Genre: 3D Platformer
Developer: Traveler's Tales
Release Date: September 12, 2006
I love Star Wars. Well, let me rephrase that: I love the original "Star Wars" movies, the expanded universe novels, and the good games based on it. I don't love dressing up like a Stormtrooper or Boba Fett or going to conventions or anything of that nature, but for those of you out there who do, more power to you. When a new Star Wars game is released, gamers and Star Wars fans alike approach with caution, not sure as to whether they'll be getting something that's Knights of the Old Republic caliber or, you know, Super Bombad Racing. Well, fear not, intrepid readers, for like its prequel, Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy is a fun and refreshing experience from the former category.
At the risk of alienating the three or four people who read this who haven't seen Episodes IV, V, and VI, I'm going to forgo summarizing the storyline for the game, although I will say this, preceded by one of those fancy spoiler alerts (though not really): not a drop of Jar Jar contaminates this timeline, my friends. I will say that LSW II takes a much more light-hearted approach to the saga and is at times, genuinely hilarious. With all of the little LEGO characters waddling around, mumbling their cute, incomprehensible LEGO speech instead of the famous lines from the movies, how could it not be?
Cute only gets you so far in a galaxy far, far away, though. How do these characters handle when the blaster bolts are flying? They're no pushovers, that's for sure. Gameplay-wise, there are three basic different classes of characters: those who wield blasters, Jedi, and droids. Farm boy Luke, Han, Leia, Lando, Chewbacca, etc., take down the opposition from afar, which is ultimately the best way to go about it. They can't deflect blaster bolts like the lightsaber-wielding Jedi, but they do have a nifty evade move that comes in handy when the stormtroopers start flooding in.
Blaster-wielding characters also have grappling hooks attached to their weapons, which allow them to ascend to areas that would otherwise be unreachable to those not sensitive to the Force, but the hooks can only be used on specially marked parts of the ground. Jedi do most of their fighting close up, preferring their lightsabers ("an elegant weapon from a more civilized age") to the crudeness of blasters. The problem with this, however, is that should they get right next to an enemy, the hit detection goes haywire as the saber is clearly going right through their foe, but no damage is being done. This makes Jedi a little less appealing when it comes to combat. Finally, there are the droids. The droids are really just there to open doors that others can't, which happens frequently.
The combat isn't going to blow anyone's mind, but some of the puzzles might. I don't know if this is common knowledge or not, but apparently, people like to build things out of LEGO pieces. So, it makes sense that people who are LEGOs do it with such gusto and joy that it puts our pitiful human efforts to shame. Get them next to a pile of unassembled pieces, and no matter what character you currently control, he/she/it will go to town building all manner of things out of the many different blocks. Typically, you'll need to use whatever they build to further advance in the level or to take down a platoon of Stormtroopers heading your way. Most of the game's puzzles will require you to use every type of character in your traveling party in order to solve a particular puzzle. For instance, a ramp will need to be built for a droid to access a door only it can unlock, but after building it, you'll need a Jedi character to move it to the proper area with a little push from the Force. This makes every character with you not feel like dead weight that you have to drag across the level, but rather an essential part of your group.
Making a return in LSW II are various vehicles that characters can hop into when the need arises. On terrestrially based levels, they usually amount to Tauntauns or dewbacks that are fun for a little bit (come on, who wouldn't want to ride a tauntaun?) but ultimately serve no purpose in the overall gameplay. However, there are quite a few levels that have you piloting various mechanical marvels, such as AT-STs, X-wings, TIE Fighters, the Millennium Falcon, and many others. It takes a little time to get used to piloting the snub fighters and the Falcon, as the view switches to isometric and the controls don't feel as intuitive as they do when touching down on terra firma, but after a few minutes, you'll be blasting bogeys out of sky, lassoing AT-ATs, and destroying Death Stars with the best of them.
Traveler's Tales could've easily just ported the current-gen version of Lego Star Wars II over to the 360, thrown in some achievements, and called it a day. Luckily for us, though, they took advantage of some of the 360's additional graphics capability and added a few nice touches. All of the LEGO characters reflect light, for instance, just like their real-world, plastic counterparts do. There's also a neat camera-focusing technique that makes objects in the background appear unfocused, like objects that are far away from what a person is currently looking at in real life. Otherwise, the graphics definitely maintain a high level of cuteness. If you see LEGO C-3PO waddle around for the first time and don't think to yourself, "Awwww, look at that little fella open that locked door!" then you, my friend, have no soul.
One thing you can always count on a Star Wars game for is great sound design, and LSW II does not disappoint. From the epic John Williams score to the snap-hiss sound of a newly ignited lightsaber, everything is in its place and sounds exactly as it should in the movies. The dialog consists solely of mumbles and grumbles, as mentioned before, but this in no way hurts the manner in which the game retells the story of the original trilogy. It actually helps with the title's silly sense of humor, which is something you're going to have to make peace with if you're going to enjoy the game.
Lego Star Wars II has replay value for miles and is its biggest selling point. I'm not usually one for the Banjo-Kazooie and Star Fox Adventure item-collecting extravaganza, but I felt compelled to collect every single stud, mini-kit, and gold brick that I could, my main reason being that I wanted to unlock every single character, and there are many of them. Most will run you a couple of thousands studs in the Mos Eisley Cantina (the hub around which you access missions and spend your studs), but the more popular characters, such as everyone's favorite bounty hunter, Boba Fett, will run you quite a bit more. The seamless two-player co-op that allows a friend to drop in and out of the game whenever they wish will also have you coming back for more with a buddy, especially since AI-controlled allies are dumb as dirt and ever more useless.
Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy certainly looks like a kid's game, but its appearance hides a surprisingly challenging experience that gamers of all ages will enjoy. It certainly won't revolutionize the genre by any means, but even people who aren't huge Star Wars nerds would do well to at least give this one a rental and see what all of the fuss has been about.
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