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LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game (GameCube) artwork

LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game (GameCube) review

"Lego. Star Wars. Two franchises which have seen their ups and downs (mostly downs) in the video gaming industry. What would one expect to get if the two were mixed? Death, pain, misery. In a word, a recipe for disaster. Well, every so often one's expectations are surprisingly proven completely wrong. Lego Star Wars is a perfect example of when this happens. "

Lego. Star Wars. Two franchises which have seen their ups and downs (mostly downs) in the video gaming industry. What would one expect to get if the two were mixed? Death, pain, misery. In a word, a recipe for disaster. Well, every so often one's expectations are surprisingly proven completely wrong. Lego Star Wars is a perfect example of when this happens.

The whole idea of the game is slightly ridiculous: the first three chapters of the Star Wars series, starring Lego versions of the prequel characters. It doesn't sound like it would work, and indeed it would have been a complete disaster if not for the developer's absolute refusal to take themselves seriously. Kamino Aliens can be manipulated to dance to a disco version of the Star Wars theme. Child characters are the same size as adult characters. Mace Windu's bald head even has the trademark lego peg.

The majority of the game is played using Jedi characters, who naturally wield light sabers and are supplemented by their ability to use the Force. The Force can be used to interact with a good deal of the environment, much of which must be used to solve simple construction and transportation puzzles. Amazingly, Lego Star Wars even has some of the best Lightsaber action yet (which is particularly sad, considering several Star Wars games focused entirely on Lightsaber antics have been released). As fun as fighting with the Lightsaber is, it's a little too simplistic. All the players has to do is repeatedly tap the attack button, and he essentially becomes an invulnerable killing machine. But Lego Star Wars isn't about the challenge. Its the charm.

In addition to the large amounts of Jedi gameplay, there are a handful of characters thrown in who use Blasters as their weapons. Unfortunately, the Blaster characters aren't nearly as fun as the Jedi characters. It's pretty much impossible to dodge incoming fire with the Blaster characters (quite often fire comes from off screen, and characters move too slowly to dodge laser blasts anyway). Blaster characters do have the ability to use grappling hooks to reach out of reach areas, which is really the only time in the game the player will use them. Most people will probably change back to a Jedi character as soon as possible. There are a small number of other characters besides the Jedi and Blaster characters, but they make up an insignificant ratio and are used only a handful of times throughout the game.

The game is divided into three chapters, each encompassing one of the three prequel films from the Star Wars series. Each chapter is fully accessible from a hub, Dexter's Diner from Episode II. At the start of the game, the Diner is relatively barren. But as the player unlocks more characters and progresses further in the game, then more denizens of the films will populate the Diner, and the parking lot outside the Diner will fill up with more and more unlockable vehicles (which can only be looked at, but sadly not driven). Once everything in the game is unlocked, the Diner becomes a veritable war zone as computer controlled NPCs of the Jedi, Sith, Republic and Separatist forces clash with one another continually.

Each level in the game is divided into two different gameplay modes: Story and Free Play. In Story mode, players must pass through each level using only certain characters. This means that certain barriers, doors and puzzles cannot be solved because the characters required are unavailable. This is where Free Play mode comes in. While in Story Mode the emphasis is collecting enough Lego Pegs to complete that level's "True Jedi Meter" (obtaining True Jedi status on all levels unlocks a secret level and the game's final three characters). In Free Play, however, the focus is collecting all of the Minikits strewn throughout the level.

In addition to the action-oriented Story levels, each Chapter of the game has a vehicular level which is actually a tribute to other genres of gaming. Episode 1's podrace makes no efforts to hide the fact that it is a tribute to a Kart racer. Episode 2 has a quick level which is clearly a takeoff of classic side-scrolling space shooters like Gradius. Perhaps the best is Episode 3's Battle Over Coruscant, which is a fantastic parody of a Star Fox-esque rail space shooter.

Each level has ten Minikits hidden within them, and quite often the only way to obtain all of the Minikits in a level is to return in Free Play mode and use characters you did not have access to before. You may need to use a Blaster character to interact with a grappling hook so you can reach a Minikit, but a Blaster character isn't necessarily available in Story Mode. Very few of the Minikits are hidden with any kind of guile, and collecting all of the Minikits in a level only unlocks a small model of the ship which can be viewed in the Diner Parking Lot. Ironically, the most rewarding thing about collecting the Minikits is the large amounts of Lego Pegs you get for finishing a Lego model.

Pegs are used in Dexter's Diner to purchase a series of rewards. These rewards range from additional characters, to hints concerning gameplay, to interesting cheats. The cheats in Lego Star Wars are a little different from the cheats commonly available in other games. Rather then making the game easier, they do amusing things to the game's engine or character models. The oddly named Purple cheat makes all Lightsabers in the game purple, the Silly Blasters cheat makes all Blasters in the game strange shapes. The cheats aren't there to make you a god. They're there to make the game more fun. Because that's really what Lego Star Wars is about. The developers didn't try to make a great Star Wars game, or a great Lego game. They just tried to make a fun game. And they succeeded in spades.

The game uses a relatively simple control layout, which really works considering it's just a simple action game. There are no complicated combo attacks to memorize (there is only one attack button), and executing special moves is relatively simple as well. Even with the different number of characters with different attacks and movement patterns, the control scheme remains the same. The only slight hiccup in the controls is changing characters. In Story Mode, to change characters the player has to stand next to the desired character and press the Change button. This is no big deal for shorter levels with fewer characters, but in the larger levels where as many as seven characters are following you around, it gets annoying. One really has to wonder why Story Mode doesn't use the same mechanic as Free Play, and use the shoulder buttons to simply cycle through available characters.

Graphically, Lego Star Wars is what you would expect: it's Legos. Only, it's not entirely Legos. Only the characters and vehicles and a small amount of the environment are constructed using Legos. Everything else is drawn up exactly how you would expect it to appear in an actual Star Wars game. It would have been nice to have seen some consistency, and for more of the game to appear in Lego form. But it really isn't that surprising to think that the developers chose to only do certain parts of the game world using Legos. It would be very bland, jagged, and downright ugly if everything was constructed from Legos. Though the graphical quality of the environments aren't perfect, they are still nice enough to look at, particularly the Lightsaber effects. Some of the reflection effects of characters on marble and metal surfaces are particularly cool.

It wouldn't be Star Wars without the John Williams soundtrack, and thankfully the orchestral score remains in tact for Lego Star Wars. Though perhaps the main theme is overused, and the fantastic Duel of the Fates is sorely missing (especially odd considering it was Episode 1's main theme), overall what parts of the soundtrack are there are well used. Oddly enough, there is no voice acting in the game whatsoever, which really makes sense considering the Lego theme. In a hilarious idea on the part of the developers, all of the story is delivered in pantomime. This is problematic, however. Players unfamiliar with the storyline will have only the vaguest idea of what is going on, and the huge gaps between each level are only briefly explained in a paragraph between each level. Others who know the story well, however, will find the pantomime hysterical. Oddly enough, Darth Vader's little fit at the end of Episode III is actually better then it appears in the film. Perhaps it's because the developers chose not to overplay the Frankenstein's Monster undertones.

Gameplay: 8 out of 10
Story: 5 out of 5
Controls: 8 out of 10
Graphics: 4 out of 5
Sound and Music: 5 out of 5
Extras: 3 out of 5
Game Length, Difficulty and Replay Value: 8 out of 10
Overall Score: 8.2 out of 10

The Good: Fans of both Lego and Star Wars rejoice, as Lego Star Wars is the best example of both franchises yet produced. The action is simple but always fun, and the many of the myriad of characters have their own unique fighting style. The vehicular driven levels, while sparse, are well made and a ton of fun. The ingenuity of the Dexter's Diner hub is hilarious, and one hopes that other games will also adopt this sort of "Free Form Overworld Hub."
The Bad: The action is sometimes a little too simplistic. All players have to do with a Jedi character is rapidly press the attack button to become an invulnerable god, while Blaster characters are left an easy target with no compensation to compete with Jedi characters.
The Ugly: Changing between characters in Story Mode is annoying, while Free Play Mode uses an entirely different method to swap between characters even though you're essentially doing the same thing. Which makes no sense, I know. The game's final level is very confusing, as it has players randomly changing between fighting and cooperating with their partner.

As both a parody and a tribute to Star Wars, Lego Star Wars is at the top of its game. Despite the rather odd choice of basing the game around the Prequel Trilogy (the original trilogy is universally considered to be the better of the two), the game is fun enough that the shortcomings of the Prequel Trilogy's theme and story are minimal. This game was an unexpected success. No matter how good the reviews are, come on... it's Lego Star Wars. That's a mark against it right away. But the back of the case proudly proclaims a line from Game Informer's glowing review of the game, "It could quite possible be the coolest thing to ever happen to mankind." A bit of an overstatement, but it has its heart in the right place. Lego Star Wars is a must own title for both Lego and Star Wars fans, as well as action gamers of any stripe.


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Community review by mrshotgun (March 15, 2007)

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