You wouldn't think that mimicking the Lego platformers would be all that difficult. Few gaming franchises have been so high profile over the past four years, with developer Traveller's Tales using the colorful blocks to playfully re-create all six Star Wars movies, the original Indiana Jones trilogy, and nearly 75 years of Batman comics. So there really is no excuse for such a lame rip-off as Star Wars The Clone Wars: Republic Heroes. While the Nintendo Wii version of the game is a little better than its Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 brethren, thanks to some control refinements, Krome Studios still messes up nearly every single aspect of the familiar Lego formula, turning what should have been a quick-paced romp with cartoon Jedi into a dreary mess.
Just about the only thing that Republic Heroes gets right is its tie-in with the Clone Wars TV series. The three-act campaign feels a lot like lost TV episodes, taking place in such familiar locales as massive Republic battleships and the Twi'lek homeworld of Ryloth. So if you're a fan, you'll love the story and setting. The look of the game copies the quasi-anime character art of the show, with all of the big eyes and odd proportions perfectly preserved. There are lots of inside references to various plot points from the show's first season and the theatrical movie that launched this franchise in the summer of 2008. The Movietone News-style war montages that open each episode are drafted into service here to introduce the acts, with the outstanding martial take on the Star Wars theme of the series front and center.
Virtually all of the show's characters make appearances throughout the course of the campaign, which can be played either solo or drop-in cooperatively with a friend on the same system (there is no online multiplayer support). You play as everyone, from series stars like Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Padawan Ahsoka Tano, to lesser lights like clone trooper Cody or Jedi third-stringers Plo Koon and Luminara Unduli. Villains are drawn from the show's entire rogues' gallery. Count Dooku makes an appearance, as do dark Jedi Asajj Ventress and bounty hunter Cad Bane. All of the actors from the TV show reprise their roles, too. So you hear the same Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen mimics here, along with the same guy who voices Jango Fett. You'll also hear all of his clone offspring and whoever says "Roger-roger!" in that annoying droid voice we all learned to loathe in The Phantom Menace.
Republic Heroes sure looks the part, and the basics of play nicely copy the Lego games. You spend levels fighting, jumping from one platform to another, and collecting glowing stars to earn points. These points can be spent in a store on such things as combat upgrades and goofy frills, like C3P0 heads or droid dances. There are bosses to battle, the odd vehicle to pilot, and many simple puzzles to solve, but there is a complete lack of refinement to all of the action. Controls are a major problem on all platforms, although the situation is not quite as bad with the Wii's remote-and-nunchuk combo as it is with the Xbox 360 and PS3 controllers and the PC's gamepad. Still, all characters, even the supposed-to-be-acrobatic Jedi knights, are tough to handle due to a general lack of fine-tuning. Even though Jedi can fight with combos, crank up multipliers to juice scores, and use the Force push to toss droids around, attack animations have brief hitches in them so you can't fluidly cut a swath through your enemies like a powerful Jedi would.
The one compensation here is the slightly more responsive Wii controls that lead to more satisfying battles and easier maneuvers like leaping up walls. You even get more involved in certain Jedi actions like hijacking droids. Instead of simply hitting a button to rev up a commandeered sabotage droid, you shake the remote. Playing grunts such as the clone troopers is greatly improved on the Wii, too. Where pinpoint blasting is almost impossible in the other versions of the game, here you shoot by using the remote to aim targeting crosshairs. It's a snap to run around gunning down droids, because you can home in on them effortlessly and take them out without even giving the clankers a chance to fire back.
But the big control problem remains. Even with the Wii's more accurate remote and nunchuk control, there is still far too much looseness in character movements. It's hard to move around without falling off the scenery. This results in lots of sliding around and taking extra steps when you can least afford to do so. You never seem to stop exactly where you want to stop or jump exactly where you want to jump, which results in much frustrating skidding over cliff edges to your doom.
Confusing level design and a horrible camera greatly exacerbate these problems. Level art blends foreground and background together so perfectly that you often can't tell where you need to go without experimental jumping. There are some attractive settings, including desert canyons, starship corridors, and foundry-like factories, but everything is too busy. Once combat starts, with lightsabers flashing and blasters blasting, everything blurs together. Is that a pipe you need to swing on or just a piece of the scenery? There's never any way to tell for sure without taking a leap of faith. The messed-up camera makes this problem worse. Too often, the immoveable camera is so far away from the action and situated at such an odd angle that you can't tell where you're supposed to jump. This is a particular problem in jump-heavy levels because the camera is almost always positioned down and to your rear, making it near impossible to see where platforms are located. You end up falling to your death dozens of times in these levels, often missing what should be routine jumps so completely that you don't even touch the platform you were aiming for. The only positive aspect of these suicidal leaps is that the camera shifts slightly as you plummet to your doom, giving you a better angle on the situation for your next attempt. One additional camera problem is unique to the Wii. Sometimes the camera doesn't scroll far enough during lengthy set-piece battles, which leaves you fighting offscreen enemies for brief moments.
Repetition is another major annoyance. The level design philosophy seems to be based on the idea that if it's fun to do something once, it should be even more fun to do it a half-dozen times in succession. You're continually repeating yourself. You blast wave after wave of the same old mindless droids. You watch the same weird laser light show in the spaceship factory three times in succession for no apparent reason other than padding the campaign length. You solve the same puzzles over and over again, almost always by hijacking a droid and using its special abilities, like firing powerhouse laser cannons or mine-laying, to blow open a wall. Whenever you see a yellow reticle around a bunch of wreckage or a jammed door, you know that you'll soon need to hop onto a droid of some kind to smash open the way forward. Levels at least fly by fairly quickly. But even though you never feel bogged down, you do feel like you're stuck on an assembly line. The utter lack of surprises makes the eight or so hours it takes to get through the campaign seem more like 80 hours.
Star Wars The Clone Wars: Republic Heroes is the Jar-Jar Binks of 3D platformers. Even the most diehard Star Wars fan will have a hard time stomaching this disappointing effort. All of the control issues, confusing level design, and weird camera positions create a perfect storm of stupid that makes for one spectacularly frustrating platformer.