Clone Wars Adventures knows what its audience wants. As soon as you've signed up on the game's website, you're greeted by Yoda, Obi Wan and the other Jedi and given your own lightsaber. After a pep talk in which they emphasise just how important you are to the ongoing war against the Separatists, you're let loose in the Jedi Temple to begin life as a defender of the Old Republic.
Well, sort of. You're not a Jedi yet. You're a padawan, but the path to becoming a Jedi is certainly less strenuous than the hikes and handstands that Luke Skywalker had to perform on Dagobah: you pay for the privilege. This, then, is Sony Online Entertainment's kid-friendly MMORPG. It's free to play, technically speaking, but like all MMO games, all roads lead to micro-payments.
The game client installs from the website, and runs in your browser. You're given a randomly generated name while the game's moderators check your chosen title, presumably to ensure nobody is playing as Minge Titblaster, but five days after signing up with a nice and innocent Star Warsy name I was still stuck with a rubbish temporary title that I didn't want. Not a great start for a game based around creating your own character in the Clone Wars universe.
So what do you get if you're not ready to part with any real money? You can wander around the Temple in PSone-era polygon 3D, meeting other players. The character creation options are limited at the start because, inevitably, the more you want to change your character, the more you'll need to pay. It's actually less of an RPG and more like a social network driven by mini-games. There are no quests or raids, and the meat of the Clone Wars experience is built around single-player mini-games.
Mini-games are accessed from an icon on your HUD, and are played to earn Republic Credits, one of the game's two currencies. The other is Station Cash, which must be purchased in chunks using credit card, PayPal or SMS.
The games are good though, and varied to boot. Most fall into predictable proven templates, but SOE has made sure that they've been well designed and balanced for the long term, revealing extra layers and tactical wrinkles the more you play. There are gem- and colour-matching games, based around the idea of droid maintenance, and games of chance that offer bonus Republic Credits.
Saber Strike is an enjoyable blend of Peggle and Breakout, as you bounce your lightsaber around an oblong arena, trying to hit a set number of battledroids. For something more sedate, you can use the Force to play Spot the Difference, take a trivia or personality quiz or defeat incoming droid ships with the power of typing. There's even a Yeti Sports riff starring Jar Jar bloody Binks as "Stunt Gungan".
For those looking for a more fully-formed gaming experience, there are some 3D action games. Starfighter is an into-the-screen shooter with power-ups and score multipliers. Republic Defender is a solid little tower defence game with a generous spread of levels. Lightsaber Duel is a button-matching fighting game that can be played solo, in a branching tournament against Star Wars characters, or online against other members. There are blaster shooting galleries and speeder bike races. Controls are simple, often entirely mouse-based, and while the basic 3D engine can't always cope with what's being asked of it, everything is fairly slick and intuitive.
All the games offer leaderboards, both global and friends-only, and also feature trophies. Just like their console counterparts, these are awarded for fulfilling set challenges and are then displayed in your personal living space within the gameworld. It's a wise inclusion. Kids are natural completists, and a wall of blank spaces waiting to be filled tweaks their OCD nature something fierce.
So how much of this is actually free? Of the nineteen mini-games available at present, only six are completely off-limits to padawan players. The rest are unlocked, but only up to a point. You'll find that only Easy levels are available, or that in the action games everything after about level four is sealed away behind a Republic icon for Jedi players only.
That's still a decent amount of gameplay, certainly as much as you'd expect from the Flash games section on a normal Star Wars website, but it's unlikely that young fans will be content to paddle in the shallow end for long. The carrot is right there at the start: who wants to be a padawan when you could be a Jedi, if only Dad would cough up his card details?