IGN Review of LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga
Last year was a dark era for the Nintendo DS. The truly great LEGO Star Wars series made its debut on the dual-screen handheld to coincide with the release of the console versions - never mind that it was called "LEGO Star Wars II" even though it was the first time the game hit the DS. The game released last year was a buggy and almost a completely unplayable mess, and I'm happy to report that its sequel, LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga bears no resemblance to the 2006 release. The Nintendo DS version completely scraps last year's title and starts from scratch, right down to having a new development team to front the project, and the end product is a really slick rendition of the successful console design, and mirrors much of what makes the console version so much fun.
Don't let the "LEGO" in the title fool you: it's not a younger skewing game. Yes, the game focuses on the world of the kids' toy line, but gameplay wise this is a hardcore gamers' experience. The designers use the LEGO brand a style for its universe and its humor: characters shatter into pieces when they die. They construct elegant structures and mechanisms to advance through the levels. They glint like plastic in the light. And though the title may look like a kid's product, the design is clearly aimed at the gamer crowd looking for some series action.
The game is an extensive romp through all six of the Star Wars movies. Key moments from the films have been converted into action sequences in the game. This also means that there are literally dozens of characters to play in LEGO Star Wars, each with their own specific attributes. Some are lightsaber wielding Jedis, others are blaster toting rebels. Using the force comes into play by shaking objects for their hidden goodies or moving large structures from one side of a level to another in order to access previously unobtainable areas. And because this is a Star Wars game, you can expect tons of battle droids and Stormtroopers to blast and slash
and it's very, very satisfying.
Even though the game focuses on action, there's a lot of attention towards puzzle elements, and it's this balance that really makes LEGO Star Wars stand out as a great videogame. The level designs may be constructed in a linear fashion, but there are plenty of opportunity to stray from that path by using specific characters - certain doors can only be opened by specific character types, and it's up to you to either A) find that character within the level, or B) finish the level without opening that path and return with that character once you've obtained it. The game design has tons of replayablility because of this character element.
LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga for the consoles essentially repackages the levels of LEGO Star Wars and LEGO Star Wars 2 in a combined production
adding a unique feature here and there. On the Nintendo DS, however, there's nothing shared but the title. If you bought last year's LEGO Star Wars II for the Nintendo DS (and I feel sorry for you if you did), you'll find that, in The Complete Saga, the situations and locales may be similar (naturally, since they're based on the same movies), the level designs and puzzles are completely new. What was done in LEGO Star Wars II DS was completely scrapped and started anew.
The one element that wasn't terrible in last year's DS game, the 3D engine, has been improved for The Complete Saga. It's, naturally, still not nearly as impressive as the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, or Wii versions, but it certainly holds its own using the weaker capabilities of the Nintendo DS hardware. The simplistic, angular imagery of the LEGO universe definitely works well with the system's weaknesses and gives the development team the ability to get everything running at a smooth 30 frames per second. The team even manages some nice lighting effects that are subtle and various to match each world's style.
The only real disappointment in the visuals is the team's use of sprites for the storytelling cutscenes. Instead of animating the 3D models like the console team did (and last year's DS team tried to do), the Complete Saga team use awkward 2D cutouts and slide them around the screen. The results are clumsy cutscenes that animate like a Terry Gilliam Monty Python cartoon, but much more awkward and far less funny.
The platform-style action/adventure elements mimic the style in the console version, with the designers adding neat-but-absolutely pointless touchscreen force power - you're free to rub at the screen to activate force elements, but you can also just hold down the A button for a more responsive effect. The DS version also differs in some action mini-games: the vehicular levels the Nintendo DS version features an odd vertical scrolling design that spans many of the key vehicle scenes of the movie. Situations like the Death Star battle and the fight on Hoth (with the harpooning of the AT-ATs) take place in this engine that uses both screens as one long display. These challenges aren't bad and they look fantastic, but they're a little awkward since these levels require a lot of back and forth flying, and enemies and their bullets tend to get lost in the dead space between the two screens. That dead zone also seems to be a significant size bigger virtually than physically, as if the designer guesstimated the distance between the two screens as further than it really is.
The publisher definitely fronted the bill for a "big" cartridge and it shows in the audio. While you're blasting away, recorded samples from the John Williams score's being played and looped seamlessly in the background. It's a huge step above the past attempts at the score using MIDI
you really need the real brass, wind, and percussion instruments to make the Star Wars action feel right, and the audio (sound effects included) is top notch in the DS version.
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