Publisher: Traveller's Tales
Developer: Eidos Interactive
Release Date: March 29, 2005
Strangeness is a defining trait of video game worlds. Only while playing video games is it perfectly acceptable to tear a pot roast out of an ancient castle, punch guys so hard that blood flies 20 feet through the air in neat little drops, or to die instantly after touching an enemy soldier. But even with this long tradition of odd physics, Lego Star Wars still manages to be memorably, fantastically weird.
In terms of gameplay, Lego Star Wars is a fairly typical 3D platformer. You do some brawling with bad guys, there's the occasional driving sequence or boss fight, but mostly you spend time leaping from ledge to ledge, trying to collect coi – er, "Lego Studs." Each character has a four-heart "life bar," but death has no consequences more serious than losing some Studs.
The driving sequences are a bit more challenging, as you're racing against a time limit to make it from checkpoint to checkpoint, and will instantly explode if you lag too far behind. What's fairly interesting and unusual about the gameplay is that the platforming isn't a strictly single-player experience; you're encouraged to play with a buddy, and even in single player games a group of AI-controlled characters will usually travel with you in a party. You can switch which character you're controlling on the fly, and sometimes will have to in order to solve certain puzzles, find certain bonus items, or beat up enemies. Your AI companions are generally intelligent and will even lay into enemies on their own, but rarely will solve puzzles for you.
The controls are fairly simple. The camera angle is fixed, so you'll use the D-Pad or left analog stick to move. The cross button let your character jump, square lets your character attack if they carry a weapon, and circle will let characters use special abilities. For Jedi it's the Force power of telekinesis, Droids can open doors with special locks, gun-toting characters can grapple up walls, Young Anakin slides through vents too small for other characters, and Jar Jar… does nothing, appropriately enough. He can do a wicked super-jump if you press the cross button twice, though. During driving sequences, the controls become even simpler: you can move your ship left and right with the D-Pad or left analog stick, and speed up by holding down the cross button.
In terms of story, Lego Star Wars isn't particularly weird either – at least at first. The game is shaped like a basically straight retelling of the Star Wars prequel trilogy, with bits of the movies compressed here and there. For instance, all of the political elements were cut out of the Phantom Menace adaptation, so the story moves directly from one chase or fight scene to another with no interruption.
However, as you play, you'll begin to notice a creeping sense of weirdness in the retelling. Qui-Gon meets Jar Jar by saving him from being run over by a truck. Young Obi-Wan is prone to humorous incompetence, fumbling with his light saber so long that it only activates after a fight is over. When you defeat Darth Maul, you don't kill him; being cut in half just leaves his lower half rather impotent and confused after his upper half tumbles down that long shaft.
It's the graphics that really underlie the game's nearly Dadaist sense of gleeful surrealism. The world of Lego Star Wars is one where every person, every environment, every vehicle is made entirely out of CG Legos. Defeated enemies or bits of the environment you destroy will explode into an authentic shower of component bricks. You can use this essential Lego-ness of the environment to your advantage, particularly when you play as Qui-Gon or Obi-Wan: they can use the Force to reassemble certain piles of environmental Legos into more useful shapes, like staircases, ledges, or bridges. The game's soundtrack appears to have been directly sampled from the different movie soundtracks, so you'll be hearing a booming John Williams score while you use your Jedi powers to reassemble Lego space fighters. This only serves to underscore the fundamental strangeness of the game.
There's a sense of method to this game's unique brand of madness, though. By reinterpreting everything as Legos, it also removes every trace of genuine violence from the Star Wars story. Characters that "die" really just fall apart, and if you're one of the players, you'll be reassembled and back in action in seconds. Even light sabers and blasters have no effect more malevolent than making brick structures explode into bricks and studs. This makes Lego Star Wars a game that's totally unobjectionable, even for the youngest of little gamers. The broad humor, low difficulty level, and general cute factor also emphasizes that this is a game meant for little kids. The inclusion of the Star Wars license and the tricky driving levels make it ideal for those little gamers to play with an older sibling or parent, who can answer questions and help them out with the trickier puzzles.
There's a severe dearth of quality games for kids and families to play together on the market right now, and especially for a console like the PS2, so Lego Star Wars fills that niche well. If you're a gaming parent who wants to get your kids turned on to video games from a very early age, this is one of the best titles you can spend your money on. Even teens and other gamers may also find a lot to like about this title, since its graphics are beautiful enough to evoke a sense of real nostalgia about playing with Legos and similar plastic-brick toys. It's definitely different, and in an industry clogged with sequels and shovelware, that's a good thing. Lego Star Wars will be hitting store shelves on March 29th.
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