The first game from new development subsidiary LucasArts Singapore (housed within Lucasfilm Animation Singapore) is one of the most ambitious and impressive action titles to hit Nintendo's portable all year. With simple, but fun stylus-based controls and amazing production values by DS standards, Jedi Alliance is an entertaining experience through and through and comes highly recommended to fans of the Clone Wars license. That said, any handheld owner looking for a well-made diversion will find a quality selection waiting with this stand-out effort.
Based on the Clone Wars movie and animated series of the same name, Jedi Alliance features a unique storyline set between Star Wars Episode II and III. The Jedi go in search of a missing cargo containing lightsaber crystals and begin to unravel a plot involving the Separatist Army, led by Count Dooku and General Grievous. LucasArts Singapore has paid meticulous attention to the presentation and the results shockingly good.
The project features uncommonly fluid choreography, all of it rendered using the game engine, which enhances the story-telling. Think cinematic action sequences with lasers flying and lots of heroics. The title's powerful 3D engine allows for large, elaborately detailed environments on Nintendo's handheld, not to mention a bevy of graphical effects usually not bothered with on the platform. Fluidly animated characters with projected shadows. Multiple light sources per area, some of them blinking on and off, temporarily illuminating dark, futuristic corridors. Transparent, animated water. And a robust particle system. It looks really good and the backdrops are constantly changing. One moment, you're battling through an isolated alien base, the next you're swimming through an underwater mine system, and then you're jumping across speeding vehicles in the high-rises of a populated city.
Meanwhile, the developer has managed a high caliber aural presentation to match the visuals. Music is clean and ambient. Sound effects are incredibly crispy and punchy, but better yet, all the character interactions are dramatically and believably voiced by actors for equally impressive results. Although all of the cut-scenes feature very well done voice work, you will also be treated to seamlessly integrated mid-level dialogue exchanges between characters. Paired with the good choreography, Jedi Alliance's story and in-game chats between heros look and sound very natural -- much more so than those in the more disappointing Wii companion game, Lightsaber Duels.
No doubt, the developer has a commendable cinematic sense, but what of the gameplay elements? Jedi Alliance is not a 3D fighter like its Wii counterpart, but a full-blown action game. You control a Jedi duo and are able to select from a small cast of characters including Anakin Skywalker, Ahsoka Tano, Obi-wan Kenobi, Mace Windu, Plo Koon and Kit Fisto. You can also play as a few other characters as the story advances, including R2-D2, which is always a plus. From the beginning of each mission you must choose not one, but two of the aforementioned Jedi and pair them together for adventure. With that done, the action starts and you use the stylus to direct your team through polygonal 3D levels complete with basic battling and puzzling challenges.
The stylus control in this title works much better than it does for a pure action affair like Prince of Persia: The Fallen King. This is because the pace is much slower. Sometimes, a little too slow, in fact. One complaint I have about sliding the stylus around to guide characters is that when they are in exploration mode, they walk at a snail's pace, an oversight that has nothing to do with technical limitations. When enemies appear, the Jedi team goes into combat mode, drawing lightsabers, and is suddenly able to run at a significantly faster rate. Had the entire game moved at this latter speed, it would've been even more enjoyable, as far as I'm concerned.
Even so, the pace is acceptable and the challenges still engaging. When you can interact with items, they glow, and different results transpire depending on the context of the situation. If you near a ledge, a glowing dot might appear nearby and you'll know you can tap it to jump up. You might alternatively spot a glowing dot near an electrical panel and will quickly distinguish it as a trigger point of some kind. There are more complex examples, including situations in which the team will need to split apart, one Jedi activating a lift so that the other can return the favor. But these portions are pretty simplistic, which is why it's good that they are separated by other unique and fun interactions.
Oftentimes, you will arrive at locked doors that must be hacked, an action that triggers a unique screen of scrolling symbols that must be dragged to the appropriate corner before a countdown timer runs out. There are variations of the hacking mode, too -- for instance, times when the symbols change color, adding an extra layer of difficulty. Meanwhile, there are a wide array of QuickTime-style events -- scripted sequences that only play out if you're able to slide the stylus around to on-screen cues. I understand that some reviewers hate these types of mechanics because they offer very little control freedom, and usually I agree, but in Jedi Alliance's case the system works very well and enables you to observe some very impressive cinematics.
Finally, Jedi Alliance utilizes fixed camera system. Sometimes, you've got a 2D viewpoint that dynamically shifts to reveal 3D walkways as you go. Sometimes the camera pans back to showcase a particularly large level. I understand that the developer wanted to show off the scope of some areas, but in some instances the effect backfires because -- especially during battles -- you want pinpoint stylus accuracy because you can render unique attacks by tapping foes at high, medium and low points. It becomes much harder to pull this off when the camera is panned far back and you can barely see yourself, let alone the enemies you're supposed to be fighting.
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