LEGO Indiana Jones: Video Game Review

June 9, 2008


Successfully converting both Star Wars trilogies into LEGO form, Travellers Tales has turned its attention to Indiana Jones, employing the same quirky humor and block-busting gameplay that made its last project a fan favorite. Swinging through jungles, mountains, and lava-filled caves in search of the world’s most valuable treasures, Indy has always had trouble keeping one step ahead of the bad guys, but can he survive being transformed into a plastic plaything?
Just like the Star Wars titles, LEGO Indiana Jones avoids voice-overs and text bubbles in favor of pantomimes and muffled grunts. Some parts of the films have been censored a bit. Enemies are never identified as Nazis, and nobody gets their heart ripped out in the Temple of Doom. However, the characters’ plastic nature does allow for some rather cheery takes on decapitation. If you haven’t seen the films, you may not be entirely sure what’s going on, but fans are sure to recognize each scene and laugh out loud at the LEGO performances and subtle gags.

In a way, LEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures is like three smaller games in one. After completing the prologue to Raiders of the Lost Ark, you can pop into the hub at Barnett College to start another story line, unlock new characters, or mix and match LEGOs to create your own hero.

Each film is broken into six levels, lasting roughly 30 minutes each. It isn’t huge by any means, but its length is actually a strength since you can invite a friend to join in and play through a single story in an afternoon. Coop play is an important part of the game’s puzzles and structure, and while AI teammates do a fair job most of the time, it’s a lot more fun to share the experience with someone else. Unfortunately, while LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga introduced online play, Indy’s outing is completely limited to local multiplayer.

The levels are also chock-full of hidden extras that can only be gained through multiple plays. The first time you complete a chapter, you’ll be limited to the characters that fit the story, but later you can choose free play to select from a cast of 60 unlockable characters with groups of swappable allies that come along for the ride. Each character has special abilities that allow them to go where others cannot. Female characters can jump higher than the rest. Small fries like Short Round can crawl through tight tunnels, and many characters come equipped with items like shovels or grenades that might not be found in every stage.

If you’re looking for a one-time fix, Indy’s LEGO adventures can be completed pretty quickly. It’s a fun title to replay with friends, but unlocking characters isn’t as compelling as it was in the Star Wars games because there are only a few iconic roles from the Indiana Jones franchise. It will take some time for true adventurers to find all the hidden goodies, including extra stages in Barnett College and a playable Han Solo.

The LEGO-brand gameplay is light and simple so anyone can jump in and join the fun, mixing beat-em-up elements with platforming and puzzles. Indy’s whip is used throughout to pull levers, swing across gaps, and grab girls for a quick kiss, but it’s a bit slow and ineffective in combat, leaving you to rely more on other weapons or bare knuckles instead.

Playing into the blocky fun is the sheer amount of destruction you can cause. Virtually any item that’s built out of LEGOs can be smashed to bits, earning you countless studs used to buy new characters. You’ll also gather piles of blocks and use them to build up ladders, handholds, and vehicles to propel your quest forward.

An Indy game wouldn’t be complete without the films’ great action scenes and there are quite a few sequences to break up the hopping and punching action. You’ll outrun a giant LEGO boulder, fight the boxer on the dusty runway, hop across moving trucks to reach the ark, ride through the German countryside on motorcycles, and of course, ride mine carts through the lava-filled caverns of The Temple of Doom.

There are a few niggling problems that pop up throughout the game. The platforming is a bit loose as ledges have slippery sides, and the fixed perspective makes it hard to gauge some jumps. Plus, if you’re playing solo, AI partners don’t always go where you want, and they won’t help thin the horde since their attacks can only stun enemies. Overall, though, it’s a fun, simple, not-quite-mindless experience that lets you relive the movies or revel in smashing everything in sight.

The LEGO license really isn’t the kind of thing that benefits much from advanced lighting effects or high-res textures, and as such, you’ll get roughly the same experience from the Wii and PS2 versions as you will if you play it in 1080p on the PS3. The character designs do a great job of capturing the essence of each of the films’ figures, and you’re sure to chuckle when seeing LEGO Sean Connery or the painted-on cleavage of one of the leading ladies.

Travellers Tales has the look down, but the LEGO characters and objects are still placed in standard run-of-the mill backgrounds. If the developer continues to block-ify more popular franchises, it would be great to see them step out and create an entire world out of the plastic bricks.

Above all, this is a game for Indiana Jones fans. Half the fun of LEGO Indiana Jones lies in seeing the classics reborn in a form that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The gameplay is simple enough for anyone to pick up--making it a great title to play with friends or family—but those who go beyond casual will find it a little too simple. It’s another coat of paint slathered on the LEGO Star Wars template, but at least it’s a pretty color.