The force is Lego shaped as Gabez takes a walk down memory lane…
It’s hard not to smile just thinking about it. Take Lego, everyone’s favourite childhood toy, and Star Wars, everyone’s favourite childhood film saga, and combine the two in a platform action adventure. Great and original concepts lead to great games, and Lego Star Wars certainly doesn’t disappoint. No doubt many of our readers are sick of the Galaxy far far away by now, but to dismiss this game as “just another piece of merchandise” would be to ignore one of the most innovative moves the games industry has had in a long time.
It’s all done simply enough: play through the three prequels running jumping and shooting your way through, collecting “studs” which you can use to buy upgrades in an in-between level hub cantina. Sure, the combat is basic and the puzzles are hardly Grim Fandango, but there’s nothing wrong with a bit of simplicity now and then. To be honest it came as a breath of fresh air when I first played it; too many games are overly-complicated these days, and it’s nice to return to the original core principle: fun.
BRICKING IT BIG TIME
Simple though the gameplay might be, there are still a number of original ideas that stop Lego Star Wars from running stale. Firstly, the graphics - everything looks and feels like its made out of Lego, reminding you of afternoons spent getting little yellow pirates to attack medieval castles. Who cares it didn’t make any sense - this is Lego we’re talking about here! This care-free sentiment is reflected in the nature of Lego Star Wars, making it different from just about every other game in that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The graphics also show this, with neat touches such as enemies collapsing into bricks when you destroy them.
Secondly, it’s not often that we get a game that’s funny to play. Not in the “LOL I blew that guys head off” way of so many first person shooters, but in a genuinely amusing use of visual gags, helped no end by the cute Lego graphics. Seeing the generic Lego grin change to melodramatic shock on some pilots’ faces as their ship collapses beneath them is just one great and memorable moment from the game. The slapstick comedy works especially well through the lack of dialogue in cut-scenes; rather story is communicated through facial expressions and visual action. You might think that this would confuse the player, but actually without words the whole thing becomes a lot simpler and easier to understand, and, furthermore, funnier, in a very Bean-esque way.
Thirdly, the fact that you get to play so many characters in one game is immensely satisfying. Last week I was moaning that the Episode III game was limited because you could only play Anakin and Obi-Wan, but Lego Star Wars has proved to be the perfect antidote for that. Not only do you get to play all the main characters from the prequels (Yoda, Anakin, er, Jar-Jar) but every character you meet, from the lowly Clone Trooper to the dustbin shaped Droid, is unlockable for those who have collected enough studs. You can then play as these characters in the marvellous “free-play mode”, allowing you to revisit old levels as new characters. But here comes the magic part: the levels take on new dimensions every time you play them with a different character, because each person you play has different abilities. For example, unlocking R2D2 and replaying an earlier level might enable you to unlock a door revealing a whole new section, or playing as a Sith might mean that you can force-lightning that control panel that Obi-Wan couldn’t work.
Furthermore, you can also buy amusing upgrades with your hard-earned studs, like giving everyone enormous moustaches for school-child style giggles. There’s a secret level to unlock as well, which is so cool that I won’t spoil it here. I will say this, though: Lego Star Wars has heaps of replay value, and the gameplay is so fun that you’ll want to revisit old areas just to see everything you possibly can. All the levels are so varied that it feels like I’ll never get bored of them - whether it’s biggin’ it up with the Wookies on their home planet or blasting space-ships in a lego version of Episode III’s opening. Star Wars Lego is, in short, as imaginative as a child, - and you can get much better than that.
THE POWAAAARH OF THE DARK SIDE
Though it looks a bit better on the PC, the way Lego Star Wars is meant to be played is on a TV with a game-pad. Invite a mate over and it’s twice the fun thanks to the co-op mode - on every level you get an A.I character following you that someone else can assume control of. Otherwise you can switch between characters which is essential for many puzzles, where you might need Obi’s Jedi double jump instead of Padme’s blaster. Another cool thing that’s involved in puzzle-solving is the ability to force move bricks. Need a bridge? Just use the force to move some nearby free bricks into a platform to walk across. It looks cool, it feels cool and it’ll have you chuckling in ecstasy. You can also use the force with just about anything - to rearrange the scenery, to operate levers, to throw that tree into that Droid’s face… It’s the sort of thing I’ve been wanting to do in a Star Wars game for ages, but the game world has always ended up letting me down. Now, thanks to Lego, we have an interactive environment fit for a Jedi Master.
Lego Star Wars seals the deal with a level of polish missing from a lot of today’s games. Just because it’s Lego doesn’t mean everyone moves like Captain Scarlet; the animation is superb throughout and gives a cinematic edge to the experience. The sound effects are as good as you’d expect them to be, with the John Williams score again doing it’s thang, and each individual Lego brick making the right moves both in the sound and the physics department. This is a top class act, helped no doubt by the lack of input from LucasArts itself - the credit goes solely to Traveller’s Tales who seem to realise that pooing out half-baked titles just won’t cut the mustard anymore.
YO’ DA MAN
Unfortunately, though, Lego Star Wars doesn’t quite reach perfection. Though appealing to both kids and adults thanks to its accessible gameplay and great use of the licence, the fact remains that the difficulty level is squarely aimed at the Young-un’s. This is mainly because of the respawn feature that means that you never actually die, but instead just replay the bit before your demise. The good thing about this is that Lego Star Wars gives you a fun and relaxing time, and there’s little frustration in missing a jump and falling to your doom when you know that, just like in real Lego games as a child, there aren’t any real consequences to failure. The problem is that the puzzles and combat are so basic that there isn’t really a challenge for most gamers, leading to a gameplay experience that won’t last more than a day for most of us, despite the great replayability value.
The camera can also become annoying at times, being as it is fixed and uncontrollable, leading to the odd uncomfortable angle and occasional frustration when trying to find secret items. This does help keep things looking cinematic, though, and also makes co-op mode a lot simpler without the need for a split-screen.
But when all’s said and done, the fact remains that Lego Star Wars is a great little gem of a game. Lego and Star Wars go together like bread and butter, and seeing the format work so well makes me want to see Episode IV V and VI, and, dare I say it, Monkey Island 5, made with Lego. It may be a bit much to spend thirty odd quid on something that’s only going to last a day, but if you rent it, wait till it comes out on budget or really have nothing better to do one Saturday, you could do a hell of a lot worse than this hugely fun if slightly limited platformer. Plus if you’ve got kids they’ll be bound to go wild over it - just be prepared to steal the gamepad from them when your favourite level comes up...
Next week: Star Wars month continues with a look at some of LucasArt’s worst games from “The Galaxy”. We have the answers to why they’re so bad and what can be done about it...
Pros: Great fun; free-play mode is awesome; genuinely funny at times; Star Wars in Lego - need we say more?
Cons: Waaaay too short and easy; camera is slightly annoying at times; you'll need to buy an Xbox to enjoy it properly.