All that's ever asked of a videogame sequel is that it offer everything people liked about the first game, with slightly superior graphics and minor improvements on the gameplay. A deceptively simple target to shoot for, many games can't seem to hit it. Lego Star Wars II is a special case—it would seem like following up on a fantastic game just sixteen months after the first title would provide an impossible timetable. The developers had an ace up their sleeve, though. They'd already adapted three of the most abominable films of the past decade into the third best game of 2005, and this time they were working with source material that was actually good. The general anticipatory consensus was that The Original Trilogy was going to be a fantastic game, and indeed, Traveller's Tales has delivered a game that shouldn't disappoint anyone.
A third-person brawler with occasional vehicle piloting levels, Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy (LSWII:TOT) is the exact same game as its predecessor, only better in almost every way. Given the first game's focus on Jedi force powers, and their non-canon ability to rearrange blocks of Lego into useful shapes, it's good that this game makes a concerted effort to establish just how well the same mechanics can work in an older, more Jedi-free continuity. Where the first game highlighted Lego's transmographic qualities by featuring objects that the force could transform into other objects, this one focuses on Lego's creative possibilities.
In addition to the force-power-activated Lego, now the levels are filled with huge piles of Lego blocks that any character can build into useful items such as switches, vehicles, and even doors. It's a perfect addition to the lineup of Lego-related abilities, and it helps ensure that, unlike the first game, there's a complete balance of things for multiple players to do when playing in co-op mode. This was a bit of a risk, as there is, at most, only one Jedi available in each stage.
If the fact that LSWII:TOT does just as good a job at building the first three films in Lego as they did the last three isn't much of a surprise, just how effectively the previous game's flaws have been addressed is. Where the first game had frustratingly lame on-rails flying levels, this one gives players large, explorable levels in which to fly their X-Wings and speeder bikes. If, like the first game, the vehicle levels aren't quite as Lego-themed as the rest of the game, they make up for it by being fast, completely accessible, and amazingly fun. This is the best I've ever seen the 'Hoth' sequence from Empire Strikes Back represented, and given its ubiquity in Star Wars games, that's saying something.
Even the game's co-op mode has been improved. While the first game was more fun when played with two people at once, this one simply demands to be played co-operatively. There are far more enemies this time, and since computer-controlled allies still can't kill or be killed, the combat goes from a little tedious to an absolute joy when two people do it together. An added emphasis has also been placed on co-operative puzzle solving. Every level is packed to the gills with multiple switches that have to be pulled at the same time and platforms that have to be built with the force and jumped off of all at once. Even the level that forces one player to be R2D2 while another controls Luke offers plenty for the diminutive droid to do.
The crowning achievement, though, is just how much the game has improved in replayability. Some complained of the first that if a player wanted to collect all of the vehicle models they would be forced to replay the exact same level multiple times, with a couple of added jumps or doors being the only new experience. Now, when the player goes back to 'Free Play' the levels as any of the characters, there are actually huge sections of level that they weren't able to access the first time. This means that the game actually manages to provide a consistent sense of discovery for two entire play-throughs of all the levels—something few games ever manage.
The only problem I could find with the game is that the lightsaber fighting hasn't been improved. The collision detection is still on the odd side, with the sword often swinging completely through people without registering a hit. Luckily, the lack of Jedi and the effective auto-aim of the blasters ensures that this problem doesn't rear its ugly head too often, and the difficulty levels of the two Jedi duels have been ramped way down from the last game. Still though, the swordfigthing really should be better than this.
Once again Traveller's Tales has knocked it out of the park, and come up with a game that will doubtless sell millions of copies and end up on numerous game of the year lists. It deserves all of the accolades it will receive—the game has managed to capture the spirit of Star Wars while maintaining its own style and sense of humor. The way that the mute Lego characters handle the 'I am your father' sequence must be seen to be believed. LSWII:TOT is the rarest of titles—a children's game that's every bit as fun for adults, a sequel that improves in every way over the original, and a film adaptation that does the subject matter complete justice. There's no possible reason to miss this one.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the GameCube version of the game.