|Developed by:||Traveller’s Tales|
Do you remember the game that made you buy your games machine?
I’ll never forget playing Tekken Tag and Time Splitters and deciding that my creaking PS1 needed an upgrade to PS2.
I’ll always remember buying a PC, almost exclusively so that I could play the latest Championship Manager.
And of course I was quite content not buying a PS4, right up until the point that Uncharted 4 came out.
And then there is Lego Star Wars.
I had been quite happy with my PS2. To be honest I didn’t play it that much, having been sucked into the dark void of Championship / Football Manager. But when the first Lego Star Wars game dropped, it offered the chance to play through some of the story of Episode III before I had even seen it at the cinema, and long before my soul was crushed by the triple whammy of hope, expectation and disappointment.
To my surprise, it became a favourite in our house, a game that my wife and I would play together. I eagerly snapped up the sequel on PS2, based on the original trilogy, and we smashed 100% completion on both.
That was when I saw the advert for The Complete Saga on PS3. New levels! New modes! New, er, stuff! I was convinced and with my annual bonus burning a hole in my pocket, I bounded into Game and picked up the great noisy slab that was the original 60bg PS3.
All these years later, the kids are reaching an age where they are old enough to enjoy this type of game, plus have developed a passing interest in Star Wars. What better excuse then to dust the old girl off for one more go around.
If you have played any of the Lego games then the basic formula will be familiar to you. For the uninitiated, each film in the Star Wars saga is broken down into 6 individual chapters. You play through as one of 2 characters, either with a friend in a drop in / drop out co-op or dragging the AI along for support if flying solo. With a distinct Lego flavouring, levels play out as a faithful retelling of the Star Wars story, interspersed with cut-scenes to move key plot points forward.
Each level contains a series of mini objectives to progress, usually involving the pressing of various switches or levers to open doors. But this being Lego, it’s not as straight forward as that, devices often having to be built from the ruins of other objects. Beyond mere progression, players are also set the challenge of collecting Lego studs, generated from the destruction of scenery and objects, which count towards a ‘Total Jedi’ target. There are also pieces of ‘mini-kit’ that, when collected in full, let you build various vehicles from the Star Wars universe for use in later bonus levels. Completing a level or achieving one of the other goals grants you a Gold Brick, collection of which counts towards the holy grail of 100% game completion.
So basically smash anything that moves. And if it doesn’t move, smash it anyway, build it and then smash it again. It’s like my wife’s perfect game, playing to her twin vices of mess and hoarding. Levels are superbly constructed, destroying pieces of scenery into Lego smithereens never getting dull whilst the lure of attempting to achieve the next Gold Brick, nudging your completion score higher, keeps you pushing on.
In truth though the story mode is only half the fun, quite literally when you see your completion stats at the end of Episode VI. You see each character has abilities that reflect their status within Star Wars. Jedi can use the force to push and pull objects; bounty hunters can use their grenades to destroy otherwise indestructible objects; droids can activate switches whilst smaller characters can access various sealed off areas.
By completing the story you unlock extra characters, allowing you to replay each story in ‘Free Mode’ with a raft of characters you are free to switch between. That mini-kit piece that was tantalisingly out of reach on your first play through? Control Jar Jar (boo!) and use his extra jump ability to reach higher ledges. That room you couldn’t access because of the strange black and red glowing bricks in the way? Use a Sith character to move it out of the way and grab the goodies therein.
It is a game that positively encourages repeat play and not just in a grim, relentless grind sort of way. It fosters a genuine desire to grab each and every collectible. These include special Red Bricks that can be purchased with Lego studs, unlocking extra abilities. These range from the ludicrous – deadly slaps, facial disguises – to the really bloody useful, such as invincibility, fast build and auto-stud collection. Such are the effect of these bricks that the game becomes an altogether different beast once they are activated, invincibility in particular removing a lot of the frustrations of the game.
And it is worth considering those frustrations for a moment as you will encounter them. First and foremost, without the invincibility power up you are vulnerable to not just being killed by enemy fire but also your own buddy. Sure, death is only temporary in the Lego universe, costing you little more than Lego studs. Nonetheless in the heat of battle or in cramped Death Star corridors with laser bolts firing in every direction, bursting into a cloud of studs as your partner accidentally sends a bolt up your keister is a perennial annoyance.
Talking of the heat of battle, the vehicle levels in particular can descend into a mess of explosions and noise to the point that you completely lose track of what craft you are controlling and what you are supposed to be doing.
Added to this, in two player co-op you are restricted to a single screen. Imagine then you spot something out of the corner of your eye and you eagerly set off across the screen to pick it up, only to start running in treacle as your partner is too busy playing on their phone to notice, leaving the camera stuck in some netherworld between you. Or worse still, as you try to negotiate a tricky two-person puzzle or line up a jump, the camera tries to accommodate both of you but inevitably one player drops off the screen, either pushing off a cliff and costing you studs or dropping you out of the game.
The camera issues were thankfully fixed in later instalments, the screen splitting in traditional 2-player manner and so the frustrations here should be seen within the context of a series very much in progress. Still, having had the benefit of playing those enhanced experiences, reverting back to a single camera feels archaic.
Graphically Lego is pretty hard to get wrong and the Star Wars license helps to bring real colour and character. All of your favourite heroes, villains, droids, bounty hunters and vehicles are included and can be controlled and each captures the spirit of the source material.
The sound effects and music of Star Wars are as iconic as the characters themselves and these are equally well served here. Characters remain mute throughout, save for some well placed grunts, squeals and bleeps whilst the superb cut-scenes offer a genuine laugh out loud take on the Star Wars lore. And of course blasters fire, lightsabers crackle and vehicles screech with all the sound effects that you played out in your living room as a kid.
The Star Wars licence would rear its head again with the release of The Force Awakens but long before the series hit current-gen, Travellers Tales exhausted the formula across a variety of IPs.
Indiana Jones would spawn two games, the first focused on the classic trilogy whilst the sequel sought to expand a game world around Kingdom of the Crystal Skull to mixed effect. Batman would also receive a couple of games in the series. Like Indiana Jones, the lack of Force powers had to be compensated for with other mechanics but the flexibility of the Batsuit, broad spectrum of villains and rich source material ensured the Dark Knight was treated well.
But perhaps the most successful follow up was the double helping of games in the Harry Potter universe. Like Star Wars, the franchise has a ready made plot structure to follow, a raft of characters to choose from plus the use of spells, bringing echoes of Force powers but allowing far greater flexibility and range and quite possibly making these games the highlight of the series.
A superbly crafted adventure, its true genius lying in its ability to be simple enough for the under-10 crowd to pick up and play whilst deep enough for adults to lose themselves in.
Technically surpassed as the series has evolved and certainly not without its faults but it is amazing how much you can forgive under the glare of the Star Wars licence.
A classic for the whole family to enjoy.