LEGO Indiana Jones

LEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures is a fun, well-designed video game. More than that, it’s a fun, well-designed, family-friendly game that those of us who are rapidly approaching middle age can play with our kids. It’s a game that adapts easily to various skill levels, has a rich and multifaceted co-op mode, and exposes today’s young geeks to the rich culture and history of the Great Geek Classics of our time.

If you grew up geeky in the eighties, as I did, you’re familiar with the Geek mythology: Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Tron. And, like most geeky children, you probably also had access to some number of LEGOs. (Those of us who were truly socially isolated sometimes had collections that exceeded our own body weight by a factor of three.) So you probably already know that in 1999, following a freak accident in which a truckload of LEGOs suddenly jackknifed in front of Skywalker Ranch, LEGO began releasing Star Wars themed sets in connection with the release of Episode I: The Phantom Menace. It was this happy union that begat a beautiful child, LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game (2005). Now the successful franchise has a baby sibling, and it’s just as adorable: LEGO Indiana Jones has arrived, and its parents must be ever so proud.

LEGO Indiana Jones follows the story of the original trilogy of Indiana Jones films: Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Temple of Doom, and The Last Crusade. You play as a complete cast of little LEGO people — known in LEGO-geek parlance as minifigs — and can switch easily between characters to take advantage of their individual abilities. For instance, Indy’s whip grants him the ability to swing across chasms if there happens to be a low-hanging branch hanging conspicuously across the gorge. Short Round, thanks to his small size, can fit through hatches and ventilation shafts. All female characters are nimbler, and therefore better jumpers. Some characters carry special objects, like a book that translates hieroglyphics in order to open secret passages.

An aside: These hieroglyphics are everywhere: Egypt, Venice, India. What were ancient Egyptians doing carving graffiti in Venetian libraries, anyway? Shouldn’t they pretty much have been long dead by then?

Logic problems and puzzles comprise most of the gameplay, and often the player must switch between multiple characters to make use of their individual skills. The puzzles are usually straightforward, and many hints are given. However, I encountered a few instances in which I had trouble completing a puzzle because I simply couldn’t see the object I was supposed to be picking up. Sometimes this difficulty was the result of poor lighting, like while navigating underground caves. Other times, however, the problem was lack of camera control. If only one of the characters present is able to cross a chasm, the camera automatically zooms out to accommodate the wide gap between the characters — even in single-player mode. This sometimes results in required objects being obscured by less distant props, rendering them virtually undetectable. Overall, however, the camera angles tended to be better than those found in similar games, so LucasArts can be forgiven the occasional AI glitch.

All in all, if you played LEGO Star Wars, nothing about the gameplay mechanics will surprise or amaze you. And if you’re unfamiliar with the Indiana Jones trilogy, you might want to read a plot summary online before you pick up a controller — the storytelling suggests the movie plot, but only vaguely. Some of the puzzles are considerably easier if you recall the films — if you get stuck, just ask, “What Would Indy Do?” And some of the films’ greatest moments made it to the game, which is supremely satisfying for those who know the films well. From Indy’s frantic escape from a rolling boulder in Raiders of the Lost Ark to his miraculous step of faith in The Last Crusade, the player gets a special kind of thrill out of living these iconic scenes through animated minifigs.

Still, the standout feature of Lego Indiana Jones is its cooperative multiplay mode. I can not conceive of two individuals who would not be able to play this game happily together. Two hardcore gamers can work together to complete the more difficult (usually optional) puzzles and missions, or they can compete to try and gather more points (in the form of pips, those tiny round LEGO pieces with just one nub). A more skilled player can take a leading role in completing the jumping puzzles and other feats of physical prowess, and a less skilled player can be in charge of collecting pips and building bridges. As I played my review copy, my husband could pick up a spare controller and play through part of a level with me while our baby slept, and he could easily drop out of the game when she woke without interrupting my progress or forcing me to quit or wait for him to return. Even my three-year-old, who is a bit young to join in, enjoyed sitting in my lap and watching me play. He recognizes that the game world is constructed of LEGOs, which is intriguing to him, and he has even started humming the famous title music to himself as he plays with his toys.

Husbands and wives, fathers and daughters, mothers and sons, sisters and brothers — LEGO Indy is, at its core, a family game, designed to bring together players of all ages and skill levels. It’s also a wonderful way to share the story of Indiana Jones with your younger children, who might be frightened by some of the imagery in the films (although I was personally a little disturbed by the scene in which Henry Jones Sr. is poisoned, which causes his minifig to pop apart at the waist, leaving his disembodied legs to stagger disconcertingly around the cavern). Just because Lego Indiana Jones is appropriate for children, however, doesn’t mean it isn’t appealing to adults. There are optional puzzles to solve, items to collect, and secret characters to unlock — which, to a conqueror like me, translate into a high degree of replayability. Add the nostalgia factor of the classic Indy trilogy and the cartoonish, self-referential humor that characterizes the previous LEGO games, and LEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures becomes a rare and precious artifact indeed.

RATING 8 / 10