February 24, 2005
"LEGO® Star Wars™: The Video Game" Hands-On
I was skeptical when I first heard about LEGO® Star Wars™: The Video
Game. It seemed a very odd idea. There are already a number of
video game interpretations of the prequel films, so why remake them?
And even if you were to remake them, why on Earth would you want to
remake them in LEGO®?
Because it ROCKS.
From the moment I played the game in person, I was astounded by the
style of LEGO Star Wars, its attention to detail, and, most
importantly, how fun it is.
Row M attended the LEGO Star Wars VIP Gala at Toy Fair in New York,
and while my colleagues spent their time scrutinizing the upcoming
Revenge of the Sith LEGO sets, I spent several hours engrossed in a
nearly complete version of the game. LEGO Star Wars covers the
three prequel films, highlighting the most exciting moments of each
film using LEGO minifigures and pieces. Most of the levels involve 3D
action platforming, and in these levels, the characters walk around as only LEGO
minifigures can, swinging their LEGO lightsabers and shooting their
LEGO blasters at LEGO enemies. When you slice or shoot something, it
falls apart into its component LEGO pieces in a beautifully seamless
way, making something as simple as Force-pushing a battle droid into a
wall a moment of pure joy.
We started out in cooperative multiplayer playing the "Retake Theed
Palace" level, towards the end of Episode 1. My partner was Colby,
a producer from Eidos who came by to demonstrate the game. In this
level, our team consisted of six characters: Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, Padmé,
Captain Panaka, R2-D2, and little Anakin Skywalker.
Each player can
switch around freely between the characters at any time, leaving the
other characters controlled by the CPU. And switching between them is
important, because all of the characters have different abilities, and
you need to use them all to get through the level. For example, the
two Jedi have Force abilities, which they can use to take loose blocks
around the level and construct bridges, staircases, and other
platforms, while Panaka and Padmé can use their grappling hooks to
reach higher areas and Artoo can hover with his jets and open secured
blast doors. All of these abilities came into play many times during
the level; for example, in one part we had to control the two Jedi and
use the Force to hover each others' platforms, then double-jump to
reach a higher area and trigger a switch to open the path for the
other characters. During and between the levels, the action is
punctuated by hilarious cut-scenes recreating well-known moments in
the films. There is no dialogue, only expressions and non-verbal
grunts, so watching the LEGO characters mime out situations like LEGO Darth Maul's
big reveal is a treat.
There are also a number of other modes to break up the
gameplay, including vehicle levels. These are minigames, not as fully realized as the other
levels but still fun, despite lacking a two-player mode.
There was an Episode 1 Podracing level similar in gameplay to the Star Wars
Racer series, a Jedi Starfighter level at the beginning of Episode
3 that played a lot like, yes, Jedi Starfighter, and an Episode
2 Republic Gunship level that felt remarkably like Zaxxon,
right down to the diagonal flying perspective. The main hub of the game is Dex's Diner from Attack of the
Clones. Expanded from the film with many more rooms, the diner
contains many doors leading to the various levels of the game,
spanning all three prequel films. As you play through each level, the
next unlocks, and you can revisit previous levels whenever you
want. In addition, as you walk through the diner, you can see an
assortment of unlocked characters wandering through the place.
Unlocked characters? That's right, there are over 50 of them,
ranging from other Jedi with similar abilities to unique ones like
Darth Maul and the rolling Droideka.
As you play through each level,
you pick up little round LEGO pieces which you can use to buy
unlockable characters. Once you obtain a new character, you can use
Free Play mode to return to previous levels using that character, even
if it makes no sense in the story. For example, you can include Jango
Fett in your team while you infiltrate the Trade Federation ship at
the beginning of Episode 1—and the game will always make sure that
you still have the characters you need to finish the level. In
addition, by finding hidden pickups in a level you can unlock
completed LEGO ships and other items in your gallery.
The graphics in this game are wonderfully detailed. The characters are
perfect digital incarnations of their plastic selves,
and even show
detailed expressions on their faces in the cut-scenes, such as little
Boba Fett's sad face after Jango Fett is killed on Geonosis.
The animation is spot-on: when the minifigures walk around they move just
as one would imagine minifigures move, and different characters have
differing walk animations and move at wildly different speeds. While
most of the characters move around at a medium speed, some like the
Droideka move quite quickly, while others such as Threepio and the
Gonk droid are very slow. Yoda is the slowest of all, hobbling along
with his cane until you use one of his special abilities to ride on a
hover chair—or just start swinging his lightsaber, which makes him
jump and bounce around just like at the end of Attack of the
Clones. There are often dozens of characters on screen at once; in
the "Jedi Battle" level of Attack of the Clones, for
example, dozens of Jedi fight battle droids in the background,
and as you rescue more and more of your trapped Jedi friends, more of them
join the fight. Most of the characters look exactly the same as their real-life LEGO counterparts. But some are not, for the simple reason that they
don't exist in real life. There are so many unlockable characters
in LEGO Star Wars that some of them didn't even exist when
the game was developed. The UK developers of the game, Travelers'
Tales, worked closely with LEGO to create the digital versions of
these characters, making sure that they were true to the spirit of
The sound is a mixed bag, using the same Star Wars music and sound
effects that we've heard for years. While it is good to stay
consistent, it would have been nice to hear something new in this
regard. One area in which the sound is spot-on, though, is in the
cutscenes: as previously mentioned, their lack of voice dialogue
makes them all the more charming.
If I had to use one word to describe LEGO Star Wars, it would
be just that: charming. It's shaping up to be a charming, clever,
polished game, and when it comes out in April it will definitely be
one to get. Lucasarts may not have wanted to publish LEGO Star
Wars because it was geared for kids, but this grown-up can't
wait to get his hands on it again.