By a show of hands, how many of you played with Legos? I did. I had birthdays where I wouldn’t get anything except Legos. I’d combine base plates with a friend of mine and we’d construct entire cities of little plastic bricks. My fascination with Legos shaped my career path, helping me decide that, for the safety of anyone who ever drove a car or went into a building, I should not go into architecture or engineering. But for all the failed mechanisms I’d contrive and all the magnificent buildings that collapsed under the weight of my genius–or the more likely culprit, physics–I still loved to build. And do you know what else I loved? Star Wars.
Who doesn’t, though, right? Well, besides my ex-girlfriend, but she has a soul cold enough to freeze over and dampen the spirits of even the great Boba Fett himself, so she doesn’t count. The popularity of Legos makes them the natural choice to compliment the epic space-fantasy masterpiece, so what could possibly go wrong with Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy. It already has a leg up over the first Lego Star Wars insomuch as it does not demand you play through the prequel trilogy.
Like other licensed Lego games, you play through the plot of the film(s) as Lego versions of your favorite characters. By itself, that pays for the cost of the game. I spent $2 at my local Savers to buy this, and another $2 to get the prequel trilogy (after someone else had taken the prerequisite number of chunks out of the disc before passing on ownership). The combined $4 I spent could have covered a physical–and generic–Lego man at the same store. Granted, you can’t, for example, take the characters out of the game and use them as pieces in a giant game of Risk, but you can still play with them with even a little more control than the real things.
The game tasks Luke Skywalker and his friends not so much with getting through levels based on the films, but with collecting shit along their way, namely money. Each level hides a cache of red Lego bricks, “minikits,” and Lego studs of various colors which like poker, kids, denote different values. These studs serve as the game’s money, allowing you to buy characters, vehicles, hints, and other trinkets at the central hub, the Mos Eisley Cantina. Only by collecting enough studs in each level can you achieve the “True Jedi” status–and thus unlock more useless collectibles. This gives Lego Star Wars a feeling not unlike poker, asking you to build up more and more stuff merely for the purpose of using that stuff to collect even more stuff.
The stages don’t exactly innovate game design, nor do they really show a departure from typical Star Wars games. Characters progress in a mostly linear direction. In Story Mode, you take control of a small group of characters who might reasonably find themselves within the vicinity at whatever point in time, and in Free Play Mode, you get to choose two of your own, while the game assigns additional characters to make sure you have whatever individual skills you need to actually finish the level. To reach the goal, characters use the Force, grappling beams on blasters, and that little stick that R2-D2 uses as a Deus Literally Ex-Machina (or in the case of C-3PO on Endor, Literally Deus Ex-Machina). Furthermore, you have to build stuff. Lots of stuff. Sometimes you need to destroy something for parts, but it usually comes down to building. Characters can build by walking up to a twitching pile of parts and holding in the circle button. And waiting. Sometimes you have to fight off a hoard of enemies first, but then feel free to go up to that pile and hold in circle. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, play Lego Star Wars if you’ve always wanted to play with Legos, but without any of the actual fun of building things for yourself. Funny, though, how they managed to include the tedium of searching for parts.
Anyone who has ever woken up in the middle of the night to pee and had to cross a minefield of Legos can attest to the damage they can inflict, but combat in the game feels a little clunky and awkward. Lightsaber swings pay off at low odds, most often striking a jaunty pose in an irrelevant direction, sometimes managing to deflect blaster bolts, and very rarely slicing through enemies. The design of the blasters seems inspired by Obi-Wan’s description of them as clumsy and random, as about 50% of the time I hit my own characters instead of stormtroopers. I found it far more effective to use Chewie, walk right up to the enemies, and use the melee attack to rip their arms out of their sockets. Like other Star Wars games, you also take control of vehicles on a regular basis. These vehicles control about as well as a drunken condor trying to land on a bicycle seat in a hurricane. Even by the end of the game I found myself flipping, spinning, doing somersaults, U-turns and barrel rolls at the drop of a Lego hat.
A quirk of the game that you might find interesting–no wait, the other thing…obnoxious–the credits, which you have to sit through three times–one at the end of each film adaptation. Not the glorious 45-second credits from NES games, or even the standard five- to eight-minute credits of standard PS2 games. No, Lego Star Wars goes full-on Arkham Asylum, making you sit through an extended credit sequence while they name off not just programmers and artistic designers, but their office staff, from the Assistant to the Vice President of Global Sales and Marketing to the Assistant to the Janitor of Mopping up Puke at the Lego Employee’s Day Care. At the risk of sounding offensive and preachy, credits should offer recognition, a chance for the skilled workers and artists to sign their work. Instead, these credits read like an Occupy Wall Street hit list.
But hey, you can go make a sandwich or play with your cat or something, right? The valuable part to you as a player comes after the credits, in the post game. Now you can finally play through the game on free play mode, using all those characters you unlocked along the way! I want Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi! Yeah! All right! Now what do I do in free play mode? Uh, go through the levels and collect more stuff…to unlock more characters…to use in free play mode…to collect more stuff… In all fairness, I never did collect all the mini-kits in any given level. Maybe something really cool happens when you do. I don’t know–the game didn’t really motivate me to seek them out. Even in the early stages, they tucked away these things so well that I rarely got more than two per level. If they made these things easier to get in even just the first level, I might know why I want to collect them everywhere else.
Honestly, though, I did have fun while it lasted, even in light of super-easy game play (you can’t actually die, you just spill your coin purse a little every time you lose a few hearts) and some obnoxiously obscure puzzles to solve. The games display a characteristic sense of humor, adding a delightful irreverence to a story that everyone–except for my ysalamir of an ex–already knows. Without additional dicking around in free play, the game runs under ten hours, which doesn’t exactly commit you to a Bethesda-level commitment. Speaking of which…I just got Oblivion for Christmas. Expect a week off here and there because in addition to working on RPG Maker for the last few months, I just took on a Bethesda-level commitment.