Version tested: Wii
Back when the Wii was first unveiled, the first thing to go through everyone's head was "Ha! It sounds like wee wee!", because that was really the pinnacle of comedy at the time. The second thing to go through everyone's head was "Oh! Lightsabers!"
Somehow, even after the prequel trilogy, we still all want to be Jedi Knights in videogames. Of course, with the Motion Plus add-on yet to arrive with its true one-to-one reproduction of your arm movements (really this time, we promise!), there's absolutely no way to produce a true lightsaber fighting experience just yet. Not that that's stopped them having a go.
Based on the rather wretched new animated movie-slash-TV-show, the clumsily titled Star Wars The Clone Wars: Lightsaber Duels ostensibly follows Anakin, Obi-Wan and their Jedi pals as they try to save Jabba the Hutt's son from a kidnap plot that turns out to be a trap and... Basically, it's got a cute baby Jabba in it. We're at the bottom of a barrel far, far away long since past scraping.
In gameplay terms, it's a fighter, although that perhaps sets expectations a little high. It's an incredibly simplistic fighter, with a shocking paucity of worthwhile content. There's a Campaign mode, in which you slog through a series of encounters with different characters; a Challenge Mode, in which you slog through a series of encounters with different characters; and a multiplayer mode, in which you slog through a series of encounters with your friends. All are undone by the same inescapable fact: this is a very, very bad fighting game.
The control scheme is not dissimilar to the one in the equally appalling Soul Calibur Legends. Swishing the remote produces an attack in that direction. Swish left for a left slice. Up for an uppercut, down for a downstroke. Lunge forwards for, well, a forward lunge. And that's the extent of your moves list. You can augment your attacks using the Force, or use your mind powers to crudely lob scattered bits of scenery at your opponent. There are also combo attacks, but these fall prey to the common flaw that undermines the core of the game: no matter what you do, the game is terrible at reading your movements.
The basic directional attacks are easy enough on their own, but there's a slight delay between movement and action that means it's impossible to feel any connection with the on-screen combat, and the combos are also a royal pain in the midichlorians as a result. Swish left, up and right too slowly and you just do three slashy moves. Do it too quickly and the game can't keep up and ignores anything past the first movement. Most bizarrely, the same is true of blocking, even though that's mapped to an old-fashioned button press. Bringing up your lightsaber to defend yourself is sluggish, but since it's not always clear who's hitting who as the characters lurch and swing around each other, the fine details pale into insignificance.
The graphics are also ugly, and the characters regurgitate the same handful of quips endlessly during each fight. The Campaign is hopelessly padded out with repeated battles against the same foes, while the Challenges are a tiresome plod to get through. Even the attempt to make your remote thrum and throb like a lightsaber falls flat, since the raspy sound effects emerging from the speaker just make it sound like there's a flatulent vole trapped inside.
What makes Lightsaber Duels all the more insulting is that there was an almost identical mode in the Wii version of The Force Unleashed - which was created by the same developer. Except this arena brawler has fewer characters and moves, and doesn't even come with a deeply average single-player game attached. You could try and mount a half-hearted defence on the basis that it's meant to be accessible to all ages, but even the most cack-handed child will fail to draw nourishment from this thin and flavourless brew. My attempts to involve my own offspring did not go well. It took less than ten minutes for whining requests for LEGO Batman to escalate into angry demands.
All quibbles about presentation and content aside, the game is simply incapable of delivering the sort of fluid gameplay the concept demands. There's no flow or grace to the fights, just frustrated gesticulation as you try to bludgeon your way past a control scheme unfit for human consumption. Shallow and broken in all the ways that matter, Lightsaber Duels is precisely the sort of mindless hand-waggler that gives the Wii a bad name.
2 / 10