Platform: Xbox, PlayStation 2, GameCube
Developer: Traveller's Tales
Review Date: 1/13/08
Here's a novel idea: let's make a video game that's both entertaining and actually fun to play. Seems like a no-brainer, doesn't it? But in today's video game market, the majority of the effort is going into making games longer, harder, and more demanding. They've become a chore, aimed at the hardcore gaming elite while shutting out 90% of the rest of the population. This is why "Lego Star Wars" is so refreshing. Not only does it hit the ultimate nerd sweet spot of combining "Star Wars" and Lego's, but it's also designed to be enjoyed. This seems downright subversive in today's climate.
The game takes a cast of Lego characters through the original three "Star Wars" films: "A New Hope," "The Empire Strikes Back," and "Return Of The Jedi." As you progress through the story, you collect Lego studs, power bricks, and hidden mini-canisters, and blow up everything in sight. The studs you collect can be used to purchase extra characters and abilities back at the Mos Eisley cantina. Several chapters involve vehicle missions which have you piloting X-Wing fighters, snow speeders, speeder bikes, land speeders, AT-ST's, and the ever-endearing Millennium Falcon. While these levels aren't as fun, they still provide a lot of entertainment. As the story unfolds, you're treated to amusing and irreverent cutscenes as the source material is interpreted and parodied by the charming Lego cast. After completing the story mode and unlocking various characters, you can go back and play through the game in free mode to pick up all of the hidden and bonus items. Here's where the real meat of the game is, and you have to use the abilities of all the different characters to achieve success. This is hilariously fun and deliriously entertaining. You can also play cooperatively with a friend, which just adds more to the amusement.
The gameplay mechanic is utterly brilliant in that you can't fail. If your character dies from some mishap, you lose points, but you infinitely respawn so that with enough persistence you're guaranteed to make progress. This allows you to thoroughly enjoy the experience the first time through as a journey of discovery, and then really hone your skills and dig into the details on subsequent visits. The "can't lose" mechanic also allows the game to succeed where nearly all other "Star Wars" games fail. You actually get to go through the events of the films as the principal characters, not as some faceless clone trooper or Luke's third cousin on a critical side mission outside of continuity. In a way, it's the purest interpretation of the material I've ever seen in a game.
As much as I love playing this game, it does have numerous flaws and problems. The most infuriating problem is that the mission objectives are unstated and often impossible to figure out, forcing you to refer to online strategy guides for clues as to how to advance. I can see this being extremely frustrating for younger players (unless they're not tainted by preconceived notions of gaming theory, design patterns, and gameplay mechanics). Additionally, the controls are kind of sloppy, so precision jumping is extremely difficult. Most of the time this isn't a problem, but every once in a while you're faced with an extremely difficult jump that becomes much harder than it should be. This is made worse by the fact that you have minimal camera control, which hampers your ability to line up jumps correctly. Most of the puzzles in the game are cleverly simple, but several require a considerable amount of dexterity and unforgiving timing. For better or worse, the game plays the nostalgia card really heavily, which only die-hard fans can truly appreciate. Basically, if you're not a fan of "Star Wars" or Lego's, the game has little to offer. For people unfamiliar with the "Star Wars" mythology (yes, they do exist), there's a serious unspoken learning curve to figure out the mechanics and alignment of Jedis, blasters, lightsabers, droids, and The Force. The game just assumes you know what all of these things are up front and how to use them. Still, most of these issues are minor niggles on my part that don't detract from the most fun I've had playing a game in years. I hope that the upcoming "Lego Batman" game continues in the same tradition.