A while ago, Lucasarts and developer Traveller’s Tales hit upon a great equation: LEGOs + Star Wars – Cheesy Dialogue = Awesome. The games were fresh and funny, with affection for the source material yet a very dry sense of humor.
Hoping for more of the same great results, LEGO Indiana Jones has received a multiplatform release, and one of those platforms just happens to be the Nintendo DS. For those unfamiliar with the series, it follows the plot of the Indiana Jones movies, with the characters and environments represented in LEGOs. They split the movies into 6 levels, with each one chock full of surprises and a surprising amount of laughs.
So what’s the verdict? How does LEGO Indiana Jones stack up to its bigger console brethren? The answer, in short, is surprisingly well. It’s not going to supplant the other versions, but on the go it’ll do just fine.
One advantage that the LEGO games have is that you’re not expecting realism, meaning it’s not hard to make a character look like a LEGO character. Even by those standards, LEGO Indiana Jones manages to look pretty good. A lot of stuff can be happening on the screen at once, and the game never tries to do more than the DS can handle.
There’s the occasional graphical glitch, like some slight warping from time to time. A lot of the graphics can have some jagged edges as well, but that’s par for the course even in the best DS games. In other words, if you compare this to your shiny new version for the PS3 or 360, the graphics aren’t so hot. If you compare it side by side with other DS games, it looks good. Not amazing, but good.
The Indiana Jones theme is incredibly iconic. You’re probably humming it right now. Heck, I usually hum it when I do anything remotely agile, including reaching for the remote or pooping. Travellers Tales could have easily put the theme all over the game and called it a day. Instead, they showed remarkable restraint, and used a lot of other music from the series as well. It all sounds clear and sharp, and helps fit the mood for the levels as well.
The sound is pretty good too. It’s not amazing, but the explosions sound like explosions, the gunshots sound like gunshots, and the whip cracking sounds like a whip cracking. Just like LEGO Star Wars, there are no voice samples, but that didn’t really bug me. The sounds do their job, which is exactly what they need to do.
I wasn’t a huge fan of the touch-screen controls in LEGO Star Wars. They seemed a little tacked-on, and you could usually hold down the A button and accomplish the same tasks. This game is the same way, except they’ve given you a reason to use the touch screen. You can usually get some bonus studs (the game’s currency) when you use it, and there’s a lot more things to do with it now. Even if you don’t feel like using it, there are very few times where it’s totally necessary to use.
Dr. Henry Jones Jr. and his cohorts control very well most of the time, except for a few annoyances. For instance, one of Indiana is able to use his whip to disarm baddies. It’s supposed to automatically pick an enemy, but it doesn’t always hit the mark, which leads to you flailing you whip around while enemies shoot as you or hack you to bits. Also, your teammate can get in the way sometimes, which leads to you falling off a cliff or missing a jump. Fortunately, there’s virtually no penalty for dying, but it’s annoying.
Every level has a story mode and a free play mode. In story mode, you see cinematics (which are usually fairly amusing) and progress through the story with the characters that were actually in that part of the movie. Once you kill an enemy, you can purchase it in the store for a certain amount of studs. The rarer the enemy, the more studs it’s worth.
Free play is much more fun, as you can select any characters and go through the level. They each have their own skills that they can use, and if you have the computer automatically select for you it will pick the right characters for that mission. In free play, you’ll be able to reach rooms that you were unable to access before, and find secrets throughout the level.
This game is not as combat-focused as LEGO Star Wars was. LEGO Indiana Jones focuses more on puzzles, often asking you to traverse an area, pull a lever here, knock over this bookcase, and then proceed. I liked the puzzles for the most part, but some were kind of annoying. They usually show you where you need to go next, but over some of the bigger maps, there is some annoying backtracking.
One other caveat: Be prepared to sink a lot of time into the levels during Free Play mode. It can easily take an hour to complete a level while digging up all the secrets within. Sure, you can close the DS and come back to it later, but just be prepared.
I have one other problem, which stems from the fact that Indiana Jones’ characters aren’t as iconic as Star Wars. For instance, here’s a test. Which characters from Star Wars are droids? Easy enough, right? OK, now name which characters from Indiana Jones can use a shovel. Too hard? Therein lies the problem.
Indiana Jones isn’t remembered for its characters as much as it is for the locations and Indiana himself. Unfortunately, due the nature of the game, it has to put emphasis on the characters, which is somewhat disappointing. Unlocking more characters isn’t that exciting, and it’s supposed to be one of the things that drives the game forward.
Still, I’m nitpicking. Even for someone not familiar with the Indiana Jones background, the gameplay is very solid and the locations are very fully realized. You get to outrun the boulder from Raiders of the Lost Ark! How cool is that?
In each level there are 10 minikits. If you find them all, it builds a sculpture that you can view later. You can find red power bricks, which unlock minigames and cheats. The minigames are fun and weird (like Chilled Monkey Brains). You can also just collect a whole lot of studs, which is fun too.
You’ll spend a lot of time unlocking all this stuff. I have about 10 hours logged so far and am a little over 70% complete. I’m currently trying to afford a 4X score multiplier that I unlocked, which will allow me to buy more characters, and so on and so forth. There’s always another new thing to reach for, which keeps you playing.
They’ve also thrown in multiplayer in the form of co-op play, but there really isn’t much reason for it. There’s not really much a human player can do that the computer player can’t. Sure, the computer player will get hung up sometimes or stubbornly decide not to move, but a little jiggering will usually get the character to do what you need it to do. It’s a cool feature, but can be ultimately ignored.