Despite how cool I thought the concept behind LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game
might have been, I never figured that the finished product would hold up as well as it has. In fact, I'm ashamed to admit that I'd almost written it off as the next Haven
or Chaos Legion
-- or to put it more specifically, one of those kinds of titles that came across great on paper, but not in real life. Then I played it (and played it, and played it some more) and before long I'd realized just how big of a mistake I almost made. LEGO Star Wars
was surprisingly good.
Truth be told LEGO Star Wars is probably one of the best children's titles on the market today. Though it almost certainly isn't well suited for anyone under the age of six, its combination of puzzles, action, and Star Wars mythology is a heck of a lot of fun. And in a twist that's unlike most other family-oriented games out there, it's just as amusing for adults as it is for kids.
Of course, one of the reasons that the game is so entertaining in the first place is because it captures the feeling of the latest Star Wars trilogy so effectively. Spanning the first three episodes in total, it highlights most of our favorite moments from The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith, and it does so with quite a bit of humor (Or at least I think that it highlights the best moments from Revenge of the Sith. Considering that the movie isn't out for another two months or so, it's hard to say).
Luckily the game's presentation doesn't rehash the same old film footage that we've seen a million times over, but recreates several classic scenes with rendered LEGOs in funny situations instead. Characters like Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, and Threepio stumble over building blocks, make funny faces, run into things, and basically do their best Neil Simon impersonation all day long. The end result is a very charming and very likeable interpretation of the world's most recognizable franchise, and it makes me wish that there were even more cutscenes than we already have.
This personality is made so enjoyable because of how accurately modeled the LEGOs in LEGO Star Wars are. As far as modern technology goes, the visuals here are about as close to the real thing as you're going to get. In fact, every object in the world is made up of individual blocks that are assembled just as they would be if you owned the real-life playset. There's even a lightly-animated physics system and practically everything you encounter is destructible -- with breakable doorways, windows, tables, bombs, fences, and people (yes I said people) among them.
Even more impressive is how close all three versions of the game resemble each other. Since the PS2 version was the lead SKU during production, the two remaining platforms were pretty much built around it. This means that, save for a few extras in the Xbox edition (bump mapping and better lighting) and a higher resolution in the Windows iteration, the end products are nearly identical. There are even nifty reflections and a couple of transparency effects I wasn't expecting across all three systems, with only the occasional slowdown to mar the experience.
Equally enjoyable is the excellent audio arrangement. Presented in full surround sound with that familiar John Williams score, LEGO Star Wars wields its authenticity pretty strongly. Every last tune, from the Main Theme and Duel of the Fates to the Love Pledge and the Finale are just as striking here they were in the motion pictures. Each stage's music is dynamic too, which means that your actions onscreen are matched perfectly by the soundtrack. And when you throw in the classic blaster and lightsaber sounds that we all grew up on, your ears are treated to pretty much everything they need. The only questionable element here could be the developer's decision to omit voice-overs, with occasional blips, growls, and robot sounds as the only bits that make up the dialog. Artistically it makes sense, but for some people it could prove a little too silent.
Luckily LEGO Star Wars doesn't just look good and sound good, it plays well too. And while it's definitely not on the same complexity level as other recent action games like Dante's Awakening or God of War, it still has some real value to it. Besides, the game is obviously aimed at children who don't care about 79-hit chain combos anyway.
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But don't let that fool you. Though it is a little on the simplistic side LEGO Star Wars still has quite a bit of depth, the likes of which will probably surprise you. After all, for the most part the only buttons available in this adventure are the Jump, Attack, and Special commands -- with little else to worry about as you go along. The strategy and fun of the game, however, isn't found by pressing those buttons over and over again, but by figuring out how to play to each character's strengths. In Episode I / Chapter 2, for example, players gain command of Qui-Gon Jin, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Jar Jar Binks. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan have lightsabers (with different attack combos among them) and force powers that can move and manipulate objects. But Jar Jar can't do any of those things. In fact, he has no way to attack his enemies at all. Instead, he just jumps twice as high as the other two. But believe it or not, that makes him an extremely important character in upcoming height puzzles. It's this partnership between the heroes that makes the game work.
And that's really what LEGO Star Wars is all about: solving puzzles, figuring out the right character combinations within your means, and slashing the poodoo out of the Separatists. It's not overly complicated, it's easy to get into, and more importantly, it's a lot of fun to play. Teaming up with a buddy and going simultaneous two-player is even better, and being able to switch between your characters on the fly means that you don't have to worry about being stuck with someone you don't want for too long. There are even a couple of racing and starfighter mini-games thrown in for good measure, what more do you need?
My only real concern with LEGO Star Wars is that it's incredibly easy. Designed for children, even novice gamers should be able to complete it in a day or two. The inability to move the camera independently of where the game wants to put it can cause a few issues too, but in the long run it's not as bothersome as the missing feature seems to imply. Plus, when you factor in that there' something like 50 different characters, a ton of hidden goodies, unlockable gags, and even a hidden super bonus I don't want to spoil here, the game's few really don't take much away from the whole. Now if only Traveller's Tales would make a sequel based on the second trilogy...
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