Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Lego Star Wars Post-Mortem

[Now Experiencing] [Computer Gaming]

Lego Star Wars for the PS2 is what happens when you design a game with only one objective in mind: fun.

Challenging? Nope, not important. Thought-provoking? Not commercial. Graphically amazing? Meh.

Granted, you can finish the entire game, including all unlockables and bonus content, in the course of a single day without having to particularly stretch. But that day will be one of the most fun gaming days of your life.

The title of the game pretty much speaks for itself. It's Star Wars, done with Lego. Specifically, it's the entirety of the three Star Wars prequels (also known as "the bad ones"). Over the course of the game you'll play through 18 levels which cover the plot of the prequel trilogy, taking on the roles of characters as diverse as Obi-Wan, General Grievous, Chewbacca, and even classic-style Darth Vader (as a bonus unlockable).

The game's basically a platformer. Each level consists of several linked areas, which you progress through in a fairly linear fashion, dispatching evil droids, clones, and Geonosians using your lightsaber or blaster. Each level is also littered with collectable Lego studs, which act as currency for purchasing unlockables, and also a set of ten "Lego canisters", which when assembled form a novelty vehicle minikit. Completed minikits go on display outside Dexter's Diner, which serves as the game's save point and mission hub.

Each of the game's playable characters has a set of abilities that differ from other characters. Force users, such as Obi-Wan, Darth Maul, or Anakin, have lightsabers that can deflect laser blasts, and can use the Force to manipulate many objects - essentially allowing them to take Lego objects apart brick by brick and reassemble them in new ways. Other characters, like Jar-Jar Binks or General Grievous, can jump higher. Blaster characters can shoot distant targets and grapple onto protruding hooks, while astromech droids can open certain locked doors and hover horizontally for long distances. Gonk droids can do... well, nothing really, but it's cool that they're playable.

The first time through any given level, you're given only the characters relevant to that mission. You have the ability sets needed to reach the exit, but not necessarily unlock all the level's secrets. Luckily, you can replay any mission you've previously completed in "Free Play" mode, which allows you to skip the story cutscenes, and, more importantly, change to any character you've unlocked on the fly. By using a mix of characters, you can reach new areas and collect bonus studs and minikit pieces. Once you know your way through a level, you can run from start to finish in under a minute, so replays are never an onerous task, and are usually just as much fun as the first time through.

With the exception of three unique rail-shooter missions (the podrace, the assault on Geonosis, and the battle of Coruscant), each and every mission in the game is fully playable with two players, both in story mode and in free play. In single player mode, you're always accompanied by at least one "ally" for each mission, who is often important in solving puzzles to allow you to proceed. A second player can take control of the ally character at any time, including mid-mission. They can also drop out and return control to the computer just as easily. There's no split-screen, so both players have to stay within a certain range of each other, but that's rarely a problem.

The game's not hard at any point (well, at least to an experienced gamer). Death is punished by a loss of collected Lego studs, which spew out from your corpse and bounce around the level for a few seconds before vanishing. You fairly immediately respawn with full health, so if you're quick, you can recollect most of what you lost. In any case, stud collection is a purely optional side-goal. You can die as many times as you like in the course of a level.

The mission hub at Dexter's Diner is worth mentioning. It's a fully interactive environment, meaning you can wander around it with a character of your choice and Force-push the chairs, blast the garbage bins, and jump to your doom over the outside railings. What's even cooler is that you'll see the characters you've unlocked (of which there are about 60-odd) walking around the Diner environs. They act like the actual characters, too - it's not uncommon to see frantic lightsaber duels break out in the parking lot when Obi-Wan and Anakin come face to face with Darth Maul and Count Dooku. You can join in, and have the fun of killing Jar-Jar Binks again and again between missions. (Killed characters break apart into little Lego heads and bodies, just like the real toys.)

There's no voice acting in the game (Lego can't speak, duh) but all the characters from the movie are still filled with life and charm. In fact, they're actually more endearing than the live actors ever were. Seeing the first three movies acted out in pantomime by little Lego figures makes you realise that there was actually quite a fun story hidden away in there, which was buried under CGI and Hayden Christensen, but can still charm gamers when dug loose by a clever developer.

The musical score, predictably, is made up of the John Williams themes we've heard a million times in every Star Wars franchise entry ever, but thankfully they're still great music. The game uses them appropriately and never annoyingly.

The graphics aren't particularly a landmark in computer-generated imagery, but they're wholely appropriate to the game. Each and every character is well rendered, and despite the large range of characters, developer Traveller's Tales has largely resisted the temptation to re-use animations. Darth Vader has a distinctly different fighting style from Obi-Wan, who is different again from Yoda or General Grievous. Little character traits of the live actors are captured perfectly on their Lego counterparts, from Ewan Macgregor's smile to C3PO's distinctive walking style and worried expression.

Overall, the game really captures a sandbox mentality of gaming. In playing it, you spend a lot of time doing things not because of the reward you're expecting, but just because they're fun. Jumps feel satisfyingly bouncy, blasting enemies apart is simultaneously cathartic and funny, and just standing around at the Diner and watching the characters you've unlocked wander around is nun-punchingly enjoyable all by itself.

In making Lego Star Wars, Traveller's Tales was hoping to make a game that was fun for the whole family, and they succeeded admirably. This is really a game that kids of all ages can pick up and enjoy, that experienced gamers can find worth their time, and that non-gaming parents can play with their kids without worrying about different skill levels or time commitments. It's a fantastic achievement worthy of merit, and even moreso in that it succeeds because of its relationship with its licence, not despite it.

For only about 10 hours of content, you'll want to be buying Lego Star Wars at a bargain price. Luckily it's out in a Platinum edition so you can pick yours up for about $20 AUD in time to be finished before the release of the upcoming sequel.

8 comments:

Stu said...

Lego Star Wars is the coolest game ever. Ever. There is no cooler game, and with the possible exception of Lego Star Wars II, there cannot ever be.

GregT said...

True dat.

I'm hoping when Traveller's Tales are done with the Star Wars licence they might try and talk Lego into letting them make Lego Harry Potter and/or Lego Batman.

Phrancq said...

Lego Batman! I'm in. Get the petition ready.

Stu said...

Oh! Lego Harry Potter!

Hell, I'd play pretty much any Lego game made by these guys.

But I can't imagine them topping SW. :)

GregT said...

I don't know, can you picture the Lego Snape?

As long as we don't end up with Lego Potter slash, everything will be fine.

Grant said...

I read a rumour somewhere of a Lego Indiana Jones in the works. Buggered if I can find the link, though...

GregT said...

That would be cool too, I guess, but it doesn't seem as inherently good a use of the Lego franchise. It'd be more platform-y and less actually fun, somehow (I say without having the slightest clue how they'd design it).

Grant said...

To be honest, given a choice between Lego Batman and Lego Harry Potter, I'd go for Batman myself.