LEGO Indiana Jones 2: The Adventure Continues
LEGO games are for kids, aren't they? That might be the whole point, but I'm 23 (and the best part of a half, sadly) and I merrily stroll through them every autumn, lapping up their inimitable sense of humour and simplistic platform mechanics. But whilst those youngsters might be happy to consume any old LEGO game in-between trips to McDonalds and committing knife crimes, I wasn't exactly enthralled at the prospect of spending a week with Indiana Jones 2. It seemed like a bit of a lame duck from the start, signalling a deficit of creativity and inspiration from even its usage of inelegant numbering. Quite simply, I had the game flagged as an unnecessary stop-gap between the excellent Lego Batman and 2010's Lego Harry Potter.
After playing it, my main gripe with LEGO Indiana Jones 2 is one carried over from the original: Indy is still, by far, the best character. Why would you want to be anyone else and, if you're playing in co-op, how do you decide who gets to be him? Whereas Star Wars and Batman dazzle with a charming cast of many, Indiana Jones gives you classic throwaway characters such as Janitor, Agent and Patient. Because who hasn't wanted to play as nameless characters who didn't even show up in the films?
It's a bit better than before, though, with the roster padded out somewhat by the cast of the despicable Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, headed up by greaser extraordinaire Mutt, though that's hardly something to get excited over - but it does pave the way for an amusing cinematic where he gets a comb stuck in his hair. One of the biggest tricks of the series is having you play as amusing little LEGO versions of familiar faces, and unless you're going through Last Crusade - where you get the brilliant version of Sean Connery - the mix of the LEGO games and the Indiana Jones universe still disappoints past the iconic lead.
That aside, it's a significant improvement over the last outing. It's much bigger, for a start: there's at least double the content on show, with each level demanding multiple runs for proper completion. Six worlds exist in total, with three for the terrible fourth movie and then another three for the original trilogy, which, having been reduced to five levels a movie, are even more wonderfully daft than before. Each hub has, within it, five stages, and each stage has a treasure hunt and bonus variant attached. That's chuffing loads.
Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is the main event, with Traveller's Tales regularly satirising the source material in their own wry fashion. For instance, Ray Winstone's loyalty-challenged sidekick, Mac, is shown switching sides (and back again) for no reason whatsoever. Genius. For better or worse, it all makes an appearance: the bar fight, the monkey swinging, and the bit where Indy gets in a fridge and survives a nuclear explosion.
The biggest change from LEGO games of old is the addition of hub worlds. Other than linking one stage to the next they also contain all of the game's trademark unlockables - instead of scrolling through a menu and buying them with accumulated LEGO bits, now you find, destroy and collect various objects before making the purchase. They're certainly integrated better into the proceedings than, say, the Batcave, but they're also quite large and poorly signposted. My natural urge was to progress straight from one stage to the next, which meant the hubs frequently served as unwanted hindrances, especially because it's so easy to get lost in many of them. I worry that it's simply too easy to lose your way, and that fact alone will deter a good chunk of otherwise eager young players from the title.
It's worth mentioning the addition of a split-screen mode for co-op play. In the past, if one character ventured off-screen they'd probably end up dead. This has now been successfully alleviated: if the two characters stray too far apart the screen now divides itself across the diagonal, allowing both players to wander around in their own tasks. It's a simple addition, but it changes co-op for the better.
Also added is the Creator mode, which presents a fairly sturdy set of level design tools that, whilst hardly venturing into the complex-with-results realm of LittleBigPlanet, offers up a suitably robust set of tools. You can also mix-and-match all the models in the game to create your own characters, if that's your sort of thing.
The rest is all business as usual. A few tweaks, such as Indy now being able to aim his whip, help the general experience, but things haven't changed much from the last outing. Most levels involve you finding a way through certain blockages by scrounging objects, such as shovels, bananas and torches, from the environment. All characters can hold whatever tools they come across, and whilst some can perform their own special tasks - Indy has his whip, for example, and female characters can jump higher because, I presume, their bodies weigh less even though LEGO models are basically unisex - it doesn't matter too much which character you've got along for the ride.
Except, of course, when it does. As is standard for the franchise, you take two characters into each level. Only some levels need a certain fellow - someone with, say, explosives. Or a spanner. But you're only informed of this when you're actually in the level, not outside it in the hub world. The real gripe here is that there's no character select screen anymore: everyone is found wandering around the hub, but sometimes they're absolutely miles away and, in other instances, you'll have completely forgotten where they are. It turns a process from something that used to take a couple of seconds into an irksome task that goes on for a few minutes.
But once you finally get going it's not long before you're happily nestled in some of the most pleasing stages seen in a LEGO game. There are very few of the trademark LEGO faults: fiddly jumps marred by dodgy perspectives, ultra-strong bosses and an over-reliance on making your characters construct objects. You're left with simple leaps, easy combat and relatively clear-cut paths to the exit. In theory it sounds like a grotesque over-simplification, but in practice it works well by smoothing out the irksome moments from former games - your characters never die anyway, as always, and the stages are whimsical enough to compensate for any lack of difficulty.
Though I'm still no great lover of the vehicle levels, which have you driving around in endless circles until you've taken out a prerequisite amount of enemies. Handling has been spruced up a bit, which makes the process a lot easier, but their tiresome repetition means they completely fail to convey a sense of speed or momentum.
Certain issues bring it down, and overall I'm not as taken with it as I was LEGO Batman, but you're unlikely to find a better child-friendly game on the market this Christmas (and I say that fully aware of New Super Mario Bros). At times it's quite fantastic: remember the scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark - the one where the guy flails a sword around for ages and then Indy just shoots him. In this he goes to take the shot only to discover he's holding a banana. Brilliant. LEGO Indiana Jones 2 is much more than a simple stop-gap, bringing a wealth of content, some tweaks and even open-world concepts to the table, but ultimately I can't help but feel more excited about how these features will be implemented into next year's offering.