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PSP Review – Lego Indiana Jones

Lego Indiana Jones is yet another installment in the Lego game series, which is famous for putting a tasteful spin on such famous franchises as Star Wars and Batman. Developer Traveller’s Tales has managed to shrink the console version of Lego Indy onto the PlayStation Portable, and unfortunately this was not a wise choice. The hardware itself is the root of several problems, but there are also some questionable design choices on the part of the developer.

The story mode takes inspiration from the original Indy Trilogy, and pokes fun at some key moments of those films. The humor is very slapstick, and it has to be since there’s absolutely no dialogue in the game. There isn’t even any text to read off of. All communication is done with grunting…seriously. While I’m sure this was a good cost-saving measure, they could have at least hired stand-in voice actors. Since events from the film are only loosely followed, the level progression stays fresh throughout.

The game is also entirely co-op, and you will always have an A.I. partner to assist you in your adventure. Unfortunately, there is no way of playing ad-hoc or online with a friend. The game requires you to dynamically switch between characters since they all have slightly different abilities. For example, Indy is the only one who can swing across chasms, while Myriam is the only one who can jump to a decent height. The A.I. immediately takes over the other character, and this gameplay feature ties in directly with the countless puzzles placed within each level.

Lego Indy is essentially a side-scroller platforming game, but allows for full 3D movement within the environment. There’s no ability to control the camera, and it simply follows your character from a distant vantage point. This does lead to the occasional ‘missed platform jump’, but nothing too serious. The controls for Lego Indy are simple at first glance, but the developer did map a few too many functions onto the face buttons.

For example, the Square button dishes out physical attacks, but also picks up special items. And the Circle button controls Indy’s Whip attacks, his Whip jumps, and releases/throws whichever items he’s throwing, depending on the situation. It’s not too difficult to work with after a while, but it’s strange that the shoulder buttons went unused. But this is a seemingly minor problem when compared to how your character moves and interacts with the game world.

Platforming games require tight, responsive controls due to the nature of the genre, and the fact that your character has so many opportunities to die when exploring the game world. Travellers Tales, however, made the controls somewhat floaty and imprecise. And it’s hard to blame the Analog Nub when so many other platformers have managed to have tight controls on the PSP. What makes this issue even worse is that the levels become very frustrating as a result. There are basic physics applied to the characters, but it often results in falling to your death or being pushed off the level by enemies (or even your AI partner).

Co-op gameplay works, but only when the A.I. works with you. I died countless times due to my A.I. partner either pushing me off a platform, or walking off a trigger button that was holding some hidden floor spikes at bay. There are even a few areas that are literally impossible to venture through due to the A.I. issues, but luckily these are optional areas that that don’t hold back your campaign progression. It really is a shame since when the co-op system works, it works beautifully and really ups the fun factor. Where the A.I. is truly effective is during combat, as your partners are very enthusiastic about taking down as many enemies as possible. Expect to die a lot, though, as the combat system is a total brawl-fest. The developers made up for this by providing an infinite number of lives spawning your characters exactly where they died.

While viewing the included screenshots of Lego Indy, you may notice something off-putting. There are some weird visual artifacts that look like banding/interlace glitches, and I found it VERY distracting. The actual graphical content is done well and there’s a lot of detail in the environments, save for the low-res backgrounds. But because of the bad graphics engine, scenes that would normally look beautiful end up looking grainy and glitchy. The sound effects are punchy, and the music (when it remembers to turn on) adds a lot to the scenes. The only thing I didn’t like was how schizophrenic the music system is. Occasionally, you’ll find yourself looking for enemies since the Enemy Song is being played, only to find out you’re supposed to be solving a puzzle. Not a single an enemy in sight.

Glitches are also a significant feature of the game. I say ‘Feature’ because glitches actually help this game out once in a while. If you ever get stuck in a random area and happen to be holding the wrong “secret item”, no worries. You’ll probably be able to hop over the barrier and simply grab the right item to escape the area…you..just…escaped. It’s also fun to lose track of your AI partner once in a while, as you suddenly appreciate their presence all over again. I found this out when I tried to jump up to a ledge that only Myriam could reach. Indy and Myriam are the same height, but for some reason the developers believe “women are more agile.” Yes, the game tells you that.

What the PSP version of Lego Indy ends up proving is that porting from a console to a handheld has significant drawbacks. Despite being nearly as powerful as the PS2, the optimal way to build a PSP game is to start from scratch. Camera placement and level design that works on a television doesn’t necessarily work on a 5 inch screen. Also, having 30~45 second load times in between levels, as well as load times after turning your PSP back on from Sleep Mode, is unnacceptable. Lego Indy can be very fun to play at times, but bad design decisions end up making the title a chore to play through. Even the ‘simple puzzles’ can leave you dumbfounded, which is disturbing considering that children are the main target audience. Even if you’re fan of the Lego series or Indiana Jones, I do not recommend picking up the PSP version of Lego Indy.

PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score

Tongue-in-cheek humor can be fun.

Horrifically long load times.

AI system, level design, and graphics are disappointing.

4 out of 10