Developer: Traveller's Tales
Publisher: Eidos
Release Date: October 25, 2005 (North America), November 4, 2005 (Europe)
Platforms: Sony PlayStation 2, Nintendo GameCube, Microsoft Xbox, PC (Windows XP only), Macintosh
ESRB Rating: E (Violence)

Introduction

At first glance, Lego Star Wars: The Video Game sounds like crass commercialism at its finest: not only a licensed game but a licensed game based on licensed Lego! However, much like the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, the apparent cash-grab fell into the creative hands of people who, through actually caring about their subject matter, make something much better than its origins might otherwise suggest. What Traveller's Tales has done is take the 'Star Wars in Lego' conceit and make an enjoyable, lightweight platform action game with a plethora of secrets and goals and quality, seamless co-op multiplayer. That it retells the story of the Star Wars prequel trilogy (in a rather silly and enjoyable way) only increases the familiarity of the setting and character, adding Lego Star Wars to the long  list of worthwhile Star Wars games.

Gameplay

Most of the 'Chapters' of Lego Star Wars consist of relatively conventional 3D platform game worlds, only with everything made up of Lego pieces. The player(s) lead around a party of two or more characters, which they can switch between at any time, battling enemies and passing through movement puzzles. Even in single-player, the team aspect persists, as the different types of characters have different ways of fighting and interacting with the level. Jedi characters fight with lightsabers and can manipulate a variety of (helpfully highlighted) objects and even (certain) enemies using their Force powers, and also have the now standard double-jump ability for moving around the level. Non-Jedi humans and aliens fight with blasters (or bowcasters for Wookiees) and compensate for the lack of double-jump with a grappling hook. Finally, droids, though mostly helpless in battle, allow the party to pass through locked doors and activate machinery, and some can also hover over gaps wider than other characters can jump. 

This toolbox of abilities is pressed into action fighting the legions of enemies populating the platform levels, collecting the ill-named Studs which act as score, extra lives, and currency, and finding secrets. When playing in the 'Story' mode the composition of your party is set by the necessities of the plot, while completing Chapters allows for 'Free Play' mode using any character yet unlocked in the Story Mode. Combat is a fairly straightforward affair, with additional subtlety for lightsaber-wielders by allowing them to deflect, and hopefully deflect back, the blaster bolts of the enemy forces. Each player has four hit points, replenished by collecting Hearts dropped by vanquished foes, but defeat is even more minor than it is in many other modern platform games; the character collapses into a pile of Studs, which are lost if not recollected, and then regenerates with full health in the same spot where they were defeated. This greatly decreases the difficulty of the game, as the only penalty for failure is the possible loss of a few Studs.

A few Chapters forgo the usual platform gameplay for minigame-style racing or shooting. The pod race from Episode I is present, as well as a couple of space combat scenes and one ground-vehicle sequence. Unlike the forgiving gameplay of the platform sections, the minigames are fairly exacting. Anakin must win every section of the pod race, or he must do it over, and the rail shooter space combat sections are similar with the many hazards found along the player's path. Furthermore, many of the (sometimes complex) objectives are not explained in any way and must be figured out by trial and error. In general, I found the perfectionism and vague direction of most of these segments clashed with the lightweight and accessible nature of the rest of the game.

Presentation

As one might expect, the graphics for Lego Star Wars are blocky and flat-textured. All of the systems it is available for are capable of rendering plenty of Lego bricks and Traveller's Tales uses this to great effect. Many recognizable locales appear, clearly made at least partly out of Lego. When called on by the player's Force powers, objects smoothly break into their constituent bricks or assemble into useful structures. The simplicity of the graphics engine also allows the replication of many complicated scenes, especially during Episode III. While the gameplay of the opening space battle may be lacking, the dizzyingly complex battle from the movie is recreated convincingly in real-time all around the player, and a beach invasion on Kashhyyk later on includes hordes of troops and the clones' proto-AT-ATs without any slowdown. 

In the sound department, Lego Star Wars, like any other Star Wars game, gains strongly from the movies' music and sound effects. The music consists mostly of excerpts from John Williams's scores edited to fit the game's requirements, while familiar Star Wars artifacts all sound like you'd expect, from the buzz of the lightsabers to the swish of the doors to R2-D2's trademark beeping. Notably absent, though, is voice acting, but its absence is entirely mitigated by the hilarious cutscenes where all the pivotal moments are acted out solely through the gestures of the Lego-piece characters.

The control is simple, with the four face buttons mapping to jump, attack, special ability (usually the Force), and 'tag' to another character. Unfortunately I found that the control was at times annoyingly loose, especially during lightsaber combat. At no point during the game did I feel I was adequately controlling the lightsaber as opposed to randomly flailing at my enemies. After the smooth melee combat of other current platform games like Sly Cooper and even Ratchet and Clank, the lightsaber control felt lacking. It does seem that the developers recognized this, though, as most of the major boss battles have been redesigned, at least in part, from lightsaber duels to environmental battles often involving Force control of objects. 

Replayability

Lego Star Wars was designed with many reasons for people to keep playing after finishing the rather short Story Mode for the first time. The Lego Studs found throughout the game's levels, in addition to acting as currency for unlocking various bonuses at the game's hub, Dexter's Diner, are also a scoring method and fill up each level's Jedi Meter. If the player finds enough Studs to fill the Jedi Meter and keeps them through the end of the level, the player is said to have attained True Jedi status and a Superkit piece is acquired. If the entire Superkit is found (one piece for each level), a rather futuristic secret is unlocked. In addition, each level hides ten Minikit pieces, often hidden away or inaccessible using the characters from Story Mode. Collecting these has no practical consequence besides the 'gotta catch 'em all' factor, besides a few bonus Studs for completing each  level's Minikit. 

Although I was unable to try it, the co-op multiplayer is pervasive and is supported in all gameplay modes and levels, with a second player able to join or leave at any time simply by pressing the Start button on the second controller. Reports from elsewhere have been overwhelmingly positive on the multiplayer, and I can definitely see it being an enjoyably social experience. Only the final battle between Obi-Wan Kenobi and the nascent Darth Vader breaks with the co-op focus of the game, with normal co-op platformer sequences confusingly alternated with player-versus-player lightsaber dueling. 

Summary

Lego Star Wars is a fun and accessible game. While designed for a younger crowd than the usual hardcore gamer, it has a style and depth that make it a worthwhile play even for serious gamers. Its success has spawned a sequel based on the classic Star Wars trilogy and a port for newer systems called Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga. A Game Boy Advance game of the same title was also released but is vastly different due to the technical limitations of the platform. Now that the full Star Wars saga has been Lego-ized in game form, Travellers' Tales is moving on to a new license: Lego Batman

Pros:

  • Accessible, lightweight gameplay
  • Pervasive co-op multiplayer
  • Humourously retells the Star Wars prequels with Lego people 

Cons:

  • Loose, imprecise controls
  • Minigame levels not up to the standard set by platform levels

(CC)
This writeup is copyright 2007 by me and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs-NonCommercial licence. Details can be found at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd-nc/2.5/ .

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