally restrict you both to a fixed amount of space. Indy has a habit of zooming out a bit, which, unless you're playing on a pretty big screen, can make details and items in the environment difficult to spot. It also doesn't help if your compadre decides to perpetually go in the opposite direction as you, but that's a separate issue. Most of the co-op camera issues could have been fixed by sharing the screen when you're close together, but if you walk too far apart, have the screen split to follow each character individually, similar to how War of the Monsters handled this problem.
Among the sidekicks and extra characters, there aren't nearly as many pivotal or interesting people to play as, compared to the wealth of stars in the Star Wars universe. Still, they fit similar roles; Sallah's shovel is required to unearth certain items, Short Round's small size allows him Anakin-like access to small shafts and passageways, the elder Jones' knack for translation opens up certain areas, and Willie's shriek can shatter glass. They all play their part, but aside from a couple of core characters, it's not all that fun to play as the multitude of extras. Just as in LEGO Star Wars, playing as a guy with a blaster and a wimpy jump isn't nearly as exciting as being the lead with a lightsaber (or whip) in one hand and the Force (wits and one-liners) in the other.
While co-op is nice and all, it's not nearly as cleverly used as it was in something like The Adventures of Cookie and Cream. That particular play style and viewpoint may not have suited the LEGO series, but the emphasis on puzzles in this outing kept making me want to reach for that game instead. Of course, whether you prefer rabbits or a whip-wielding ruffian is up to you.
One design element that seems to permeate the entire game (again, for better or worse) is that every area is jammed with places or sections you usually can't navigate or operate with the characters available the first time through. In my experience, it made for a lot of aimless wandering and time wasted trying to open a passage or lower a bridge or something, only to basically give up out of frustration and try going somewhere else. Sometimes it tells you who or what you need that's not with you to access or interact with something. Other times, they leave it entirely up to you to work out.
You wind up spending the bulk of your time with LEGO Indy trudging through the humdrum puzzle sections, grabbing ropes and pushing switches, all in the hopes of seeing another fancy set piece taken from the movies that may or may not be playable when you get to it. As I recall, in "Temple of Doom," right after escaping the club, our heroes didn't waste a half-hour rebuilding the car from scraps found around the environment.
Picking up said items can be hit or miss at times as well. At a few points, it's required that you obtain a disguise to fool guards into helping you. This involves picking up a hat and putting it on. Sounds simple, right? Try as I might, I kept having to force guards to respawn to fight again and again, walking over a hat and hitting the button, only to have nothing happen. Oh what's that? I was supposed to use some other character to pick up the hat? Illogical subtleties like this aren't usually clear until after you've died a few times, which raises another point: Combat is generally cheap and shallow.
In most instances, you can't avoid getting hit. There's no block (like deflecting shots in Star Wars) or grapple or sidestep to save your precious hearts. The game is designed so that you are guaranteed to take punishment and then skirt around trying to capture the little hearts that pop out of dead guys and replenish lost health. I guess that works well for the younger set (if they can sort out some of the more obtuse puzzles to get there), but it lacks the depth or complexity older players may desire. Just the fact that it's designed so that you essentially have to get hurt to proceed sounds flawed to me. Yes, you still get infinite lives at the expense of dropping LEGO studs, and once you learn spawn patterns and level layouts, it becomes less of a hassle. Thus, the apparent guiding idea here is that your first playthrough is supposed to be rough, but free play is a better time.
Given the number of unused buttons on the controller, it's unclear why "interact" and "switch characters" are mapped to the same one, which creates problems now and again. I'm trying to get into a car or boat, and rather than do that, I keep switching to someone else. The aiming for guns could also be better. With half my gang engaged in the melee, firing into the crowd hits your own crew as often as the opposition.
The rest of the AI behavior isn't elevating LEGO Indy, either. They get in the way when you're cruising around in a truck and wind up getting run over. They won't help you pick up LEGO pieces, which is still a mystery to me. Heck, Tails helped Sonic pick up rings on the Sega Genesis 15 years ago, and given that the collectibles here are used in largely the same way they were back then (contribute to end-level score, unlock features/abilities later, scatter all over when you get hit/die), it's unfortunate that your pals don't help you out.
Furthermore, they sometimes ignore a guy and take a few shots before realizing they should fight back. They wind up feeling more like luggage than friends, and are really only there as bullet magnets or for those moments when two switches need pushed at once. Unique abilities make them more useful at times, but only because Indy can't do it himself.
Another example of frustrating AI: I'm trying to maneuver a forklift with Indy on it so he can jump to higher areas, but the CPU will only jump him off where it sees fit. There's a chest up high that I want to grab, so I need Willie (the high jumper) on the forklift deck and someone else driving, but the AI won't accommodate this. I have to get out another controller, start up a second player, and hold a button on that controller with my pinky while trying to maneuver Willie hopping off the platform onto the roof. And of course, all this platforming is made more difficult by the camera, determined to park itself in the least helpful position.
However, several of these problems are minimized once you clear the Story mode version of a level and play it again under Free Play. The AI issues aren't as bad since you can change to one of several characters beyond those in your party on the fly. Switch to Willie to jump up to a high platform, then to Short Round to crawl through some ductwork, then to Indy to pull an out-of-reach lever with your whip. It's a lot easier getting around that way than depending on the other individual people to work as a team. Also, Free Play lets you bypass the cut scenes, which are unskippable in Story mode. The number of unlockables and things to collect added to the easier navigation of Free Play also give LEGO Indy decent replayability beyond the initial storylines.
Of course, the franchise's sense of humor returns as well, offering wacky antics and silly interactions above and beyond what the movies intended. But it's all in fun, and it's impossible not to crack a grin now and then, like when Elsa can't get the guys' attention at the start of "Last Crusade," chucks a lemon at Brody's head, and then runs toward them seductively in slow motion, in all her plastic LEGO glory. It helps to have seen the movies first, but it's not required, although knowing that you'll be looking for a big X on the floor of the library does get you looking in the right direction. However, Indy busting up the joint to collect LEGO pieces obviously only happened in this retelling of events.
What it boils down to is that if you've played any of the previous LEGO games, you know pretty well what you're getting into with LEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures. The shift in focus from combat to puzzles suits the theme, but it's somewhat marred in execution. I appreciate what the developers were trying to do, but a bit more polish really could have helped elevate this. It lacks the recent summer blockbuster from its roster, though it still seemed set to release alongside it. Perhaps a little more time in the development oven could have ironed out the last wrinkles and made it more solid and compelling. As it is, it's an OK title with lots of replay value for fans of the source material, but serious action junkies could probably get that itch scratched better elsewhere.
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