Republic Heroes is the very worst sort of licensed videogame: functionally inadequate, creatively redundant and artistically bankrupt. Marketed to parents as a safe Christmas option and aimed at children in the hope of drawing them into a 30-year-old IP in order to secure the next decade's worth of dead-eyed spin-offs, there are few thrills to be found amongst its dim stars and weary wars. In contrast to its joyous LEGO-based cousin, Republic Heroes is persuasive evidence that many videogames have no ambition beyond mere product, existing merely to expand a brand without enriching it, to widen a mythology without deepening it. It's cynical, tiring and sells our children short of what they should expect from a publisher with as much experience and expertise as LucasArts and its associated developers.
Based on the anime-through-a-Nickelodeon-lens series of the same name, Republic Hero's story and visuals are at least consistent with those of its inspiration. Divided into a sizeable three-act campaign, missions are generally no longer than 10 minutes apiece, dividing play between characters such as Anakin Skywalker, Ahsoka Tano and Obi-Wan Kenobi to provide multiple perspectives on the unfolding drama. As fan service to Clone Wars aficionados there are numerous references to plot points from the cartoon series and all of the characters share their sound-a-like TV voice actors, ensuring that the premise at least is not without some niche merit.
In mechanical terms, the structure is little more than a device to allow play to switch between the lightsabre-wielding Jedi and the gun-toting clone troopers, the two main character types found in the game. This helps to keep the basic combat from feeling more immediately repetitive than it is. When playing as a Jedi-style character, you wield a lightsabre and enjoy a Force 'push' move to stun or shunt enemies around environments, off ledges and so on. Character animations lack basic fluidity, thereby defying the encouragement of a score multiplier to attempt stringing together combos. The result is a stilted flow of combat that lacks either the smooth acrobatics of The Force Unleashed or the solid workmanlike unfussiness of the LEGO Star Wars titles.
One of the game's core features during combat is the ability to jump atop enemy droids and impale them with your lightsabre in order to temporarily ride them around, making use of their abilities. This works reasonably well for droids with lasers, but less so when applied to those with more ambitious powers, such as laying mines or spinning at high speed into obstacles. The over-reliance on puzzles that simply require you to jack a droid, use its ability once to open a door and then move on soon becomes tiresome. More enjoyable is when play shifts to a clone trooper character and the game shifts to a twin-stick, Geometry Wars shooter style. A secondary grenade move allows you to angle explosions into pockets of enemies, before mopping up the remainder with your blaster, but again there's a fuzziness to the aiming that niggles and dulls what little excitement might otherwise have been.
The platforming controls are particularly weak. The developer's implemented a system to aid jumps so that as you aim your character towards a platform you're automatically pulled onto a sure-footing, in a similar way to how Halo gently tugs your reticule towards enemies during firefights.
The idea is solid, but the implementation is harmful as the assist only kicks in half of the time and seemingly at varying degrees of strength. Sometimes, it just won't trigger at all, thereby demanding precision where previously the game has taught that none was required. The result is a sort of disorientating vagueness to the controls, a hazy difficulty that jars with the sparse, simplistic environments. Exacerbating the problem is the intermittent unresponsiveness, which sometimes outright ignore inputs or, at very least, delay them by enough milliseconds to cause a disconnect between player and avatar, not to mention a string of death leaps into empty space.
Throughout the game Yoda acts as your guide and mentor, explaining in rudimentary terms the controls and objectives in his characteristic back-to-front patois. In contrast to the Star Wars movies, which employed his unique patterns of speech sparingly, here every line is inverted, lessening the impact of the joke, such that it is. Elsewhere the game makes the most vanilla attempts at humour imaginable. "Nothing gets past me," says one droid, as you jump over the lift in which he's standing. While the Clone Wars universe is intentionally something of a pastiche of the 'grown up' Star Wars, these moments tip the game into awkward parody too often.
Republic Hero's economy is simple. Defeated enemies drop orbs that can be spent in the game's menu-accessed shop on hats and masks, as well as combat upgrades that extend, for example, the length of your combo cool-off period, droid-jack upgrades, droid dances and other more general cheats. The number of points you earn on a level is directly related to the medal rating you're awarded with at its conclusion, so there's a dual incentive to collect orbs. However, as every level has at least one area where enemies will spawn infinitely till you move on, the system is entirely broken. The impromptu 30-second challenges that can be triggered once or twice in each level provide yet more opportunity to mine an area for infinite orbs. In fact, it's theoretically possible to grind one location during the tutorial level to unlock everything in the game.
Each level has one or more artefacts to collect, indistinguishable trinket orbs usually found lying just off the beaten track. However, there's no way to tell which levels you've collected artefacts from without actually going into them, something that will infuriate completists. While there's no credit in artificially bulking out a game with endless collectibles, the lack of any compelling meta-game challenge is notable in comparison to LEGO Star Wars' red bricks, mini-models and other assorted treasures.
To simply state that Krome Studios should have worked harder to replicate Traveller's Tales various successes is perhaps to undermine what the LEGO developer has achieved. Good game design for children is difficult and demands not only diligence and inspiration at the planning stage, but also an awful lot of observation of how children react as they play. Right from first touch, it's clear that Republic Heroes hasn't undergone nearly enough of this sort of testing, and the uninspired foundations are further compromised as they are built upon. As a result, this is a product that will make children frustrated and unhappy, the very opposite of that to which Star Wars should aspire.
3 / 10