This newest Star Wars title comes from development house Krome Studios, which recently released The Force Unleashed for Nintendo's console. If you bought the latter game, you will have undoubtedly tried its multiplayer duel mode, a supplemental feature allowing Jedi and Sith to face off in arena-based multiplayer fights to the death. Clone Wars: Lightsaber Duels, based on the movie and animated series of the same brand, is a whole project which revolves around Unleashed's secondary feature, and yet for some perplexing reason it feels both shallower and less refined. I presume this is because it also happens to be a title that skews younger, just like the aforementioned film and ongoing series. I think that some kids will appreciate following along with the Clone Wars story and fighting as or against some of the flashy heroes and villains from the property. The developer has done its best to recreate the universe on Wii and the result is an experience that occasionally shines with high production values. However, there isn't much in Lightsaber Duels that hasn't already been done in Force Unleashed. In fact, the opposite is true, as the previous game features more playable fighters across a wider spectrum of the Star Wars galaxy, not to mention more gameplay options and a better control scheme.
Lightsaber Duels stays true to the Clone Wars movie, borrowing pre-rendered cinematic snippets and clinging closely to the storyline, a mishmash of interstellar highways, Jabba the Hut's kidnapped son and Count Dooku and the Separatists' repeated attempts to sabotage the Republic's Skywalker and Kenobi, among others. The game is actually pretty light on story despite being heavy on meaningless in-game dialog -- a whole lot of trash-talking from all sides, monologuing characters who inevitably repeat themselves during fights. Still, I remain impressed with the sheer amount of voice work in the game, all of it supplied by the cast members, and I'm certain that young players will find the banter interesting even as veteran gamers quickly notice that the one-liners from characters are just that -- catch phrases that exist outside of any genuine story-driving conversation.
Krome Studios has recognizably worked to add visual polish to the fights, which sparkle with a wide assortment of real-time lighting and particle effects. The characters themselves animated stiffly -- almost robotically, even, but when lightsabers clash in a fury of sparks, it still looks good. Additionally, the environments show animated backdrops and feature pseudo-interactive foreground objects that can be picked up and hurled at opponents with the Force. There are still some issues -- lip-synching that doesn't at all match with dialog, for example -- but by and large Lightsaber Duels features a well-crafted graphical presentation. The game also runs in 480p and 16:9 widescreen modes and hums along with a very fluid framerate.
I find the selection of playable fighters lacking, though. There are just 10 characters to choose from, including Anakin, Obi-Wan, Ahsoka Tano, Mace Windu, Dooku, Asaji Ventress, General Grievous, Kit Fisto, Plo Koon and the new EG-05. To help make up for the short list of characters, the single-player campaign challenges you not only to duel with each character twice-per match (fights are comprised of two acts), but also several times over as you progress, a tedious way to extend gameplay length. Again, I'm reminded of Unleashed's secondary duel mode, which boasts a roster of fighters at least twice as large.
And then, finally, we come to gameplay controls, bound to be the biggest disappointment for most Wii fans. Note that the developer has claimed it neither intended nor promised to create one-to-one swordplay controls using the Wii remote. Fair enough. But when the official box for the game says, and I quote, "Wield your WIi remote like a lightsaber," well, clearly certain expectations are being set. Thus, if you have any hope of really wielding your Wii remote like a lightsaber, I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but that ain't happening. What you do in this game is waggle. Waggle left and right to swipe left and right and waggle up and down to slice upward and downward. To the title's credit, it does accurately recognize and translate each gesture and if you do swipe from left to right or vice versa, your on-screen fighter will do the same. You can also stab inward by thrusting forward with the controller, always a poor control choice that remains so with this game as this maneuver does not register as reliably. I've just described your primary move set.
You can charge your swipes with Force power, instantly making them more powerful. You can also send out a Force blast and throw objects. You can block and counter. And you can link together combos -- left, right, left right, or left, right, down, left, etc. But that's pretty much it, and so you will inevitably be using the same attacks over and over again. As with most fighters that overuse waggle, fights will eventually deteriorate and devolve into shake-fests, the Wii version of button-mashing, and this tactic (if you can call it that) is every bit as effective. Force Unleashed even implemented a fun gyroscope-based Force Clash mechanic in which you had to tilt the Wii remote around like a lightsaber to block enemy attacks. That's all gone from Clone Wars, which opts instead to use Simon Says-style waggle during these moments.
It's not as though the gameplay controls are irreversibly broken. They actually function fine the majority of the time, with a few registration hiccups. The problem is that the configuration, whether designed for kids or adults, is uninspired. The gesture system does not nurture a more immersive experience. It doesn't feel more tactile. All of the waggle is very obviously there as substitutions for buttons, and thus, it's completely unnecessary. And while Im sure that, again, the less discerning 10-and-under crowd probably won't care, there is utterly no compelling reason for experienced gamers to put up with it.
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