"Whip it like you're Devo's #1 fan!"
As a middle-aged guy who's been gaming for most of his life, I've obtained my entertainment in many different fashions. Going to stores, purchasing from Amazon, obtaining freebies to review, downloading directly to a system's hard drive and so on. With all of those methods, though, one thing remains constant -- I personally chose to get those games.
Occasionally, though, situations come up where I get a game through no choice of my own. Such as when I buy a system and it comes with a couple packed in as an additional inducement for me to spend a few hundred dollars. In late 2008, I decided it was time to snag an XBox 360 and, at that time, the system was being sold with Kung Fu Panda and Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures. With the former, I played and reviewed it pretty quickly. The game was nothing special, but it did provide a reasonably fun and breezy alternative to the massive world of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.
As for the latter…well, here we are, nearly 12 years later and I've finally gotten around to playing it! I'm not actually sure what the bigger surprise is: That I took the time to play a game I never asked for and never would have purchased on my own, as opposed to any number of other games I could have selected…or the sad fact that 12 years in my backlog didn't even give Lego Indiana Jones seniority in that oversized collection of under-utilized games.
As time has gone on, I've felt a lot of admiration for how Lego has remained a relevant brand while so many other toys I remember from my youth have fallen by the wayside. Helping in that regard is how the company chose to branch out into the world of video games, releasing several centered around pop culture phenomenons. As someone who's recently been playing a lot of games via PlayStation Now, I can simply scroll through that library to see Lego games featuring Star Wars, Harry Potter and Batman, as well as Indy. The formula is simple: Give players brief cutscenes that deliver scenes from the source material in a light-hearted, whimsical style and then have them go through action stages that often have a heavy focus on using various characters to solve puzzles, find collectables and beat down enemies.
I found it a fitting choice to pack Lego Indiana Jones along with Kung Fu Panda because those "nothing special" and "reasonably fun and breezy alternative" points also could easily describe it. I had fun even if the only reason I owned it because it was packed with my 360, and it was enjoyable to pick up on those days when I wasn't in the mood to trudge through yet another FROM Software poison swamp level -- looking at you, Nightmare Frontier and your damnable Frenzy-inducing abominations!
The game features the first three Indiana Jones movies, with each divided into six levels. Each level has Story and Free play modes. Initially, you can only access Story Mode, which gives you Indy and an ally or two. You'll have enough at your disposal to get through the stage, but you'll notice there's a lot of stuff you can't do. Each character comes with one (or occasionally two) abilities that can help you do that stuff and there are things you can temporarily equip that can allow characters to gain those abilities for at least a little while.
For example, a few characters come equipped with a shovel and can use that implement to dig up buried stuff. However, if you're playing through a stage without one of those guys, you'll have to hope that you can find a shovel. If the stage has one, you'll be able to do that digging. If not, you'll have to wait until tackling the level in Free Play. That mode allows you to take a lot more characters along for the ride. As you complete levels in Story Mode, you'll unlock new characters. Some will automatically be added to your stash, while most need to be purchased with the game's currency. When you start a level in Free Play, you'll get a character for each necessary skill…as long as you've unlocked or purchased them. If you've done a good job at adding to your collection of characters, you'll eventually be able to solve every puzzle and access all the treasures in any of the game's stages.
Why would you want to do that? Well, other than extending the length of a fairly short game, mainly to unlock stuff. Finding the 10 artifacts in each stage goes toward unlocking a handful of secret bonus levels, while obtaining and mailing a package hidden in each level allows you to purchase various extras, such as the ability to detect artifacts or to gain far more money from the currency strewn throughout the stages. And let's be real: If you're playing a game and can't initially do a lot of stuff in its levels, it is pretty cathartic to be able to go through stages again later to snag all those goodies you were missing out upon.
Characters with books can decipher runes, while little guys like Short Round can crawl through tiny spaces and Thuggees can activate certain statues. Get a bazooka-wielding soldier and you'll be able to blast obstacles that are otherwise indestructible. That dude is pretty versatile, as he'll also come with a soldier's hat that allows you to pass checkpoints. Female characters get superior jumping ability and Indiana comes with his trusty whip, which can be used to grapple onto things. Overall, there are a lot of characters and a lot of skills, making Free Play turn old levels into new experiences.
I'd guess a person's interest in this game would likely have a direct connection to how much they loved the source material. With these three movies, I've watched "Raiders of the Lost Ark" a lot of times, while "Temple of Doom" and "Last Crusade" are films I didn't feel the same affinity for and, therefore, only saw once. And guess what? When going through Story Mode, I was more into those six stages derived from "Raiders". It was fun seeing how Indy's challenges from that movie carried over to this game. Remember that big fight he had with the hulking dude who was impervious to everything besides a plane's propeller? Here, you have to avoid him until events happen that allow you to obtain an anvil. Grab it, approach him and he'll punch it. Do that three times and you'll win.
With the levels based on other games, I didn't have the same familiarity and the end result was feeling I was playing through an entertaining, but unspectacular, action game. Take away the power of nostalgia and Lego Indiana Jones loses part of its appeal. Part of this has to do with how so much of the game blends together. You'll have a few stages with unique challenges, such as riding a mine cart, but you'll spend much of your time going through various areas and punching everything that can be punched to find treasure or items that can be used to progress farther. Enemies will regularly show up, usually to distract you from those tasks, but occasionally to drop a useful item, and you'll be able to ride a variety of vehicles and animals. Fundamentally, it's all good and I did like how the graphics for characters and objects make them look to be made out of Legos, but I never quite shook the feeling that I was playing this game to play it, as opposed to genuinely wanting to experience all its secrets.
Still, I'm glad to finish Lego Indiana Jones…and not just because I was able to knock out a long-standing member of my backlog. It's a fun game that'll particularly provide entertainment to fans of the movies. I just often found myself struggling to truly connect with it, leading to a lot of evenings where I'd play through one stage in Story Mode or go through a couple in Free Play and then feel the urge to move on to something a bit meatier. As a diversion, though, this is perfectly decent entertainment and we all need a few games like that in our library, don't we?
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (October 30, 2020)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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