The idea of retelling the story of Star Wars using Lego building blocks sounds like the premise for a clever fan-made short film, something that would end up being passed around by e-mail and message boards. But Eidos and Traveller's Tales have taken the idea and run with it, creating a game that, while designed with kids in mind, has such a surplus of charm that even nostalgia-minded adults will be able to join in on the fun.
Those same adult Star Wars fans may be disappointed to learn that Lego Star Wars doesn't tell the tale of the Rebel Alliance and their struggle against the evil Galactic Empire. Rather, Lego Star Wars focuses its energies on Episodes I, II, and III. That's right, you'll get a glimpse of how Revenge of the Sith turns out nearly a full two months before the film hits theaters. There are plenty of "spoilers" in the game, although this isn't the strictest retelling and it isn't afraid to regularly inject some humor into what were originally pretty serious situations. Still, it seems odd that an officially sanctioned product like this, one that reveals so much about the final days of Anakin Skywalker, would be released so far ahead of the film.
Each episode is broken up into multiple chapters, each re-creating memorable sequences from the films. The game is largely an action adventure game, though it subverts its fair share of genre convention. You'll only have control over a single character at a time, but you'll usually have at least one computer-controlled companion with you, and at times that number can grow to a healthy half-dozen. Making this even more interesting is the fact that you can switch between any characters in your party on the fly. The game really capitalizes on this by giving different characters different abilities. Jedi characters come equipped with lightsabers and the ability to "Force move" various objects; Astromech droids (the R2D2 trash-can-style droids) can hover for short distances and can also be used to unlock certain doors; and characters like Padme Amidala are armed solely with a blaster and don't have the Jedi double-jump, but they can use grappling hooks to pull their way up to otherwise unreachable areas. There are literally dozens of different playable characters, many of which have completely unique abilities.
The game capitalizes on these unique characteristics by riddling every level with a ton of puzzles that can only be solved by a specific character in your party or by several characters working together. It's not all puzzle-solving, though. There are several big boss fights with the likes of Darth Maul, Jango Fett, and Count Dooku in Lego Star Wars. There's plenty of straight-up combat, too, with the high point being the massive Jedi arena battle on Geonosis. Like the puzzles, the combat is pretty simple and straightforward. The game isn't afraid to break away from the third-person action adventure altogether, such as in the pod race from Episode I, or a sequence where you pilot an attack ship on Geonosis at the start of the Clone War.
The game is extremely forgiving in general, dealing out virtually no punishment for failure. There is basically no way that you can "lose" Lego Star Wars. Also, the single-player game isn't particularly long--if you keep your eye on the prize, you can run through all three episodes in just a few hours. But as you play, you'll gain access to other characters with which you can go back into levels you've already completed. Since different characters can have markedly different abilities, you'll find that there are areas in each level that you simply could not reach with the original characters. So, despite the game's relative brevity, it definitely encourages multiple plays. The game also has two-player co-op support, where a second player can jump in (or, alternately, drop out) at any point. The game actually feels like it was designed for co-op play, and the experience definitely benefits from having another warm body around.
The actual gameplay is generally enjoyable, if a bit easy. But what really gives Lego Star Wars its appeal is the way it's all presented--that is, with Legos. The game fudges a little bit on some of the actual level geometry, but the majority of it appears as though it was constructed out of those little Danish building blocks. All of the characters, even the various aliens, look like Lego people, and when an enemy or an object is destroyed, it will crumble into its component pieces. There are a few set pieces where the game looks downright impressive, but for the most part it keeps things on a relatively small scale. It generally isn't overzealous with lighting and particle effects, so the game therefore has a somewhat plain, but clean look. The differences between the PC and PlayStation 2 versions are purely aesthetic and relatively minor. The PC version simply looks a lot nicer, thanks to bump-mapping and some reflection effects. The PC version also benefits from running at a higher resolution.
Despite the game's unusual look, if you were to close your eyes, there would be no mistaking this as a Star Wars game. The sound plays as big a part in establishing the tone in Lego Star Wars as the graphics. With no voice acting to muddle up the affairs, blaster and lightsaber effects are allowed to really take the stage, accompanied nicely by all of the classic John Williams music that has become inexorably linked to Star Wars.
This is probably one of the better kids' games to hit the market in a while, and that it's clever and charming enough to appeal to adults is a testament to that fact. The novelty of watching a little Lego person version of Obi-Wan Kenobi duel it out with Darth Maul certainly accounts for a large portion of the game's appeal, but on its own merits it's a fairly fun, inventive little game.