Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Raider Of The Lost Block

Whenever I buy a gift for one of my many nieces or nephews, one toy jumps first to my mind. Lego, the colorful, interlocking, imagination encouraging, building block of any childs world. As a kid I built everything from spaceships to high rises, and as an adult I still feel the call from the Lego aisle every time I go to Target.
I would never imagine a videogame based on Lego building blocks to be enjoyable to anyone past the age of 9. Imagine my surprise when I found myself obsessively collecting studs and kit parts in both Lego Star Wars games. Striving for that 100 percent completion. Lego Star Wars played like reading a Harry Potter novel. You could always go that extra page, find that extra item. In fact, if there was one franchise, besides the upcoming Batman, that I would like to see get the Lego game treatment, It would be Harry Potter. I'll get to why in a bit. For now I want to talk about Lego Indiana Jones.
The fun factor of the Star Wars games put Lego Indiana Jones high on my radar. I knew it would be more of the same, but stud collecting has such a satisfying sound, that I was really looking forward to it. Plus, what guy doesn't want to be Indy? Cracking the whip, fighting nazis, solving puzzles. I only wonder why they really didn't do all that effectively in this game. Sure the elements are there, but the game is plagued by cheap hits, repetitive characters and bland unforgiving level design.
Lego Indiana Jones is not a bad game. As a matter of fact, it makes a great weekend rental as I played through the game in about 6 hours with about 60% collected and I enjoyed it. If 10 bucks an hour is your idea of the price of entertainment, then this game may even be a buy for you, but I couldn't imagine 100% collection in this game taking more than 12 hours, but there's really not 12 hours of enjoyment packed in the game.
I have no choice but to compare Lego Star Wars with Lego Indiana Jones as the game mechanics are so similar, but it's the differences in the two that really make the difference between a good game and a great game.
Let's start with characters first. Lego Star Wars had you collecting characters from the different movies, but all the characters had unique looks and personalities and sounds. From Ewoks to Jar Jar Binks, they were fun to collect.
Lego Indy has you collecting Thugee Cultists and Nazis and scholars and that's about it. Almost every character in the game plays identically and each type has a generic look.
Indy has a whip which he can use to swing, but instead of giving us a cool swinging like Spiderman level, the whip is used for little more than single swings.
Where films Indiana Jones uses his whip with deadly accuracy, the whip in the game is virtually useless against enemies, especially since most of them are shooting at you. The whip also shares a button with your building action and often gets you into more trouble than not.
The best character in the game is probably Willie from the second film. Not only do women jump higher, but Willie can also shatter glass obstacles with her voice as well as pick up dropped weapons like any other character.
Other character mechanics are, short characters can crawl through hatches, scholars can solve simple four tile memory puzzles and thugees can pray to statues to open hidden areas.
All combat is through fist, firearm or blade. This is where the game falls flattest. Most enemies carry firearms and fire at you from off screen leading to lots of cheap kills. It's true you can't truly die in the game, but that doesn't mean I want to be blown up by a bazooka from off camera each time I respawn. Arrow indicators pointing to off screen enemies, as many games do, would be a great addition.
One of the enjoyments in Lego Star Wars was using dark or light force powers in combat. It gave the game variety. Indy doesn't have that. This is also one of the reasons I think a Harry Potter Lego game would work (thought I forgot, huh) Interesting characters and creatures with unique abilities and magic. Huge bosses like the ogre, or a dragon and animal familiars. It would be a classic. Now back to Indy.
Cheap hits aren't the only killer in the game. Many of the jumping mechanics take such precision that it borders on frustrating. If a 40 something hardcore gamer is having trouble jumping to a platform because of a lousy camera angle, is a kid going to fare any better? (probably) Sometimes the difference between a successful jump was a fraction of a 16th of an inch one side or the other at an angle that made no sense for the jump to work. A miss may mean your character respawning and falling off the edge over and over till you happen to press the change character button just at the right time to stay alive.
Lego Star wars has you collecting ship parts or kits from each level to build the many iconic vehicle found in the movies. This ties back with building spaceships as a child. It's fun, and since we know what they look like we want to complete them. In Indy we collect artifact pieces. I don't care what they look like and I'm not truly motivated to find out.
There are also no exotic locations. You have a jungle, or a cave, or a desert camp and different varieties of the same. Many of the indoor locations don't have the same huge feel as the Star Wars games.
There were some interesting additions that were also underused such as the phobias. Indy is afraid of snakes and is ineffective when they are around, other characters fear spiders or rats. This could have been a great mechanic, but it was sorely underused and did not truly impact game play.
In one jungle location the game makes a point of telling you an elephant can grab items. Just out of reach bananas which can be used to trade for a crucial item, such as a key, with a monkey seems like an obvious item for an elephant to grab. After 10 minutes I discover I need to use my whip to grab the banana right from the edge of a one hit kill muddy swamp. Using the whip pushes you a bit forward so this lead to more frustrating deaths.
Don't get me started on vehicle control, no seriously don't. You're better off walking. Trust me. it's a shame they force you to drive. Nuff said.
So what was fun, you ask. Well, it's still a Lego game and has great humor and for the most part addictive gameplay, just not on the level with Star Wars. It's still fun to play through the movies, and when the game shows personality it rises above most. Like I said a great solid rental.
There are 5 Star Wars characters to find. I found R2, Threepio, Chewie and Luke. Finding all characters gives you the ability to play the game as Han Solo. Basically another guy with a gun, I'd prefer to play as Luke with his force powers, or how about a character from another Spielberg film? You're fighting nazis so how about Schindler or Private Ryan or Wild Bill Kelso from 1941? (that would be awesome) Even a young JG Ballard from Empire of the Sun. I'd also accept the Goonies or Freakazoid, but Han Solo? Ok, I get it. Harrison Ford, I'd prefer the Harrison from American Graffiti in his tricked out muscle car, but that's just me.
There is an additional level you can unlock to play as young Indiana, but I was not compelled enough to get the completion level necessary to unlock it.
If you're looking for a quick fun game, then put Lego Indiana Jones on your rental list. I'd even go so far to say if the game came down in price, it would be worth a buy. Just don't expect a lot out of it.
I'm holding out for Lego Batman as there are probably enough vehicles, gadgets and variety of villains to give Lego Star Wars a challenge.

Lego Indiana Jones was developed by Lucasarts and is available for the Wii, PS3 and Xbox 360 as well as Nintendo DS, PSP, PS2 and PC.

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