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February 24, 2005

"LEGO® Star Wars™: The Video Game" Hands-On

By Jon

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 LEGO.

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.

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