It's easy to imagine a day when we're all jaded and cynical about the endless number of Lego Your-Franchise-Here titles flooding the market, but I don't think that day is here yet. Traveller's Tales--the developer behind the previous Lego Star Wars games and now Lego Indiana Jones--has figured out a workable formula for simple, kid-friendly cooperative action with light puzzle-solving elements that will remain viable for a good long while. Just add beloved franchise, stir, and serve to a willing readymade audience. To me, the Lego formula is only as entertaining as the franchises you bind to it, but luckily, Star Wars and Indiana Jones are pretty hard to dislike.
My problem with Lego Indy isn't that it's the fourth game to get the Lego treatment in three years. It's that there are just too many elements of the gameplay that still feel clumsy and unrefined. On the surface, the game hits the right notes: you've got light-hearted brawling, some decent platforming sequences, and puzzles that don't take a lot of brain power to put together. But there are a lot of irksome aspects in the game's design. The characters' feet get little traction on the ground, so it's easy to slide right into a few pits when running through a platforming area, making you start over repeatedly. Some of the buttons have multiple contextual actions mapped to them, so you occasionally find yourself switching characters when you were trying to get into a vehicle, or hurling away an item you wanted to use instead. You can frequently get stuck in the level geometry. Sometimes your AI-controlled buddy character will disappear somewhere in the level, forcing you to run backwards until you find out where they got hung up and force them to get a move on.
I could go on. None of these little issues are a big deal on their own, but cumulatively they make the gameplay tiresome more often than I would have liked. Traveller's Tales could iron out most of the frustrating little quirks by critically evaluating the gameplay and making a few tweaks here and there. It's probably too late to apply the fixes to the upcoming Lego Batman, but this series needs some refinement if it's going to stay entertaining to discriminating gamers in the long run.
I don't want to sound too down on Lego Indiana Jones. As with all the Lego games, the thing that keeps Indy's gameplay merely a little annoying and not downright maddening is how casual the game really is. That's mainly because you have unlimited lives with no penalty for dying, so you can just button-mash your way through every level without regard for personal safety if you want. Like Star Wars before it, Indy also gets more fun after you finish it the first time through and can go back to each level in "free play" mode, which lets you instantly cycle between a bunch of characters with every ability in the game. That naturally makes it easier to get through most of the obstacles (cutting down on the frustration factor) and allows you to pick up more of the collectables you couldn't get the first time, too. Running through areas in free play with a second player is usually good for a few chuckles.
Lego Indiana Jones has enough entertainment value to make it worth running through, when you're in a casual mood. The series' trademark mirthful animated cutscenes are also in effect here, making the package a bit more endearing. After Lego Batman comes out, though, I hope Traveller's Tales takes a good look at where its Lego games are going and makes the tweaks and additions necessary to keep the franchise relevant.