Lego Star Wars Episode I Preview

We use the Force and hack up Jar Jar throughout the first third of Eidos' upcoming wacky Star Wars action game.

You might have a couple of misconceptions the first time you hear the name "Lego Star Wars." For one, it's based entirely on the prequel films--no Luke, Leia, or Han to be found here. For another, you won't just be building things out of blocks; you'll be blasting and slashing your way through level after level of George Lucas' fantasy universe as rendered in Lego. Lastly, and most importantly, this game isn't just for kids. Check your attitude at the door, you jaded Gen-X cynic--we've played through the Episode I portion of Lego Star Wars and are here to tell you that if this game doesn't bring a smile to your face, you don't know how to have fun anymore.

Ever wanted to hack Jar Jar Binks to pieces ad nauseam? Now's your chance.

If you're reading this page--in fact, if you're even into video games at all--odds are you've seen Episode I: The Phantom Menace at least once. But if the cloying antics of a certain floppy-eared gungan have clouded your memory, here's a refresher: Jedi knights Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn have to protect Queen Amidala amid a violent trade dispute on her homeworld of Naboo. Along the way they encounter Anakin Skywalker, also known as The Boy Who Would Be Darth Vader, and bring him into Jedi training after a climactic battle with the bad guys. Lego Star Wars distills this story down to the most exciting parts, represented by a sequence of action levels that will take you from Naboo to Tatooine and back, all the way up to the climactic fight with Darth Maul.

Actually, the game will let you play an equal number of action levels from all three episodes: The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and the upcoming Revenge of the Sith. We like to play in order, though, so we've plowed our way through The Phantom Menace in its entirety, which is spread out over levels ranging from the Trade Federation's capital ship to the royal palace grounds of Theed and even the podracing course on Tatooine. Unfortunately, we didn't see a Lego-built Jabba the Hutt, but nevertheless, the force of Episode I is strong in this one.

The mechanics of Lego Star Wars couldn't be simpler. You run your goofy little Lego version of Obi-Wan, Padme, R2-D2, or whoever around Star Wars worlds built entirely from Lego blocks. You have a basic attack and a special power (both dependent on the character) and a jump move. Fight all the enemies that get in your way as you solve light puzzles and make your way to the end of the level. You'll always be joined by at least one AI-controlled friend, and you can switch to other characters at any time at the press of a button. We're going to peg the learning curve at somewhere around 60 seconds, give or take.

Play as everyone from Darth Maul to the gonk droid by unlocking dozens of secret characters.

We got to play as a ton of characters in the Episode I section of Lego Star Wars. In addition to the expected characters like Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon, Amidala, and Anakin, we used R2-D2, Captain Panaka, that insufferable Binks, and even the TC-14 protocol droid. All of the characters have a different special power--the Jedi can use the Force to manipulate objects, Amidala and Panaka can use a grappling hook to reach new heights, and Anakin can duck into tiny chutes to appear at new places in each level. When you finish a level, you'll unlock whichever new characters you got to play with in that level. What's more, you can use the money that you've picked up throughout the game to go back to the shop in the hub level and purchase even more characters, including some of the bad guys you've been fighting against.

Feel the Force

In fact, the final game will feature dozens of unlockable characters taken from all three movies, and we purchased such favorites as the battle droid, Darth Maul, and the famous "gonk" droid from the original Star Wars as we played through the Episode I section. You can then take these characters into the free play mode, which lets you play through any level you've already completed to hunt for secrets and just have fun. Not surprisingly, all the playable characters fit into memory at the same time, and you can cycle through every single one of them as quickly as you can press a button. We had lots of fun trying out the different abilities of each character. The destroyer droid (or droideka) has a big energy shield and massive blasters, for instance, while Darth Maul obviously wields his dual-bladed lightsaber, to seriously destructive results.

It's hard to appreciate how cute this game is until you see it in motion.

The beauty of Lego Star Wars is its simplicity. When you die, your only penalty is a loss of some of the money you've picked up and a three-second delay before you're right back in the action with full health. That's right--you have unlimited lives, and so does your friend, if you're in a two-player game. Therefore, one of the joys of the game is being able to stop what you're doing and just start fighting with your own characters, which can actually get pretty heated when it's two Jedi going at it. The game is still challenging thanks to the hordes of enemies that come at you and the various puzzles scattered throughout each level, but we appreciate that the game doesn't punish you for getting killed. In fact, it's to the credit of the design that Lego Star Wars is so much fun despite this fact.

The game will even have some vehicular action sequences, one of which we got to see over the course of our travels. About halfway through, you'll take control of the podrace on Tatooine as you power young Anakin to victory against the malicious Sebulba. The gameplay here was pretty standard light racing fare, with speed pads on the ground and obstacles to contend with like falling boulders and sand people shooting at us from the sidelines. We're looking forward to seeing what kind of vehicle-based action is in store in the next two episodes.

The game is still several months away from release, so it features some unfinished sections, but already the developers have done an amazing job of translating the people and places of Episode I into Lego form. The characters look exactly like the little Lego people you know and love, and they never speak--their exaggerated movements and facial expressions are more than enough to convey the dramatic elements of the storyline (with a heavy dash of humor thrown in). The graphics have a clean, simple look to them that's perfect for the subject matter, and the designers have included lots of neat Lego-related points of interest in the levels. All of the set pieces look like they were taken from a Lego accessory pack, and you can even use the Force to assemble (and disassemble) various objects using Lego parts. It's got a nostalgic appeal that's certainly hard to deny.

Come on, how can you not love this?

After just a few hours, Lego Star Wars has really grown on us. The Episode I part alone has tons of action, characters, and comical moments packed into it, and that's only on the first play-through--you can go back and collect money, find secrets, and access new characters afterward, and the free play mode alone is good for hours of amusement. When you consider that this represents only one-third of the game's content, and that Episodes II and especially III are sure to hold even more enticing material, Lego Star Wars seems more and more appealing all the time. Stay tuned for coverage of the next two episodes as the game's late-March release date approaches.

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