maanantai 9. toukokuuta 2011

REVIEW - Lego Star Wars - The Video Game (2005)

GENRE(S): Action
RELEASED: March 2005
DEVELOPER(S): Griptonite Games (GBA), Traveller's Tales (GCN, PC, PS2, Xbox), Giant Entertainment (MAC)
PUBLISHER(S): Eidos Interactive (GBA, GCN, PC, PS2, Xbox), Aspyr Media (MAC)

When I was a kid, I had lots of Legos. Now before you start getting all smart on me, let me tell you: I had LOTS of Legos. Buckets upon buckets of those damn addictive bricks. I simply loved them. When the Star Wars franchise was expanded to Legos in 1999 on the heels of the premiere of The Phantom Menace, me and a friend of mine were very, very bitter. Now they decided to do Star Wars Legos? It's not fair. Even today I can't wait to have kids so that I could have some sort of an excuse to tinker with Legos. If they still sell Star Wars Legos then, my second shot at childhood will most likely hit the bullseye. "Daddy stole my X-Wing!" Aaahhh... can't wait. 'Til then, I'll have to do with Lego Star Wars video games. Based on the prequel trilogy and released just in time before Episode III's world premiere, Lego Star Wars - The Video Game on the Game Boy Advance was the very first video game in the Lego video game franchise, very popular among kids and for good reasons. It's funny, cute, audiovisually somewhat genius, and definitely different from all other games of the Star Wars brand. However, it's also frustrating and highly repetitive in every sense. Which qualities outshine which?

A long time ago, in a Scandinavian country far, far away...

Droid mash-up, Lego style!
While taking their ship for repairs on Tatooine, Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn and his Padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi discover a young boy named Anakin Skywalker, who is immensely strong in the Force, far more than any Jedi. Qui-Gon takes the boy under his wing, but dies in the hands of a Sith assassin named Darth Maul, who Obi-Wan manages to kill. Obi-Wan continues Qui-Gon's work as Anakin's mentor. During the course of 13 years, Anakin gradually becomes aligned with the Dark Side of the Force due to his selfish, reckless and gullible nature, and is eventually manipulated to turn by the devious Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, a.k.a. Sith Lord Darth Sidious. Oh yes... and the characters are all made of toy bricks from Denmark.

The graphics are good in the traditional sense, but the thing that attracts me most about this game is the imagination of the developers when it comes to uniting the two basic themes of the game: Star Wars and Legos. The visual design is just genius, like when you change characters: your current character smashes to pieces, the pieces morph and re-assemble themselves into the likeness of the other team member. Of course, the cutscenes - which in this Game Boy Advance version are just stills - cannot be ignored. Even some of the most violent and touching scenes from the movies have been neatly turned into somewhat comical, but also strangely dramatic Lego opera. The music is a good, well-produced mix of the prequel trilogy's soundtrack, compiled by Ian Stocker who specializes in games for Nintendo's handhelds, mostly licensed games. There are some random voice samples, comical grunts and droid jabber.

"But daddy, I don't wanna play as Jar Jar!"
"I know, son... but better you than me."
The Game Boy Advance version, which indeed came first, is a different game from all the other versions in several different ways. It hasn't got as much playable characters, but anyway, 15 of them, which is quite impressive on this capacity. It's isometric, whereas all the other games are in 3D. Studs (those button-shaped pieces) work as currency as in all other versions, but they hold much lesser value since there really ain't that much that you can do with them in this game. The plot of the game notes only the most major turning points in the prequel trilogy's story; for example, the Episode II segment begins from Anakin's return to Tatooine to find his mother Shmi. So, it's notably shorter than the other versions as well, and it's simply not as fun. It does have its qualities, though, and I will get to them sooner or later.

The basic idea is to guide a large host of Lego Star Wars characters through mostly maze-like levels and scenes inspired by the prequel trilogy, solve puzzles and kick an excessively large amount of ass while you're at it. Each stage has one to three playable characters, who you often need to switch around to make use of their special abilities. This is the first stepping stone of the game. You absolutely must play as Jar Jar Binks, it's like some sort of a bad inside joke that you actually need to beat three stages in succession with Jar Jar as your only option. Luckily he's only in such a leading role during the Episode I segment. What makes Jar Jar so essential is his ability to jump higher than anyone else.

The tragic fate of one Qui-Gon Jinn.
All my hatred for the worst Lucas character ever aside, the Jedi in this game are pretty much the only characters with some universal value. Long-range combatants such as Padme and Chewbacca are very tough to control in the isometric environment; however, only they can disable force fields by sharpshooting at these glowing panels on the walls, and Chewbacca is really fast by default. Plus, he's bad-ass. R2 and R4 are the most useless characters when it comes to both combat and travel since they can't attack enemies in the front, they can only escape and leave some mines behind that hardly ever work. However, you need them from time to time to tinker with some security panels, and they can use their rocket engines to fly great distances. 

You do play through most of the main campaign as a Jedi; in order of appearance, namely Obi-Wan Kenobi, Qui-Gon Jinn, a matured Anakin Skywalker, and Yoda. Yes, Yoda is finally a playable character - the slowest of the all the Jedi and he has the lamest special Force ability, but the coolest combo. Each character is indeed different, and they use the Force differently. Common abilities between all the Jedi are to slam the ground with the lightsaber, and to deflect projectiles with their lightsabers by actually blocking or simply hitting at the incoming shots; it's more essential than ever and you actually gain points for unlockables from each deflected shot. Obi-Wan uses Force Push, which is very weak and I've not found one use for it. Qui-Gon uses Force Stealth - or something like that - to render himself invisible for a short while and take large groups of enemies by surprise. Anakin has the Saber Throw, which is very effective, but also slow, and it renders him vulnerable to attacks since you can't do anything without your saber. Yoda creates a force field around one enemy to stop 'em from taking action.

Using the Force to rebuild the Lars' farm.
The enemies often clutter up to unleash some serious mayhem and in the later levels - although you can beat the Episodes in any order you wish - you will find yourself cursing life itself just because you're surrounded and have been fighting with literally half an inch of your life left for the past five minutes, praying for a power-up. Occasionally, you find Jawas that are able to help you out by selling you items for studs you get from everywhere; by using the Force to bloom flowers, for example. Seriously. Or, by just destroying droids, or whatever. Each Jawa sells you one item, and one item only, you can't return to them if you find yourself in a pinch again. Force energy is useless, since it regenerates with time, but you'll most likely spend most of your studs buying health and these tiny orbs that float overhead and respawn you immediately upon defeat. Very essential, those little things, because checkpoints are nowhere to be found. Floor entrances are the only checkpoints in this game - you'll feel that little fact in your bones sooner or later, because as the Star Wars video game tradition would have it, the levels are LONG...

...And repetitive. There are only a few different settings per Episode, and on some occasions, you need to return to the EXACT same levels you've already beaten and backtrack your way through them, with the same characters you used to beat 'em in the first place. How deliciously dull. Well, if it was any other way, the game would be much shorter than it already is, but I'm having a hard time to decide whether I wanted a consistent, interesting game, or a lengthy, challenging game. We can't have both in Lego Star Wars. The boss fights quite frankly suck ass. There is absolutely no distinct strategy to be used on any of the few bosses in the game, you just need to combo each one to death.

The rewards in this game aren't much to celebrate about. After each level, Yoda appears and gives you a rank based on four things: destroyed enemies, deflected blasts, collected studs, and the secret Death Star blueprints. It doesn't matter where you gain points from: if you've destroyed more than enough enemies but collected a measly amount of studs, you might still get over 500 points, which means you'll be given the rank of Master. The rank is pretty much for your spirit only, since you'll get an extra character to use in the Free Play mode after most levels anyway, even if you're just given the rank of Padawan. Finding all Death Star blueprints in one stage unlocks a cheat code, as does the completion of each Episode. Most of the codes are simply useless: one offers you a random Yoda quote (?!), and one plays the Star Wars theme. The only codes that have some practical use are the ones that unlock bonus characters to use, but just one time, including General Grievous and C-3PO. That's pretty much it.

To be continued...
The main mode of the game is almost non-replayable. It's short (you'll finish the game in half a day), repetitive and the constantly respawning hordes of enemies can be quite frustrating, but I guess many people are quite psyched about the Free Play mode, which allows you to replay any level with any character. The Free Play mode is good handheld entertainment; it's simply fun to go out and unleash mayhem on hundreds of droids from time to time - after you've taken a little healthy break from the game upon finishing the story. Given the proper circumstances, the game is quite addictive, kind of like a guilty pleasure. Although the game fits the Advance like a glove when it comes to the toony, toy-ish audiovisuals, I suggest you turn to the big boy versions for a more consistently fruitful gameplay experience. (Buy it for your kids, you'll not regret it!)

Lego Star Wars - The Video Game on the Game Boy Advance is an enjoyable, but hollow experience that feels most like a back-and-forth beat 'em up game decorated with some simple puzzles and appealing audiovisual design. The appeal of the story pretty much ends after just one playthrough, but the Free Play mode with its 15 playable characters to purchase and choose from makes the game last for more than that while of six hours.

SOUND : 8.9


a.k.a. Lego Star Wars

GameRankings: 77.60% (GBA), 79.85% (GCN), 78.87% (PC), 78.92% (PS2), 76.99% (Xbox)

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