Reviewed: October 2, 2006
Released: September 12, 2006
It was probably about two year ago when we all first heard rumor that Lucas Arts and LEGO would be teaming up to produce a video game based on the three most recently released Star Wars movies – only starring an all-LEGO cast and in an all-LEGO environment. It was then that we all laughed at the likelihood that this proposed game was going to be a true and utter flop. Boy, were we all wrong.
When LEGO Star Wars hit the scene in the fall of 2005, it caught most gamers completely off guard. The game based not only one, but two licensed properties – one of them being about as kid-oriented as you can get – was suddenly earning critical acclaim when it normally would have been given the kiss of death.
The Star Wars franchise has timeless popularity, and by combining the action of the blockbuster movies with the familiar and family-friendly LEGO building blocks, LEGO Star Wars deftly blurred the line that separates the young from the old, resulting in a game with massive appeal.
For 2006, Lucas Arts has decided to apply the same formula to the original Star Wars series with LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy. And the result is every bit as fun as the first game – if not more.
Gamers familiar with last year’s release of LEGO Star Wars will instantly feel at home with LEGO Star Wars II’s identical gameplay mechanic. Mixing equal parts action platformer, twitch shooter, and switch-based puzzler in a third person most closely resembling the iconic (and underappreciated) Metal Arms: Glitch in the System – but with none of the foul language and potty humor.
The big hook with the LEGO Star Wars series is the heavy emphasis on co-op play, which allows a friend to seamlessly jump in and out of the action at any stage of the adventure – helping to fend off the waves of attacking Storm Troopers, and complete the simple two-character puzzles and battle combos.
As mentioned LEGO Star Wars II follows the storyline of the original movie trilogy from the late ‘70’s/early ‘80’s – the saga of the Rebel forces fighting against Darth Vader’s Imperial Army and his massive Death Star weapon. While most of us would call these the “first three” or “oldest” movies, Star Wars purists would remind us that these are actually the 4th, 5th and 6th episodes in the story making them the “newest”, and that the “last three” movies (released within the past six years) are actually the 1st, 2nd and 3rd episodes and therefore the “oldest”. Confused? Me too.
Regardless of the semantics, LEGO Star Wars II is broken down into three distinct sections, each representing one of the three original episodes; Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. Each episode is further broken down into a half dozen or so chapters relating pivotal points within each movie. Each chapter begins with a detailed description of the events leading to the ensuing action, and supplying a general goal to be obtained.
More than the others, each episode of the first – er – original movie trilogy was known for their unique environments in which a majority of the action takes place; the original mostly within Vader’s Death Star, the Empire Strikes back was a snowy affair, and Return of the Jedi was in the dense forests of Endor. LEGO Star Wars II does an excellent job bringing the gamer into each of these environments, and nailing the essential action elements that lie within.
For most of the gameplay characters, combat takes the form of shooting blaster guns at waves of enemies. The guns are highly effective – usually dispatching an enemy at range with a single shot, with a convenient auto-targeting system, which compensates for enemies on perched on ledges and balconies.
The Jedi are armed with their lightsabers, which prove to be less effective – requiring close-quarters combat for the multiple hacks and slashes needed to fell an enemy. The Jedi are gifted with the Force powers, which not only help to push back or confuse enemies, but also help to move and stack the LEGO building blocks needed to assemble vehicles or weapons, or to move objects or characters around to complete puzzles.
Nearly all of the vehicles from the movies – including a few others – make their appearance; from the trusty Millennium Falcon and Jedi Fighters spacecraft, to the land-based Snow Speeders and Speeder Bikes – fans finally get to try their hands at all of the prized vehicles hey dreamed of as kids.
The control is of the simple direct-3D approach with a single action button, a jump button, and an attack button. The character move smoothly about the screen, and only in a few precarious jumping puzzles did we ever feel in the least bit frustrated.
The vehicle control is fairly forgiving, and even the most inexperienced player will get the hang of directing the ships around. In fact, it only took about ten minutes for my four-year-old son to start supplying well-needed help in the relatively complex task of felling the great AT-AT vehicles. I won’t spoil the action by telling you how it is done, just know that there is some intricate flying involved, and my four your old was able to help out due to the forgiving controls.
The game employs a slick stealth element, requiring character to don the headgear of certain other characters to access particular gates and switches – in one level doors might only be accessible to storm troopers, while others may be for bounty hunters only. This headgear is available from electronic stations scattered around the levels.
The real stealth challenge is not so much figuring out which hat to wear through which door, but rather how to keep said hat on given that a single blow from an enemy will render it useless. The developers like to place the stations at only the most precarious areas, forcing the gamer to develop creative defense mechanisms on order to reach the needed switches.
And that brings up one of the bittersweet issues with the game; the game was almost assuredly made with co-op play in mind, and based on the teammate AI, the puzzle structure, and boss battles, co-op help from a friend is nearly a necessity.
Without dropping any spoilers, most of the boss battles and puzzles require one player to trigger an event and the other to form the actual attack. Normally this wouldn’t be much of a issue, but the AI-controlled teammates in LEGO Star Wars II are useless at any defending. Like, they don’t deal out any damage unless they are controlled by a human.
In fact, while parties might include an upwards of five members, four are really are included simply to have a cast of characters available so the gamer can warp into them at different times and exploit their specific strengths. An Ewok is necessary for exploring the small doors on the planet of Endor, Droids are great for unlocking doors, and Chewbacca – he’s great for ripping arms off of attackers. But on their own – without human control – they do not do a lick of damage to attackers.
And in the same respect, working out a two-person puzzle is nearly impossible when an AI-controlled character fails to hold up his end of the bargain. There were actual instances when I resorted to clicking in on a second controller, taking over the AI character, and leading him or her to the proper puzzle element, then clicking out the controller.
And things get really frustrating when the AI cannot fend off attackers as you desperately try to assemble together needed puzzle pieces or vehicle parts.
That also brings up a second gripe; the two incidents that occurred during my session, the first of which where a crucial block pile was missing, and the second when a switch failed to activate the needed gate. In both incidents, I tried in vein for at least a half an hour each before consulting online walkthroughs only to find that the game was “glitched” and the level would need to be restarted. In total, I probably wasted and hour or more backtracking, trying to figure out if I missed something along the way.
And though the co-op nature of the game is quite evident, the game does not do so well when characters split too far apart on the screen. Generally when this happens, the game will pan the camera out as far as it can before it begins gently sliding one of the characters about in an attempt to keep them both in view. If said character is on a ledge, most likely he will be pushed off. If he respawns, he will respawn in the same point and immediately be nudged off again, and again, and again. And in the unfortunate case when the two characters find themselves on two opposing sides of a central object the camera often gets locked in place – this happened to us during an intense flying mission and caused us to have to restart from the beginning.
As for the final gripe – the flying missions can tend to be overly long and a bit dull, and the goals were often nebulous. More times that I would like to admit, I nearly dozed off as we wandered aimlessly over the landscape trying to figure out where to go next – which is scary considering that the flying sections are on rails for the most part!
But enough of the bad stuff – for the most part LEGO Star Wars II plays exceptionally well, and as long as gamers know the rules of playing co-op, keeping together, and plodding through the flying missions – they are going to have a blast.
From the instantly recognizable characters to the gorgeous environments and effects, LEGO Star Wars II oozes quality. And even for the GameCube – with its older processing power and limited disc memory – the game looks like it would be at home Xbox, or even the Xbox 360. In fact, during the course of the review, I downloaded the Xbox 360 demo and other than a few texturing differences, the two games were virtually identical.
The meticulous level of detail in combining the alien landscapes with the LEGO building blocks is outstanding. From the intricate shapes to the colors used, there is no denying that each and every LEGO item in the game is built using authentic LEGO design, and not simply skinning the famous LEGO studs onto random objects.
As a father of three very creative kids, we have an extensive collection of LEGO pieces floating around our home, and seeing uniquely recognizable pieces scattered about the game – the flowers, the jet engines, etc – really shows the developer’s true attention to detail and helps give fans a warm sense of familiarity.
As for any negative issues, most are limited to those already been mentioned in the Gameplay portion of the review – the frequent camera panning issues, and the random missing pieces. Other than that, there were a few tight areas where the camera was prone to getting locked behind objects, but it was never much of an issue.
LEGO Star Wars II follows a very unique path in terms of sound design, and does a great job of drawing the gamer into the Star Wars universe, without lousing things up with bad voiceovers. The solution; to forego voiceovers altogether, and replace them with extremely effective grunts, groans and other expressive sounds – matched with equally expressive onscreen body language.
What this means is that if a character wants to ask a question about a particular power panel, he will point at the panel, cock his head to the side and say “huh?”. Another character might respond by shaking his head and hand and saying “uh uh” or nodding agreeably with a “uh huh!” It sounds awfully silly in print, but it is exceptionally effective in the game and helps avoid the “That’s now Luke Skywalker sounds!” arguments.
There are a few unique character expressions that simply are mandatory for a Star Wars game, and they are present and in perfect order; Chewbacca’s guttural roars, R2-D2’s bleepy-bleepy noise, C-3PO’s anally challenged moaning, and the reedy voice of Yoda. It’s just amazing that the developers nailed the familiar sounds and told a great story without the characters ever actually saying a word.
The sound effects are as pitch-perfect as the expressions, with the familiar sounds of lightsaber sweeps, blaster fire, and even vehicles like speeder bikes. The game does a great job of using positional sound effects to give a true sense excitement as tie fighters zoom by.
And what Star Wars game would be complete without the famous John Williams soundtrack? LEGO Star Wars II features much of the music from the movies; always playing in the background and seamlessly increasing in intensity to match the onscreen action.
Really, the main issue that might turn hardcore fans off to LEGO Star Wars II is that the game is awfully easy, and with unlimited deaths the story mode seems to slip by way too quickly. I myself played the game in co-op with my four year old son, and even with the hour or so lost to the aforementioned glitches, we still finished the story in around seven or eight hours total. Two seasoned gamers would probably be able to halve that figure.
As for the single gamer, LEGO Star Wars II will pose a bit more of a challenge, but more because of the co-op heavy nature of the game’s design. Sadly, this means that the game will often result in unneeded frustration for the single player, especially in the boss battles.
Still, the game is a blast the entire way through – and given all the hidden mini-kits and characters to unlock, the gameplay is limitless.
Hardcore Star Wars nuts, casual gamers, family gamers, and even the non-gamers out there –all would be hard pressed to not enjoy themselves in the world of LEGO Star Wars II. The familiar setting, the familiar story, and the familiar building blocks all stack up for one of the most memorable experiences in this generation of gaming.