LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy Review
I know. You think a Star Wars game where all the characters are LEGO blocks is a pretty goofy idea too. When I first heard of it, I thought LEGO Star Wars was a joke, a late April Fools' prank or something. But here we are: LEGO Star Wars essentially parodied the prequel movies and wound up being a favorite of many fans and critics, mostly because of the completely offbeat and amusing approach to showing the characters, spaceships, and other parts of the movies. With its cutesy delivery and light, easy action, it was easy on both kids and adults. LucasArts is now back with LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy which takes the classic movies, Episodes IV, V, and VI, and gives them the comic LEGO treatment. And the result is a game that both kids and adults can enjoy, often together, since we get a full two-player cooperative mode for every level (just like the first game). I'll be looking at the Xbox 360 version of the game, which sports the best graphics of all of the versions (the game's also available on PC, Nintendo DS, GameCube, PS2, PSP, Xbox, and GameBoy Advance).
You'll start out as Princess Leia in the Mos Eisley Cantina. This is your hub for your adventure, where you can unlock new stuff, create wacky LEGO models with body parts from key Star Wars characters, and pick which level you're going to tackle next. The first real level you'll get to try takes place in space above Tattooine and is the first scene of Episode IV. As Leia, you'll need to fight way through your Corellian Corvette while Stormtroopers and Darth Vader board the ship. You'll have to find R2D2, give him the secret message, and then get the droids into an escape pod so that R2 can find Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Killing stuff in LEGO Star Wars II is pretty easy. The game includes a large amount of auto-aim, which is actually pretty necessary as the camera is usually set in a fixed point in the room so you won't have a crosshair or anything like that. The controls are pretty simple, with only four buttons on the controller actually used. Killing enemies and exploring the level will net you some weird lego-money-currency stuff, which you can unlock secret stuff with if you collect enough on a level. If you take more than a few hits you'll die, but the game still is pretty forgiving - death causes a few of the lego-money coins to pop out, and you can pick these up when you are revived. Pick up all of them every time you die (which usually isn't too tough), and you basically have infinite lives.
After you beat the first Episode IV level, then Episode V, The Empire Strikes Back, is unlocked and you get to do the Battle of Hoth in your LEGO-powered Snowspeeder. This battle has been done many times in many Star Wars games, and unfortunately I found this one to be particularly underwhelming. Either way, there are quite a few vehicle levels here for you to play, including the destruction of the Death Star and the speeder bikes on Endor, and the rest of these levels are pretty good. I like that you can tackle the next level in any of the three episodes whenever you want, as it adds at least some small element of openness that many action/adventure games lack.
Knowing which characters can do what is a big deal in LEGO Star Wars II. The ones that carry blasters can grapple up to higher surfaces, while those with lightsabers can use the Force to push objects around and can do a double-jump to reach taller heights. Droids are often limited in what they can do, but sometimes they'll be needed to open certain doors and the like. There are even some weird bonus areas you can get by "equipping" your characters with Boba Fett-style or Stormtrooper helmets, and these can be fun in the Free Play mode you unlock on a per-level basis after you beat each level. In Free Play, you can pick whatever characters you want to go into the level, and you can often find all kinds of new secrets and the like with that character's abilities.
You'll find that many little touches will charm the hell out of you. Chewbacca can rip the LEGO-arms off of enemies when you go for an up-close attack, and the facial expressions on the LEGO characters (including some hilariously goofy mustaches) wind up adding a lot of personality to the little guys. And while we get all of the original cinema-accurate music and sound effects, the voice "acting" has been reduced to sound-alikes grunting and gesturing instead of talking. After thinking of some of the terrible attempts at voice acting for Luke, Vader, and other key characters in some of the past Star Wars games, this is actually a refreshing change. I like it.
For those who have played just about every other Star Wars game that was ever made, you might be wondering why you should even bother with one that clearly looks like it's made for kids. But LEGO Star Wars II does tackle the original trilogy, and it does so in a pretty fun, comedic way. Some of the level design and puzzles are pretty weak or annoying, but the ability to see Lego Darth Vader use his Force Choke on Lego Rebel Soldier #2742 makes it worth it.
The Xbox 360 version of the game actually looks very impressive, even with a bunch of goofy LEGO characters running around. As you might or might not know, many of the LEGO blocks include rounded elements, and the 360 displays these curves nicely. There are quite a few special effects here, including some nifty reflections and a depth-of-field effect that blurs objects way off in the distance. The controls are sharp and the graphics in HD are very nice, although I did find a few frame rate issues here and there. Fortunately, none of them really affected gameplay too much.
The many unlockable items in LEGO Star Wars II may or may not entice you, but I found that with the game only lasting about six hours from start to finish, I'm not sure I got my money's worth. The bonus stuff often requires multiple play-throughs of the levels, and while the game is fun enough to do once or twice, only the most dedicated of fans will likely repeat the game much more than that. Cooperative play does make the overall experience more fun, especially since the AI that would otherwise control the "second player" is pretty brain-dead, but it's not like there's any massive challenge here that you need two players to overcome.
LEGO Star Wars II is a fun romp through the original trilogy of movies, and that crazy LEGO style really gives the whole thing a unique feel. If you liked the first game and love the original trilogy of movies, this one is a pretty easy selection to make, but unless you've got money to burn or you know you'll be playing through each level many times, a rental will do you just fine. I always applaud whenever a game includes cooperative play, and that is certainly a plus here - in fact, to really get your money's worth, plan to bring a buddy over for some Stormtrooper-smashing action. Even if you're a hardcore fan, you should come for the Star Wars action and stay for the LEGO goofiness.