Traveller’s Tales managed to hit a surprisingly effective combination of license and play when they released the two LEGO Star Wars video games, but once they had covered that series, it was time for them to turn their sights to something new. Already there were hints of what it would be, and another Lucasfilm owned property that was big in the 80s was their next target. Indiana Jones would get his turn to be adapted into LEGO through the lens of a game with LEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures.
LEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures adapts the first three motion pictures in the Indiana Jones series, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Temple of Doom, and The Last Crusade, but immediately, players will notice that the LEGO designs blend a bit oddly with the series. The most immediate realization you’re likely to have is that Indiana Jones has plenty of characters, but they look a lot like regular people, meaning when they’re simplified into LEGO human designs, they aren’t really recognizable. Even characters with more distinct appearances like Marion Ravenwood and Short Round look a bit generic when their real world designs have to be reduced in detail to fit on small plastic figures. The game will tell you who characters are when you select them, but the name does more to tie them to their movie counterparts than their appearance. This can’t really be helped due to the need to stick to traditional LEGO design, but even with this limitation, the cutscenes could have been done better. The stories of the three movies are adapted into three separate campaigns, and since the games are certainly aiming for a young audience, they can’t exactly include everything from the films. After all, the Indiana Jones series contains Nazis, hearts being pulled from men’s chests, and other moments of violence and adult themes, but don’t expect to see LEGO Hitler here. The game is a lighthearted parody of the films, violent moments often replaced with LEGO silliness like a character’s head popping off and them chasing after it as well as plenty of Star Wars references scattered throughout. There are still guns and fights to be had, so it’s not completely sanitized, but these aren’t actually the issue with the cutscenes. Indiana Jones often goes on adventures that require a bit of explanation to set up and dialogue to connect legs of his journey, but the LEGO characters only pantomime to communicate, meaning it can be difficult to read what is even happening in some scenes. A familiarity with the film series is assumed to alleviate the narrative burden, but even a bit of text during the scenes could have helped.
The way the individual movies were adapted has a few interesting choices as well. To make proper adventuring levels out of the movies, some areas were extended, like Indy’s trip to Nepal to recruit Marion turning into a longer snow level or the ride through India on elephant back now being more about the task than the character interaction. Meanwhile, areas ripe with opportunity for action are trimmed down or completely removed, with moments like the opening to The Last Crusade with young Indy completely gone and a potential dogfight in the skies skipped over to get to more comfortable and traditional level design. Indiana Jones will still find many of the major moments from the film adapted well into the LEGO format such as the boulder escape from Raiders of the Lost Ark, and while not everything in the game is made of LEGO, the game still has a heavy focus on how LEGO can change the way the game is played. Objects in the environment made of LEGO can be broken to collect studs, these serving as both a score you need to hit in each level to earn the True Adventurer ranking for it and a way to buy extra characters to play as, the game letting you be any character you encounter, good or bad, on repeat plays. The first time through a stage focuses on sticking close to the film, although since the game encourages co-op, Indiana might have a buddy along at parts he was originally alone. Each character has one or more special skill as well, the game letting you swap between your two regular characters and, when returning to a level, swap between every character needed to have every skill available. Skills can involve things like being able to “interpret glyphs”, which means playing a memory games with LEGO hieroglyphics, Indy’s whip that lets him swing across gaps, Willie Scott’s infamous constant screaming from Temple of Doom becomes her skill here with the ability to shatter glass with a shriek, and women in general… can jump higher than other characters? Again, having a cast of humans with normal abilities means they have to reach sometimes, such as having statues only recognizing members of the Thuggee cult or the few short characters getting secret tunnels to enter. These skills do mean you can’t get everything in a level on your first playthrough, and the levels are packed full of stuff to collect to make exploring them interesting and rewarding for those who take the time to look. Some skills may be a stretch, but it’s a stretch worth making to increase the game’s variety.
For regular play though, LEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures still keeps its focus on figuring out your environments. Many areas have things you must construct out of LEGO to continue, and usually the obstacle to moving on is finding out just how to interact with the world to make a path forward. Platforming challenges, positioning and movement puzzles, and having the right tool for the right job are common to the area designs, and most areas offer plenty of stuff to break so you can always be smashing stuff and earning studs between solving the puzzles. Optional puzzles are made a bit more difficult and require more thought, the main quest still requiring some figuring out but trying not to lose younger players along the way. There is combat in the game, most of it just being about pressing an attack button until the enemy shatters into LEGO pieces, but weapons can enter the mix like swords and guns to make foes a bit stronger and give you a few new options. The shovel, despite being there to help you dig up objects, is actually an incredibly handy weapon, and some things like Indiana’s whip aren’t as useful as you might hope. Every now and then vehicles might get mixed in or a boss, making combat change its style as either you or the enemy have a clear strength advantage. Most bosses also have more requirements to them taking damage then you approaching and punching them, making them almost more like level challenges than proper fights, but that’s to their benefit, the game playing to its strengths of exploration and discovery rather than its straightforward battle system. Death isn’t even much of a worry, the player respawning right after it but some of their studs exploding out of their body when they die. Basically, this means that you do want to avoid death since it lessens your chance of hitting True Adventurer and reduces your funds, but if you feel you must die, you can justify it since it’s not overly punishing.
People who played LEGO Star Wars will be able to comfortably transition to this game, especially since not too much has changed. There is now a phobia system, appropriate since the movies often emphasized a character’s fear of certain animals, and that can make a certain character useless at times and the others having to clear the snakes, spiders, or rats to continue the group’s adventure. On the whole though, the conversion feels a little less appropriate than those games. There’s still plenty to do and fun twists on the movies, but a lot of the levels feel similar even when the environments are changing. The minecart level based on Temple of Doom is one of the rare moments the gameplay drastically changes, but the optional objectives do mean that every inch of regular design is a bit more interesting as it may hide a secret or collectible. Following the movies also means the areas change quite often, and while new gimmicks might not change your play too much, they do make things feel different as the adventure continues.
THE VERDICT: Indiana Jones is an amazing film series, but its adaptation into a LEGO video game has a few quirks. LEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures is a fun game filled with many things to find and interact with, but the scenes are bit hard to understand for those who don’t know the plots well and the characters don’t look too much like their on-screen counterparts. There was potential to do more with the brand in terms of level choices, but the areas they did include are at least packed with collectibles to always give you something to shoot for and the area designs encourage general exploration to figure out their puzzles and secrets. While some choices of what to adapt are strange, the game itself is solid and packed with activities albeit not as varied as it could have been.
And so, I give LEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures for Xbox 360…
A GOOD rating. Embracing the kid-friendly world of LEGO did mean Indiana Jones would have to change a lot, but the changes aren’t so drastic the spirit is lost, letting you enjoy the brand that draws you in and its shift to the light-hearted tone of Traveller’s Tales’s LEGO games. While less action focused than the movies, there is a lot more exploration and uncovering of secrets, the level designs having plenty for you to do outside of just finishing the current stage. It would have been nice if the game had more diverse setpieces, but by sticking to its open area design that requires puzzle-solving to advance, they managed to throw in plenty to think about and overcome that helps keep things from feeling too repetitive.
LEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures feels more like a LEGO game than an Indiana Jones game, and that’s not a problem. The LEGO design used by Traveller’s Tales for its franchise-focused titles is fun and offers much to keep players busy, but Indiana Jones had more to offer than just different areas for that design to shine. Some more shifts to match the action-packed style of the films could have kept things from feeling too similar throughout, but it is still a good conversion of the series to LEGO even with the obstacles it had going against it.