Necessity may very well be the mother of all invention, but sometimes, nothing beats a little craziness to infuse the process. A long time ago, in this very galaxy, a man looked at the egg (possibly still under a chicken at the time) and decided to steal it, cook it up and yes, eat it. Word passed through town of his exploit and soon the man was labeled crazy. His wife probably left him and his children then changed their last names to something more respectable like "Chicken Punters", but still, there is no denying it; that man was a genius. Not so long ago, in a boardroom or some large stuffy office, another man decided to announce that what the world truly needed was to have one game that recreated all three of the first Star Wars episodes. A hush probably fell across the room then. One game? With all three episodes? One of which would still not be out at the time? Would George Lucas even allow such a thing? Isn't this the same man that was rumored to take showers with the diskette containing Episode I's script? This was a doubtful proposition at best. A severe bout of lunacy even! Well, the man went on, this game would be mostly aimed at children. Oh, well, uh, what's a nice, delicate way to say no to such an idea? Children wouldn't want to see Qui-Gon Jinn killed or want to deal with the political goings-on of Nabu or have to sit through hours (and hours and hours) of Jar-Jar. Oh, but wait.... Did he mention that the entire game was going to be built in LEGO; with LEGO Star Wars characters and LEGO spaceships and LEGO buildings in LEGO towns with LEGO flowers in LEGO pots and Darth Maul dual-wielding LEGO Lightsabers? He probably didn't have to, but he also added that the game would feature an amazing co-op mode, tons of unlockables, amazing replay value and that parents, children, hard-core gamers, Star Wars enthusiasts and even girlfriends alike would want to play it. And yes, Chicken Punters take note, that man was a genius too.
Designed by Traveler's Tales, a developer whose previous games have mostly been geared towards children (Finding Nemo, Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, Toy Story Racer, etc) and published by Eidos Interactive, there has never been a more guilty pleasure available to anyone, of any age, on any planet, in the solar system. LEGO Star Wars achieves the envious task of being a game that anyone can pick up, play and enjoy. Star Wars fans will appreciate the attention given to small details surrounding the Star Wars lure and myth (as well as the clever easter eggs found throughout... pay close attention in the first level of Episode II), children will like the look and feel of the game. Parents will appreciate the nostalgic feeling of seeing LEGO again portrayed in a humorous way, and girlfriends will learn the controls easily and really like playing through a game that is light and fun. Even hardcore gamers will enjoy the tons of unlockables available throughout the game and everyone will appreciate a sneak peak at Episode III.
The central hub of the game is Dexter's Diner. From here, you can view your collected ships in the parking lot, run around using your force powers on various diner objects in the hopes of collecting LEGO Studs (the 1 x 1 LEGO blocks that act as the game's currency), buy additional characters, cheats and hints or you may choose to continue your adventure and play a scene from one of the three Star Wars episodes. Each new scene (17 in total plus a Bonus Mission which should give you "Hope") begins with the traditional scrolling marquee, set to John Williams' famous theme, which gives you all the information required to enjoy the level. Each scene also features comical recreations of famous Star Wars moments complete with the authentic camera swipes used since the original trilogy. Fans are guaranteed to appreciate the humor that has been injected at every turn, from Obi-Wan's initial "Padewan" attitude, to seeing Yoda's classic "bounce out" moment in Episode II.
The story (and each unlocked scene thereafter) can be played in single player mode with a computer controlled buddy (which can be switched to on the fly) or in co-op mode with a live partner. In story mode, you are forced to use certain characters to further the "actual" story along, but the real joy of LEGO Star Wars comes from Free Play Mode where you and a friend can take a selection of any unlocked characters into any level in the hopes of using their various special abilities to find the hidden LEGO canisters, achieve True Jedi Status or simply collect more Studs to buy that wonderful Invincible cheat. In this respect, it is therefore quite possible to have Jar-Jar and Darth Maul working together to free Obi-Wan in Episode II. What effect will that rift in the Star Wars continuum have on the minds of Star Wars Purists? Who knows?
As mentioned, each character has his or her own special ability; a Jedi, for example, can use the Force and wield Lighsabers, perform double-jumps and also deflect blaster bolts. Jar-Jar, on the other hand, can jump higher than any other character in the game (so you will actually have to use him from time to time) while the blaster-carrying characters (like Amidala in the token Leia role) can use the Ascension Gun to grapple high ledges. Also, in the tradition of games like Ico, a lot of the gameplay focuses on getting a set number of characters across different obstacles while using their strengths and weaknesses. For example, R2 may have the ability to hover over obstacles, but young Anakin will take a little more forethought to get around a large open hole or pit. Luckily, the controls are exceedingly easy and responsive, the gameplay is easy to pick up and the game is a pure joy to play. The action takes place from a third person perspective with fixed camera angles, but unlike the rigid, unyielding and claustrophobic feel of Resident Evil-type games, these fixed cameras move slightly with your character and never hamper the proceedings of the game. Using the right thumbstick to pan the camera around would have been a welcomed addition, but would have proved impossible to use in co-op mode.
A small note on gameplay must be made concerning the game's difficulty: while the main mode, as well as a few surprise modes (1942-style dogfights, etc), are fairly easy, there is one level that is certain to frustrate with its surprised increase in difficulty. Unfortunately, this is the pod race level and is mandatory for completion of Episode I. By this point however, you will have access to Episodes II and III, and so, if you feel like you need to take a break from that third lap, you can always play other levels and come back to it later. This is still nothing that a little persistence won't fix.
Worried Star Wars Fan: Yes, the game does feature Episode III in its full glorious length, but the bits of story divulged are really just a foregone conclusion for setting up the action of each level. You don't really risk having the forthcoming film ruined for you by finishing the game. For those looking for a few Rancor-Sized Spoilers though: Anakin may very well become Darth Vader and Queen Amidala will probably, maybe, possibly give birth to children who may or may not be named Luke and Leia. My predictions only; You have been warned.
Another great pleasure of this game comes from the various forms in which LEGO is used to recreate the Star Wars universe. At every turn, it's a marvelous surprise to note how easily the two come together. The graphics are bright and vibrant and convey not only the light feel of the game, but nostalgia in more ways than one. It's quite amusing to run around in a particular recreated location from the Star Wars universe, and at the same time, be able to swipe at it with a Lightsaber and see the various LEGO pieces used to create it fall away. While the game engine is never on the brink of taxing the Xbox hardware, it runs smoothly and loads quickly too.
As with all things Star Wars related, the audio is beyond reproach. While the game developers opted to only use grunts and the likes from various characters (due to licensing and royalty issues perhaps), they are all that is required. Qui-Gon Jinn still sounds like Leam Neeson and R2 stills sounds like R2. A small blessing is that Jar-Jar is mostly silent throughout his scenes and the god awful "yipees" from Young Anakin have been omitted. Thank You Traveler's Tales! The music, of course, can never be mistaken for anything other than John Williams' compositions. You will hear the traditional Star Wars theme played a few times throughout as well as every other memorable piece of music in the scenes in which they belong.
All in all, the best way to describe LEGO Star Wars is quite simple: it is pure fun. No other game has ever managed to capture the feel of the new trilogy quite like this game does and that's saying a lot considering we are talking about a world purely made of LEGO. Yes, you can rent this game over a weekend and finish it, probably unlocking all the characters (over 50) and buying all the cheats, but this is a game that is fun to play over and over with various people. Children will love playing this game with their parents, probably showing them a thing or two along the way. And even playing it alone, there is a certain satisfaction earned from using various characters in the free mode to accomplish all the required tasks. Make no mistake about it, this game may have been aimed at children, but gamers and Star Wars fans of all ages should check it out and enjoy it for what it is.