Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, PS2, Wii, PC, PSP, DC; Traveller’s Tales, LucasArts; 2008; 7+, Everyone 10+
I love the Indiana Jones movies. More than Star Wars, even. So no one could have been more excited than me that Traveller’s Tales were bringing their Lego adventure magic to the Spielberg trilogy. It’s one of those games that’s simple to pick up, and perfect for times when you don’t feel like committing to anything too serious. As for whether it’s Canon material, read on. [NB Canon fodder is a category covering games not included in the Rough Guide to Videogames canon. This might be because a game didn’t quite make the grade, or it simply didn’t exist at the time at the time of writing, or both.]
How’s it work?
Anyone familiar with the Lego Star Wars games will be right at home; if not, then it doesn’t take long to familiarize yourself. First of all, you play through the stories of the first three films, each divided into six chapters, with the characters of Indy (in various disguises) and whichever sidekick is relevant to the scene. If you’re playing alone, your companion will be AI-controlled; if you’re playing with another person co-operatively, you’ll take a character each. The excitement comes from the action – solving mysteries (puzzles in this case), punching and shooting, chasing and being chased by the bad guys – that takes place in disparate settings around the globe, accompanied by the familiar John Williams score. But since these are Lego models rather than highly paid actors, violent interactions result in an explosion of bricks rather than blood, and there’s no dialogue either. The story is conveyed through silent cut scenes, and expressive grunting and facial expressions (“drawn” onto the plastic) that cleverly mimic the original actors. Individual character animations are just as perfectly judged, for example, Willie from Temple of Doom, Indy’s most feeble of female sidekicks, has a punch as strong as any character, but it’s followed by some ineffectual slapping motions; Indy waves him arms in inimitable style to balance himself as he jumps. These details are so cleverly observed, they don’t get tiresome however often you see them.
What do you actually do?
The large environments reflect those of the films in Lego form, albeit altered for gameplay reasons. So as well as being atmospheric they’re always partly destructible, whether in the jungle or the snow, in the Middle Eastern desert or a Shanghai nightclub. You’re not just fighting your way through to the end of each chapter, either, but picking up and moving items to solve puzzles, mending machinery, entering buildings, swinging on vines (or use Indy’s whip) across ravines, driving trucks and motorbikes. There’s no equivalent of the space battles in the Star Wars game though.
The baddies aren’t specifically Nazis, unsurprisingly – so no, there isn’t a Lego Mr Bronson from Grange Hill. Whatever their motivation, they tend to arrive in waves, heavily armed, unlike the majority of characters (you need to snatch up their guns to use them). Smashing the enemy’s only part of it, as you have to destroy lots of the structures onscreen to uncover items to build from Lego pieces, find treasure chests, and amass a pot of studs (aka cash) to buy extra characters and additions like disguises or improved digging and building skills.
Even for fans of the films, it’s the Free Play mode that opens up after you’ve played the story chapters that’s the most fun. Here, you run through the same scenarios minus the plot, with the ability to swap different characters in and out; it’s only through doing this that you can retrieve all of the hidden items. For instance, most of the characters can’t enter the low-down crawl spaces dotted around; swap to Short Round and you can wriggle in to gain access to new areas. The bigger characters have their own attributes: female characteres jump higher, some come with a shovel for digging stuff up; others with a spanner (wrench) for fixing cars and the like; Dr Jones Senior and Elsa have a handy code book to decipher hieroglyphics; and Indy has a whip but refuses to go anywhere near snakes. Perhaps one of the most useful is a Bazooka soldier from the German hideout in The Last Crusade, who will happily turn up and blast to smithereens the scenery of the earlier films.
Canon or not?
Any doubts then aren’t about the story, the silly tongue-in-cheek humour, or the characters. Just about the difficulty of some of the jumping, which shouldn’t really be so tricky. It’s not disastrous, as you don’t have to replay anything on dying, just lose lose studs, but it can be demoralizing losing thousands thanks to the fact the camera is fixed but for a few degrees in either direction. Sometimes you have to make a jump at the back of the scene, so to speak, and it’s impossible to judge where to aim your little Indy; even worse, your partner might move unexpectedly, which shifts the camera angle. It is possible to get the jumps right eventually, through a process of trial and error. On the other hand, death is unavoidable if one character is at the edge of a chasm when the other one wanders off in the direction of the drop; the first character, trying to follow, will plunge shrieking to her death over and over till the other one comes back for you.
It may sound like a petty complaint, but it’s intensely frustrating to watch your stud count drain away because you have to try and make a jump several times. It would be a bit mean to say it wasn’t canon simply on that basis, but there’s also the fact that as a two-player game, the sidekick can feel a bit unimportant, these stories not having a persistent ensemble cast like Star Wars. Then again, in Free Play you can both be Indiana Jones. In the end, while it may not quite make the canon grade, it’s nonetheless eminently worth playing.