Use the blocks, Luke.
Okay, so it sounds ridiculous. How about Lincoln Log Star Trek? Battlestar Chutes and Galaddercas? Hungry Hungry Matrix-Hippos? Yes, positively goofy. We like our Legos and we like our Star Wars, but do we like them together? Some of us do, that's for sure.
After a couple hours with this quirky little kid's title, we decided that we might actually enjoy the Lego version of George Lucas's misguided "prequel" vision better than the real thing. For one thing, Legos can't speak, meaning they can't pollute the air with inanities such as:
PADM": ...We used to lie on the sand and let the sun dry us... and try to guess the names of the birds singing. ANAKIN: I don't like sand. It's coarse and rough and irritating, and it gets everywhere. Not like here. Here everything's soft... and [touching her skin] smooth...
Many young Jedi may enjoy unwelcome celibacy after making similar awkward attempts to sway the Dark side of their own personal Amidalas.
But not so if their only exposure to the first three episodes is the mercifully speechless Lego Star Wars. The game covers the major events of the recent films, including plot points from the soon-to-be-released Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Don't fear the spoilers too much, though, as the game adopts a leisurely approach to storytelling, frequently recasting the over-the-top melodrama of Lucas' script into a much more palatable comedy. Because the story is so tonally different when told by Legos, I doubt if the game ruins the movie at all.
There is, however, one shocking Lego scene that I probably shouldn't give away; let's just say that I didn't know they made pregnant Lego figurines. I didn't even know Legos had sex.
Regardless of such disturbing imagery, you play as a Lego version of any of a number of Star Wars stalwarts, navigating platform puzzles and busting up lots of baddies in rudimentary light-saber and blaster fighting. And we mean bust up literally, since bodies and objects shatter happily into thousands of little Lego pieces. From Imperial Starships to the flowers on Degobah, the whole shebang is made up of those familiar studded plastic blocks. A pretty square aesthetic, to be sure, but the idea that everything can be taken apart or put back together gave the developers a lot of flexibility with their puzzles.
The control scheme is freakishly simple. Completely omitting the shoulder buttons, all of the actions are mapped to just three facepad buttons. One button jumps, another button attacks, and the third button uses the character's special function. The most impressive of these is the Jedi's ability to use the Force. Being able to use the Force in LegoLand, it seems, is as useful as a spoon and an appetite in a Dairy Queen. Using the Force can build bridges, stack blocks, take apart doors and even set the table. It ain't Psi-Ops, but it's still fun to throw Lego Droids against walls with your mind.
One of the biggest draws of Lego Star Wars is its inclusion of over forty possible player characters. Yes, you can play as Anakin, Amidala, Obi-Wan or Qui-Gon, but you can also play as Chewbacca, Yoda, Mace Windu, or baby Boba Fett. Virtually every character or extra in the first three episodes is included, and they are, in almost every instance, more than just skins. Each of the characters has special abilities; choosing between them is the key to getting through many of the puzzles and boss battles. Yoda's spinning and flipping light-saber attacks are glorious, while Jar Jar (ugh) can jump to reach otherwise impossible items and areas. R2 units can hack into door locks, and "dark force" users such as the Darth Maul can move the stubborn black Legos.
While many of the characters are locked at the beginning, playing through the levels and accomplishing certain tasks unlocks a number of them quickly. Once the game is finished, you can play through the levels again using new characters to access previously impossible jumps and locked doors. It's a nice feature, especially since jamming straight through will take a whopping four hours.
But that's a good four hours, at least. Levels are short and varied and the puzzles are always new and refreshing. Keeping it kid-friendly, no death is final. Every time your character bites the big one, he, she or it magically reappears. There is no penalty for dying, so there are few frustrating let-downs.
Aesthetically, Lego Star Wars is simple and clean. The solid colors of the blocks and the impish grace of the Lego figurines makes for a pleasant enough presentation, although it's missing some of the fancier effects found in other action games. The Xbox and PS2 versions pretty much play and look identical.
While obviously designed for the kids, Lego Star Wars incorporates a co-operative drop-in, drop-out mode nearly flawlessly for their curious but easily distracted parents. All of the missions involve more than a single character, and while the computer A.I. does a decent enough job following your lead, the game was clearly designed with cooperation in mind. Each player can switch characters on the fly, leading to all kinds of solutions. Shoot a grappling hook with Amidala's blaster and jet over a crevice with R2's hovering ability, while your partner uncovers an air duct using his Jedi force and then jumps through it with Annakin.
There really isn't a great deal wrong with the game besides its length, although the number of characters in your party gets unwieldy in some of the more elaborate levels, and at times the cinematic camera goes awry. More seasoned gamers will find the forgiving nature of the experience too easy, though, so those with a thirst for a challenge shouldn't apply.
But more casual gamers should. Lego Star Wars achieves what regular Star Wars, in recent history, has been unable to do: deliver a children's experience that is fun and engaging for adults as well. One of the better children's titles released this year, it's the droid your kids were looking for.