The formula seems simple: take a well-loved film franchise, populate it entirely with Lego versions of the characters, and have player progress through a simplified version of the plot that cranks up the self-deprecating humour. The main attraction? To collect Lego coins and discover secrets that unlock more content as you play. On paper, it sounds boring, or at the worst, childish.
Yet with the LEGO series of games, Traveller’s Tales have hit upon a successful formula that doesn’t only cater for children. Featuring addictive gameplay that’s surprisingly easy to get into, it appeals to both young and old. While I like to think that this is mostly because gamers, regardless of their age, are still kids at heart, a more likely cause is the fact that more and more gamers are entering their thirties, and want a game that both caters to their pastime, while still involving their kids.
Of course, it could simply be because the games are light-hearted adventures that turn out to be a lot of fun, especially when played with a friend.
LEGO Indiana Jones marks the fourth foray into the Lego universe for developer Traveller’s Tales, and while it makes a few innovations with regards to gameplay, it pretty much plays it safe and sticks to the conventions established in prior LEGO Star Wars games. As such, there’s not a lot that’s new to the franchise itself, but what is on offer is executed very well.
Taking inspiration from the classic Indiana Jones films (no Kingdom of the Crystal Skull here, folks), you play through Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Temple of Doom and The Last Crusade as Dr. Henry â€˜Indiana’ Jones Jr. and a wide variety of supporting characters stretching across all three films. Marion Ravenwood, Dr. Jones Sr., Sallah and many more are all make an appearance, pushing the nostalgia for the older films up to dangerous wistful levels (in my book, at least.)
As anyone who’s seen an Indy movie will know, Dr. Jones majored in kicking ass, since he’s undoubtedly the most resourceful and competent archeologist ever to practice in the field. The games retain the highly irreverent sense of humour from the films, quite often poking fun at itself (or the LEGO Star Wars games.) The plot is imparted by cutscenes mimed by plastic Lego characters. Since their range of expression is limited, most of the information comes from elaborate (yet uniformly funny) show and tell sequences. I should mention here that the stories have been largely tamed down from their film counterparts. There are no explicit references to the enemies in Raiders and Crusade being Nazi’s, and there’s definitely no gory scenes from Temple of Doom in the game.
For the most part, the game feels and plays like any of the LEGO Star Wars titles, sans lightsabres and force powers. Instead, Indy uses his trademark bullwhip to make do. While it can be used as a weapon, throwing enemies off balance or stealing their weapons from their grasp, it’s major use is to solve puzzles, often pulling distant objects closer, or providing a means to swing across a yawning chasm. Other than his whip, Indy wades in with his fists.
Weapons work a bit differently in this game as opposed to previous entries in the series. While each character in LEGO Star Wars had a permanent weapon assigned to them, this time around, it’s something you’ll have to pinch from the various enemies you fight. As such, the game has a very basic inventory system introduced, in which you can carry either a single weapon or item (the latter being either a spade, a wrench or a translation book) at a time. Additionally, the guns can run out of ammo. While I found this to be frustrating at first – I was firmly entrenched in the infinite ammo mindset of LEGO Star Wars – I quickly got used to it, and found the system to be an interesting addition. If nothing else, it makes certain puzzles a bit more cerebral, forcing you to figure out in which order you need to collect and carry items while still having the shovel handy to unearth buried treasure.
Another new gameplay element is that certain characters have phobias – for instance, Indiana fears snakes, while his father is terrified of rats. This renders the character a slow-moving nervous wreck for as long as the unwelcome fauna is in close proximity, forcing you to switch to another character that doesn’t share the same phobia. It creates yet another environmental puzzle when navigating the levels. At first I disliked it, but I found that, similiar to the inventory system, I gradually warmed up to the idea as I progressed through the levels.
The great strength of this game lies in the co-op mode, where you and a friend can team up and tackle the levels together. The fun increases exponentially, since it usually turns into a spirited team effort to defeat your enemies, while instantly switching to a frenzied â€˜every man for himself’ approach when it comes to collecting coins. When considering that each level can be played through twice – once in story mode, where you are restricted to plot appropriate characters, and again in free play, where you have a whole range of characters at your disposal – there’s a lot of replay value in the title. Like the Star Wars versions, there is an absolute plethora of unlockable content, so there’s definitely an incentive to play each level through at least twice.
Like any game based on a film with a John Williams score, the soundtrack is excellent. The familiar Raiders March – the signature theme of the series – appears in many variations. Each of the three episodes has the corresponding music from the appropriate film, and this is used to great effect when the game presents some of the most memorable action sequences from the film. Notably, the truck chase from Raiders of the Lost Ark, the mine cart chase from Temple of Doom and the desert battle with the tanks in The Last Crusade all feature as highly enjoyable setpieces for their respective episodes.
Graphically, the game looks very appealing. The engine is never really taxed by the graphics, but the textures – especially in the jungle levels – had a higher resolution than in previous games. The environments are filled with inventive Lego obstacles and bright colours, giving the game a friendly, welcoming feel from the start.
The biggest sin Lego Indiana Jones commits, in my opinion, is that the gameplay hasn’t really evolved much since the first LEGO Star Wars. While each iteration has added a few new mechanics, this game is essentially another reimagining of the first title. While Call of Duty 4 proved that a series constantly refining and perfecting its core gameplay over multiple releases can still be a top notch game, LEGO Indiana Jones doesn’t achieve that lofty standard of perfection. The new inventory system can sometimes cause frustration when you realize you’re in for a good bout of backtracking to go pick up a shovel or wrench, while the controls now make the characters â€˜stick’ against a wall if you press up against it. The idea is obviously to make it easier to navigate narrow ledges, but it tends to happen when you’re merely running around the level, or during frantic fights.
I also wonder at the lack of Xbox Live support. LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga featured co-op play over Live, and it was a fantastic addition. Frankly, the absence of the feature in this game is slightly baffling. Finally, the game continues the frustrating quality of sometimes respawning your character in a location where you immediately get killed again.
Taking all the above into account, LEGO Indiana Jones is an immensely enjoyable game. I’ve long said that the Lego video games are the best available to get a child, spouse or significant other hooked into gaming. It’s lighthearted and extremely fun, and the ability for another player to merely drop in (or out) with the press of a button makes it extremely accessible to young and old. The fantastic sense of humour also contributes to the fun. There are problems, but it’s not show-stopping bugs that completely destroy any sense of enjoyment. I’d heartily recommend it to fans of the LEGO Star Wars saga, as well as any Indiana Jones fans. As mentioned above, it’s also the perfect hook to get someone into gaming.
Gameplay: 7.5/10 (Enjoyable, yet slightly frustrating in some instances)
Presentation: 8/10 (It won’t win any awards, but the visuals are vibrant and inviting)
Sound: 8.5/10 (It’s the original soundtrack, so you won’t get more faithful than this)
Value: 7.5/10 (Co-op and unlockables entice you back, but it’s not on the same level as LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga)
Overall: 7.8/10 (An enjoyable and light-hearted Indiana Jones adventure. Great fun in co-op)
Better Than: LEGO Star Wars; LEGO Star Wars: The Original Trilogy
Not as good as: LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga
As a footnote, I’d just like to add that due to a miscommunication on my part, Philip was already well on his way with his own review for this game. As such, a tip of the proverbial hat to him for my mistake.
Last Updated: June 11, 2008