Star Wars The Clone Wars: Republic Heroes for the Nintendo DS offers no surprises. This platformer is about as memorable as the usual movie or TV tie-in game, which means it's as disposable as a set of souvenir glasses from a fast-food burger joint. The game is completely different from and marginally better than its counterparts on the PSP and the three home consoles, but it still suffers from a complete lack of imagination and from monotonous gameplay that runs on autopilot.
Still, Republic Heroes nails its source material. The game plays like clips from the TV show's first season and the movie that launched the big-eyed anime-lite franchise last year. You portray various Republic heroes from the show as they go about battling the evil Separatist droid armies led by the villainous General Grievous. You pick a planet like Christophsis or Ryloth on the opening screen, and then you're off to battle the bad guys in the shoes of Jedi knights like Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and benchwarmer Kit Fisto, or in the shiny white armor of clone troopers. Missions are pretty standard for 3D platformers. There is a ton of combat, both with lightsaber and blaster. You also spend a fair bit of time solving routine puzzles by moving obstacles with the Force and pulling levers, and you collect power-ups like healing bacta tanks and Jedi holocrons that can be turned in for unlockables like character bios.
The only pepper tossed into this familiar recipe is the ability to switch between characters while playing solo (there is no multiplayer mode, unless you count the waste-of-time high-score merging that's possible with a friends who have their own copies of the game). Unfortunately, this amounts to nothing more than looking at the same landscape from another perspective. Generally you're slicing up or blasting the same droids in different places or running one character on one level hitting buttons, stepping on pressure plates, and using the Force on objects to clear the way for the other guy. Much of this is incredibly tedious. At times you can barely take 10 steps with one hero before you need to switch a button. And then you usually need to take 10 steps with the other hero to hit another button that gets everything rolling around again.
The game mechanics are at least smoothly executed. You use the stylus for movement and combat actions. So you drag it where you want to go and tap on enemies to smack them with your lightsaber or shoot them with a blaster. It's an effective system, albeit not exactly exciting. Fights are a long way from taxing. All you need to do is tap on the bad guys a few times to take them out. It's like you're a bouncer escorting deadbeats to the door in a nightclub. A little extra derring-do is needed to kill tougher bad guys. For instance, you slice big droids to scrap by leaping on top of them and using the stylus to trace a couple of patterns on onscreen arrows. If you do this quickly enough, you complete a big-time lightsaber attack. Still, this isn't all that engaging or challenging. After a while, you fall into a hypnotic rhythm during combat powerful enough to send you off to sleep. Assaulting legions of killer robots has never been so restful.
Jedi jumps are just as coma-inducing. Targets appear onscreen whenever Anakin and his pals come to a gap that must be leaped, a bunch of floating platforms that have to be hopped across, or a spot on a wall that you can drive a lightsaber into to act as a makeshift pole to spin on (don't think too hard about this one). Just tap these icons when they're green, avoid them when they're red, and the ensuing acrobatics are pulled off smoothly. Again, this works from a mechanical perspective, but you soon fall into a pattern where you tick your way through death-defying leaps like a metronome ticking through a third-grader's piano lesson. The only thing that keeps you awake is a regular dose of frustration. Many targets cycle red-green pretty quickly, making it tough to time jumps. Since failure means immediate death and a reloaded save position, the consequences of your unavoidable mistakes are rather annoying.
The presentation further dulls the intensity of Republic Heroes. Although the visuals are fairly sharp, allowing you to clearly make out the distinctive look of the Clone Wars TV show characters as dialogue talking heads on the lower touch screen and in close-up cartoon glory on the upper screen, the camera is pulled back a long way from the action. Heroes and droids alike often turn into pixely sticks. Your Jedi seem to be flipping around and doing all kinds of acrobatics as they do battle with robots, but tiny character proportions and flashing lightsabers make it hard to get a good look at anything. This long-distance point of view never affects the gameplay, since you can always effectively tap your way through saving the galaxy, but it does lessen the impact of what could have been a thrilling escapade battling evil robots and their Sith masters.
If you're really jonesing for anime-style Star Wars, pick up the first season of the Clone Wars TV show on DVD. The DS take on Star Wars The Clone Wars: Republic Heroes is a mundane bore, despite some respectable mechanics and a reasonably good rendition of the kiddie cartoon universe.