'Lego Indiana Jones' Whips Up Family Gaming Fun

With the larger-than-life Indiana Jones cracking his whip across the big screen in "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," a smaller, blockier version is leading families on a humorous romp through the earlier movies in "Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures," a video game released across all platforms this week.

In a style very similar to the popular game "Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga," the game features tongue-in-cheek recreations of the first three Indiana Jones movies ("Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," and "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade") with all the characters and landscapes constructed out of Lego blocks.

To unlock the game's content, you must start in the story mode. Once you play the first level, all three movies become available to you. You can move among the three at will, but must play each movie's chapters in order. Each movie adventure is presented in six chapters, and once you have completed a chapter in story mode, a free play mode becomes available.

Barnett College, where the fictional Indiana Jones teaches when not adventuring, serves as the hub for the game. You access the three movies by walking up to one of the three maps hanging on the walls in the college building.

As you relive the movies in story mode, you will visit all the movies' famous locales, from the Amazon jungles to the remote mountaintops of India. At each location, the game automatically places Indy and one other scene-relevant character in the game and permits you to toggle between the two as needed. The stories are retold, Lego-style, through video scenes.

The gameplay is a cross between puzzle play and adventure. In each location, you must figure out how to manipulate your environment so that you can move through it. For example, you may need to find a key to a machine that will open a door, but the key will be located at a place you cannot reach by walking or jumping. As Indy, if you walk up to a wooden whip platform and flip your whip, you may find that you can pull down platforms, or latch onto pegs to swing across an abyss. Other situations may require you to navigate minefields without triggering Lego-piercing spears. This is a world full of hidden levers, switches and bridges.

As you play, you will also encounter piles of Legos that can be built into new and helpful items. Sprinkled throughout the world are Lego studs for collecting, which act as the currency of this world. You can use studs to unlock new characters and items to use in the free mode. There are 60 characters in all, and you can even mix-and-match to make new ones.

Because Indy has a way of attracting bad guys wherever he goes, another part of the game play is fighting these villains. Combat is relatively easy, with Indy wielding his bullwhip and the other characters assisting by using their specific fighting skills. Sometimes the combat can be quite amusing — you will see Indy grab a bad guy and give him a noogie until he explodes into Lego pieces.

"Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures" shines as a family-friendly game. The gameplay is never too hard and you have infinite lives. Lego characters don't die, they simply explode. And in the console and PC versions, there is drop-in, drop-out cooperative play so a parent and child, or friends and siblings, can play together.

While the actual movies are rated "PG" or "PG-13" and may be something kids have not seen, they don't need to understand the movies to play the game. At the same time, parents and kids who have grown up watching the movies will enjoy the humorous bent given to these classic movies.

Indy's trademark smirk shines through on his Lego-look-alike as he tries to catch Marion, but drops her instead. Likewise, it's funny to watch Lego Indy react when he reaches for his hat and pulls out a snake instead.

If you have younger children, opt for the DS version. Its "E" rating reflects less combative environment, and it's easier to play. It makes good use of the DS controls, having you blow into the microphone to inflate boats or use the stylus to dig and flick Indy's whip. But because its screen is so small, at times it's hard to figure out what you're seeing.

The console versions are rated "E+10" because they contain more combat. Playing the game on a larger screen makes it more engaging. The Wii version is particularly satisfying because it makes good use of the motion-sensitive controls. When you flip your wrist, you will feel and hear Indy's whip crack through the Wii remote.

RATING: 4.5 (out of 5) Best for ages 10-up (DS version is appropriate for ages 8-up) From Lucas Arts, www.legoindygame.com, $30-50, Nintendo Wii, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, PSP, Windows, Nintendo DS.

Jinny Gudmundsen is the kid-tech columnist for the Gannett News Service and USA Today.com, and is also the editor of Computing with Kids Ezine (www.ComputingWithKids.com ).