Archaeology Magazine Archive

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from the trenches
Toys: Indiana Jones and the Plastic Blocks of Doom Volume 61 Number 5, September/October 2008
by Samir S. Patel

(Samir S. Patel)

As a child I loved the surreal creativity of Legos, and now the Dutch construction-block titan boasts a line of Indiana Jones-themed sets, including four based around the latest film. They're charming and it's hard to knock the rakish smile on the tiny plastic figure of Dr. Jones. But at the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, Legos were far better in my day.

The Indiana Jones sets lack much archaeological content, but they're fun to put together and surprisingly intricate. A version of the Soviet tree-cutter from Crystal Skull looks accurate and sports a four-cylinder engine and blades that spin when it rolls. But there are a lot of large, premolded, specialized pieces in all the sets, ones that might once have been composed of smaller, more versatile blocks. Without additional regular Legos, it is difficult to put everyone's favorite archaeologist in any predicaments other than the ones for which the sets are designed. The result is less a fertile ground for creative young minds than a typical action toy.

The Lego Indiana Jones line also includes a video game that moves toward a similar end--instead of a typical adventure game, it feels more like a Lego playset for the first three Indiana Jones movies. It looks great and plays well, and is easy for two people to play together. The game is also spiked with gentle humor, which the blocky characters act out in prelingual grunts and sighs. There are hundreds of secrets to uncover and enough in-jokes to keep adult fans interested (the Willie character from Temple of Doom, for example, can break glass with her obnoxious shrieking). Dying in the game has no consequences, and any level can be replayed at any time, so there is little to frustrate young players. The depth of my nostalgia for old video games isn't as deep as it is for Legos, so the game didn't provoke my inner crank--I think kids will enjoy its puzzles and exploration and the game complements the sets well. Just be sure to pick up a bucket of regular old Legos too, if you can dig some up.