Okay, in my defense, I didn't realize that it was a children's game. I can't say whether it's a testament to Lego's enduring popularity as the world's greatest toy, or my own fundamental lack of maturity, but when I first looked at the box on the videogame store shelf, it didn't occur to me that Lego Star Wars could have possibly been made for anyone other than me specifically. Sure, all of the game's marketing, and even its manual, seems to be suggesting that this is aimed at children, but the game itself certainly doesn't feel like it. No, this feels like the ultimate Star Wars experience, made by obsessive fans that happened upon the revolutionary discovery that the only true way to express the majesty of Star Wars was through the intricate simplicity of Lego.
Lego Star Wars is primarily a 3rd-person brawler, where players run a variety of characters around levels themed after the three prequel Star Wars films, shooting at enemies with blasters and cutting them into pieces with light sabers. The main difference between this and all other Star Wars actions games, naturally, is the fact that nearly everything in the game world is constructed out of Legos. The second difference is that unlike most other Star Wars games, this one is actually a whole lot of fun.
The game is charmingly easy to jump into and play, probably by virtue of it being intended for eight year olds. The control scheme is so simple it could have been mapped onto an NES controller. Little more is asked from the player than to push in the direction of the enemy, jump over the occasional chasm, then press the attack button until that opponent has been reduced to component parts. The developers were obviously aware that some people just aren't good at jumping in three dimensions, so they removed death from the game. That's right—there are no lives, no continues, no restarting—it's just plain impossible to die in Lego Star Wars. Falling off a cliff or taking an excessive amount of damage is punished only by a loss of bolts (the currency of the game; they're used to unlock playable characters and various cheats), and even that isn't excessively punitive, as any bolts lost in death can be recovered by the partner character, assuming the game is being played in co-op mode. And the co-op mode is where the game really shines.
While all of the levels can be enjoyed in single player mode—the partner A.I. is extremely good at helping the player open all the necessary doors and flip all the two-person switches—the game was clearly meant to be played in cooperative mode. Primarily this is because of the sheer number of enemies players are asked to fight in each level. Two people can deal with the onslaught much better than one, because partner AI characters can't actually do damage to opponents. More importantly, it's just a great game to share with other people. I don't know many people who don't enjoy Star Wars, and this is by far the easiest that bisecting things with a light saber has ever been, making this one of the best games I've ever encountered for luring non-gamers into picking up a controller. The non-punitive nature of death in the game means that as long as one of the players is reasonably competent, levels can be beaten irregardless of the second player's skill level. Heck, even if my partner decided to cut me into little pieces, we can fight as long as we want and then pick up the level again whenever we've gotten the violence out of our systems. Since the game offers true drop-in/drop-out gameplay, the second player can even quit playing during especially difficult sections of the game, then jump back in when things have cooled down a bit.
All of the core Jedi powers are available here: jumping high, pushing things around, deflecting blaster bolts back at their shooters—which is easier and more fun here than it's ever been before. But the game's greatest innovation is the reimagining of 'The Force' as a primarily creative power. Since almost everything in the game is made out of Lego, instead of just moving things around, Jedi characters are actually able to take items apart and reassemble them in a new form somewhere else. This is a remarkably smooth mechanic, mostly because the game does most of the work for the player. Instead of having to manually toss things around a la Psi Ops, any items that can be manipulated using the Force are highlighted, and a simple button-press by a Force-using character makes them use the item in whatever way it can be used. The first time I tore a grate off the wall using the Force, then watched the pieces fly through the air and reassemble as a staircase, I knew that my fantasy life had been permanently rewritten. That's right, if given the choice, I would much rather be a Lego Jedi than a normal one.
The game isn't perfect however. It's broken down into three movies, with five or six chapters taking place in each. Unfortunately, one level per film is devoted to a flying sequence that's markedly less fun than the fighting levels, mostly because the game loses the Lego thread almost completely during them. While flying a pod racer or clone gunship, the game feels less like a Lego-themed game and more like flying a Lego-themed ship in a regular game. Another problem is that the game's simplistic fighting mechanic, while great for cutting through waves of clones and robots, just isn't complex enough in-depth enough to allow for satisfying swordfights. Most of the time actually hitting my opponent felt more like luck than skill. The game's designers seem to recognize this, and most of the game's boss battles focus more on using environmental weapons against the boss than actually fighting them with light sabers. This does make the two straight swordfights in the game pretty tedious though, and the final fight in the game between Obi-Wan and Darth Vader doesn't allow players to continue, making it incredibly difficult to beat unless a second player controlling Anakin is willing to take a dive (into the lava).
Even with those minor problems, this is a fantastic game. I don't know if it can be scientifically quantified, but there's something about the interchangeability of Legos that keeps even the stupidest character from coming off too badly here. I didn't mind the Jar-Jar presence at all, nor that of the otherwise loathsome child Anakin. Even the Lego version of General Grievous, so ridiculous in the Clone Wars cartoon, and so useless in the film, is actually quite cool here. He gets to actually fight Obi-Wan instead of just being murdered by him, and he's quite a blast to play when unlocked. The game's only major problem is that it's about the three worst Star Wars movies, and it's such a good game that, playing it before the film's release, it actually managed to convince me that Revenge of the Sith was going to be good. Of course, it wasn't, but playing the game again after seeing it, I found that, incredibly, my estimation of the game hadn't lessened any by association, as I'd feared it would.
This is clearly a game made by huge Star Wars fans, for huge Star Wars fans. Beyond that, though, it's one of the greatest casual games I've ever seen. It's not the longest game, and it's not the most complex game, but it succeeds at almost everything it sets out to do—which puts it head and shoulders above most other games out there, Star Wars-related or not.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the Xbox version of the game.