LEGO Star Wars Reader Review
GAME DESIGN / CONTENT
LEGO Star Wars (LSW) is a 3D based platform action adventure, including puzzles, seven end-bosses in 18 missions as well as a genre mix with pod races and space battles. The game follows Anakin Skywalker�s ultimate fall to the Dark Side and transformation to Sith Lord Darth Vader. Its story line features plot points and highlights from the movie prequels �The Phantom Menace�, �Attack of the Clones� and �Revenge of the Sith�. While other Star Wars games are designed in realistically complex geometry and with textures using �normal maps� or �shader effects� to move towards the visuals of the movies, the more than 40 characters in LSW are modelled as a setup of simple LEGO building blocks and plain textures instead; so are the vehicles and most objects in the game. Furthermore LEGO Star Wars focuses on a gameplay with a leisurely and pleasantly fun approach to the melodrama of George Lucas� movie script. The concept of the game reminds of classic arcade side-scroller games such as �Double Dragon� and �Battletoads�.
The game begins with a narrative cinematic intro, designed in an in-game graphics style, showing the last stage of failed negotiations aboard the Trade Federation ship. The cinematic scene directly fades into the interactive mode enabling the player to control Master Qui-Gon Jin and a young Obi-Wan Kenobi. They are the first two of the many playable characters of the game, which skirmish through events leading to the battle for Naboo. On their way, the player can collect items scattered throughout each level, the most important being LEGO studs which can be traded in to unlock extras.
Different characters can have noticeably unique skills; therefore each level has designated sections for the use of specific abilities. Besides engaging in light-sabre fights, Jedi can use the Force to push back enemies, pull switches or lift objects to form jumping platforms or even bridges. Non-Jedi characters like Amidala can shoot a hook to swing over a gap while R2 D2 makes use of his hovering ability and Anakin jumps through tight air pipes to reach his destination. Many puzzles in each level, being straightforward and simple to understand, require not only figuring out how to get past obstacles but also to decide which characters� abilities will help to achieve objectives.
The control of characters is limited to one at a time; whilst the player is usually escorted by a CPU companion who�s� un-aggressive and weak AI gives the main player the lead. At times that number of CPU partners can triple, making good use of the team by switching between any characters on the fly.
The co-operative mode in LSW allows a second player to join-in and drop-out during the game-play, which could be good for friends and parents to join the game for some teamwork fun. However the game lacks an online play feature and was clearly designed with cooperation in mind. Only �friendly fire� allows the player to �accidentally� attack a friend.
The levels and their design variety are refreshing but too often laid out in very similar ways and are very short; in single-player mode all three episodes can easily be run through within a day or in about five hours for skilled gamers. After finishing each mission, the player gains access to new playable characters. Levels can then be replayed using these unlocked characters and might encourage some players to return to already completed levels. For a change, space battle levels or the pod race from Episode-I create a good balance again. The puzzle-solving in LEGO Star Wars is accompanied by light-sabre and blaster action segments leading to about seven big boss fights with the likes of Darth Maul, Jango Fett, Count Dooku and the massive Jedi arena battle on Geonosis.
There is almost no penalty or frustrating scene in LEGO Star Wars; every time the players� character dies it reappears having an infinite number of lives. Instead the player loses parts of the studs gathered during levels, reducing the choice to unlock hidden items. With very little punishments for failure, the game is quite forgiving for kids or casual gamers but leaves out the ultimate challenge for hardcore gamers.
EASE OF PLAY
The menu navigation in LEGO Star Wars is creatively incorporated as Dexter�s Diner. Being a standard game-play element the player can freely roam around the interior to select a number of options from the bar, or enter levels through the building�s doors easily. This area can also be used to practice the skills and controls of game characters. The Diner is a smooth transition of a navigation menu into the game.
The control scheme is action orientated and laid out very simple; besides the directional stick all actions are assigned to just three face-pad buttons only: �attack�, �jump�, and their combination in a �jump attack� or the use of a �special command� such as the Force. Blocking can be activated by holding the attack button, and attack-combos are done by pressing the attack button several times in a row. The control is easy to pick up and play; also making it a nice party game.
The fixed camera angles sometimes become tricky in co-operative mode because two players share the same screen. Since the camera follows the leading character, the other could accidentally be forced to trip into a gap when falling behind.
The missions and puzzles are not very hard to figure and are laid out straight forward for the younger gamer. Nevertheless, to attract the older player, its simplicity is packed with a variety of action multi tasking, such as jumping platforms to reach a gate that needs opening while defeating incoming lasers. The level-design of LSW leaves enough room to move and explore even when a crowd of enemies are around.
Besides some repetitive level designs as mentioned earlier, the pod race or galactic battle levels deliver the necessary twist. For Star Wars movie fans the Jedi confrontations of Obi-Wan with Jango Fett or Anakin�s encounter with Count Dooku offer an assured excitement factor in the game. A good sense of satisfaction also comes from solving puzzles in co-operation mode; an example is when two Jedi need to use The Force to elevate each other simultaneously to an otherwise unreachable platform. It is this sort of interactive partnership between the heroes that particularly catches the players� attention. The interactive environments, where certain building blocks can be taken apart or put back together, give a lot of flexibility with puzzles.
The mix of humour, action, puzzles, the portrayal of characters, scenario presentations or the co-operative fun make LEGO Star Wars appeal to a large group of gamers. The game is using its license to its full advantage, offering over 40 characters including the popular Obi-Wan, Yoda, Anakin, C3PO or R2-D2, as well as notorious dark side enemies such as Jango Fett, Darth Maul and Count Dooku. The characters� flair and variety of their visual delight are furthermore complimented by figuring out how to play to each character's individual strengths.
As an attempt to extend the short playtime of the game, peripheral objectives can be completed. Collecting 10 items whilst exploring the landscape of each level in detail does not seem any different than a lot of other games; unfortunately most of these items cannot be found with the characters available when playing some levels for the first time. Therefore all levels can be played twice in a free play mode in order to unlock everything � a repetition some players might not be happy about. This game mode is for the true lovers and the collectors, enabling them to go back to Dexter�s to choose an unlocked character like R2-D2 and go back to any level. The areas that required R2�s personal touch can be opened and collectable items or LEGO studs will become available. After the player collects a certain number of studs from each level, they will reach True Jedi Status to unlock the hidden level of the game. However there are times when there are too many enemies, and it's just about impossible to avoid exploding into a little pile of LEGO pieces and loosing the studs.
The video cut-scenes in LEGO Star Wars regularly inject some humour into what were originally pretty serious situations in the movie. The scenes recreate classic moments with rendered LEGO�s that stumble over building blocks, make funny faces or run into things.
LEGO Star Wars is missing some environmental lighting effects and particle effects found in other current action games. The plain texturing and palatable colour scheme is complimented by a few transparency effects, good use of bump-mapping, real-time shadows and surface reflections on building corridors. Environments are rendered nicely, particularly when it comes to water. The light-sabre effects are well done.
The characters are modelled accurately, representing their real-life counterparts, and are easily identifiable in their unique way. The variety of character designs adds an enjoyable visual bonus to the game. Although the animations are smooth and match the characters� anatomy, minor areas of their geometry intersects when making complex movements, particularly when they are fighting or jumping. For the most part the levels are kept on a relatively small scale and only a few of the sets look impressive. Every object in the world is made up of individual blocks that are assembled just as they would be in the original LEGO play-set. A lightly animated physics system outlines destructible doorways, windows, tables, bombs, fences, and characters among them.
The overall flair of the game is plain with a clean look and has a pleasant enough presentation. The in-game styled cut-scenes only ad a minor visual bonus to the game but do a good job in telling the story through the characters expressions and body language.
While the characters remain speechless they let the qualitative sound of the classic blasters and light-sabres speak for them. The only voice-overs are occasional blips, roars, and robot sounds that make up the dialog - it makes sense for LEGO characters not to speak. Dynamic music matches the onscreen action of the player with the according full surround soundtrack. Sound composers for new Mission Impossible titles or James Bond for example, have successfully remixed their original main theme to appeal to the audience more refreshingly. In LEGO Star Wars however, the standard John Williams main themes are included and there is nothing new to be heard. Besides the main theme, the music in LSW is just as striking as in the motion pictures.
Game Design / Content: 8 Besides the missing online game and short and repetitive level structure, Lego Star Wars offers a good story flow, a variety of characters with unique skills, a fun co-operative mode and puzzles. It is a praiseworthy overall competitor of �Super Star Wars� for SNES.
Ease of Play: 9 Menu navigation and game control are designed very well and are easy to pick up and play. Missions and puzzles are clearly understandable leaving enough room to move and explore. Fixed camera angles become tricky in co-operative mode but are not a real turndown.
Satisfaction: 7 The game offers the enjoyment of the iconic movie flair, but its replay value is aimed at Star Wars fans only. With a high shelf-price, the game disappoints by having only a few big twists in the level-design and a very short playtime. The puzzles do not use the co-operative mode to its full extent.
Visuals: 8 A qualitative style with eye candy is offered through the variety of accurately modelled characters and few impressive environmental sets. However the visual impact cannot compete with current standards; its overall presentation makes it still pleasant enough.
Audio: 7 The sound effects live up to its movie counterpart, and there is no doubt about the high quality of the Star Wars movie theme by John Williams, but in times of innovation unfortunately nothing new is heard in this game.
8 / 10