Review by clarkisdark

"Play this game, you will."

The reason Star Wars is so important in film history is because of its enormous merchandising success. I don't know anybody who doesn't own some kind of Star Wars T-shirt or collectable toy or branded electronic. Naturally, Star Wars has seeped into the popularity of LEGO and video games. Is it so surprising, then, to see a collaberation of the two mediums? But what may have looked like a safe investment in the kid niche turned into something far greater. Dot, dot, dot...

If a game wants to be a LEGO game, it needs to implement the LEGO idea to the fullest. Games like Drome Racers don't take advantage of the fact that LEGO bricks are just bricks. I'm very happy to see that LEGO Star Wars takes the LEGO premise seriously. All characters are LEGO people with the same, crappy, drawn-on faces you've come to love from the toy series. When characters die, their body parts scatter everywhere in a mess of plastic bricks. The locations are full of LEGO structures and recognizable "special pieces," like those round, corrugated trees that seem to have disappeared in recent LEGO packs. None of it is very realistic or highly detailed, but I'm giving the thumbs up here, because, for once, a LEGO game looks like it should.

As for the camera, it is absolutely clueless to what's going on. Some areas position the camera in the most awkward places, like right in the middle of a giant fight. Oh, sure, that sounds more epic, but it keeps you from seeing very much of the battlefield. When two players are present, the camera seems to struggle in deciding which player to follow. On several occasions, rather than keep both players confined, the camera allows one player to drag the other off the screen. The unfortunate player either dies and regenerates on newer ground or remains stuck until his/her friend comes back. It seems almost like a glitch in the design. LEGO Star Wars has several glitches, notably instances where the game actually locks up and must be reset.

The sound in this game is quite subdued. I don't know why, but it's just a quiet game overall. If you want to hear it, you have to turn your TV volume all the way up. The music is taken from the movies but is stripped down to a very basic melody. It creates kind of an empty feeling, but the chatter between you and the co-op teammate you better have when you play this should cover up the game's shyness. One nice feature is a lack of voice acting. Yes, this is good, because there isn't any text to voice anyway. The game plays the entire Star Wars saga in fast-forward, skipping all the boring parts and filling in the essentials with Charlie Chaplin charades. It's very amusing.

LEGO Star Wars is clearly designed for a younger audience, forcing it into simplicity, but that is why this game so much fun. You aren't having to deal with complicated and problematic tasks like the ones Tak and Billy Hatcher relied on. Here, life is much easier. The game covers Episodes I through III, highlighting the more versatile moments (and thankfully ignoring the love stories). Though the majority of the game takes place as a 3D adventure, there are sporadic levels of racing and scroll-shooting. The adventure parts are definitely the best. The levels themselves aren't all that interesting, offering few elaborate puzzles and a variety of pushovers for enemies. What makes this work are the characters. You'll typically be pitted as a Jedi, wielding a lightsaber and being able to use the Force on inanimate objects. The Force comes into play to solve puzzles, shove enemies into walls, and uncover hidden studs (the game's currency). You rarely travel alone, however, and those accompanying you are free to play at any time. In fact, it becomes necessary to switch between them. Jar Jar Binks may be useless as a fighter, but he is needed to jump to higher ledges. Padme has a stupid name, but her blaster can hit out-of-reach targets. So on and so forth.

After each mission, you can return to Dexter's Diner to purchase cheats or playable characters. The character roster here is amazing. Everybody from Yoda to Commander Cody are up for taking. Though many of the 50+ characters are just reiterations of other characters, it's still a lot of fun to experiment with them. Every character purchased becomes a "citizen" of Dexter's Diner, so you can play them or kill them at leisure. A neat touch is how the characters interact on their own. If you go outside the diner, you'll most likely see a bunch of Jedi teaming up on Count Dooku or a droid being shot at by a couple of Wookies. And if you attack somebody with a lightsaber, be prepared for them to fight back.

Every character obviously controls differently. Yoda is totally frenetic and jumps all over the place while C3PO waddles around at an aggravating pace. Adjusting to each can be a bit deterring, furthermore since everyone has different special functions, but the basics are strong enough. LEGO Star Wars really emphasizes simplicity. Don't expect a deep combo system or completely open-ended Force mechanics. I can appreciate that, but the controls don't always feel fluid. A Jedi's double-jump is very particular, and some characters' lightsaber skills are a bit more sluggish than they should be (they're Jedi, after all). Characters can't even run up staircases properly; you have to jump up them. I'm not saying these are terrible pieces of the game, but to those of you who have played a lot of similar games, they're noticeable shortcomings.

You are given four hearts per life, but your lives are infinite. You can fall off a cliff all you want, and your mission is unaffected. This certainly makes the game much easier, thereby turning it into a friendly jaunt rather than yet another in a long line of frustrating video games. LEGO Star Wars is innocently fun, and the only maddening moments come from slipping off a very small platform. But if I die, it's no big deal. I can forgive that.

Lasting Appeal:
I had expected every episode to span several chapters and last well into the month. I was wrong. Each episode contains only six chapters, most of which are relatively short. I was able to beat the game within six or seven hours, and a lot of that time was spent goofing around with my co-op partner. That is where the game fails to die. LEGO Star Wars is wonderfully fun with a second player, and I wouldn't encourage you to play it any other way. It is much more fun to solve puzzles as teammates, but it's even more fun to break out into random duels with each other. Yes, you can hurt your teammate, which often leads to hilarious results.

And while the saga may be complete, there is still reason to continue playing. Collecting the par amount of studs on every level opens up a secret episode (care to take a guess which one it is?), not to mention these studs can be used to purchase some amusing cheats and additional characters. Once a mission has been completed, you have the option of doing it again as "Free Play," this time taking in any character you wish. Darth Maul fighting for the good side? Sure! The game also assigns you several random teammates in Free Play, giving you a good selection to choose from to uncover secrets you couldn't reach before. Every level has ten "kits" hidden in it that build a model ship outside Dexter's Diner. You can't drive the ships, though, but it gives you an excuse to play the game some more.

I actually had more fun playing this game than I did Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks. While the latter offers a more refined experience, LEGO Star Wars is the better because of its charming presentation and character-based gameplay (which create a richer two-player outing). What hurts LEGO Star Wars is an unfortunate lack of general polish. The camera needs to be more lenient, the controls more fluid, and the bugs less intrusive. To be nitpicky and pass this one over, however, would be a terrible mistake. This is one of the best "kiddie" games I have ever played. In fact, it surpasses the "kiddie" moniker as a game which can be enjoyed by anyone. Put Halo and Manhunt away for the weekend and relish in the magic of being young again.

+ Great LEGO feel
+ Highly amusing
+ Fun co-op
+ Character surplus
-- Not very polished

Score: 8/10

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 10/12/05

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