Pros: Fun additions to the Lego formula.
Cons: Unpredictable difficulty and erratic help system.
Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars contains dozens of characters and multiple storylines. If you were to ask me who those characters were or what adventures they were involved in I couldn’t for the life of me tell you. But if you were to ask me whether the game was fun, I would reply with a resounding yes.
Background: A Little Lego History
When Lego Star Wars came out in 2005 it was a fresh and ingenious take on the Star Wars universe, with animated Lego characters battling through scenes from the movies. It was such a charming formula that developer Traveler’s Tales made few alterations in the many sequels which included Lego versions of Indiana Jones, Batman and Harry Potter, as well as several more Star Wars games. But in Clone Wars, the developer finally expands that formula, throwing in space flight, real time strategy and other clever additions that make this the ultimate Lego action adventure game.
Clone Wars is based on the children’s animated series. This means that instead of telling a single linear story, as in the movie-based Lego games, players are given three separate stories broken up into chapters. The movie-based games always used animated sequences that comically recreated scenes from the films, so I assume that this game recreates scenes from episodes of the series. I am unfamiliar with the series, but I still found its story sequences cute and funny, even though I never really had much idea of what was going on.
The previous Lego game, Lego Harry Potter Years 1–4, had less action than the other titles, and Clone Wars immediately differentiates itself from that game by dropping players into a hectic battle in which a handful of good guys go up against monstrous creatures and scores of battle droids. It’s an exciting beginning, and the game never loses its taste for big, frenetic battles.
The Basics: Easy, But Not Quite *As* Easy
As in previous games, you play as a team of three or four Star Wars characters. You control only one character at a time, but can switch from one to another, so if you need the ability to use The Force to lift an object you choose a Jedi Knight, and if you need a gun you choose a Storm Trooper.
The Lego games have always aimed for simplicity and low frustration. For example, when you take enough damage to die, you die for about 2 seconds and are resurrected on the spot, making death a very minor inconvenience. Thus, being blasted at by all sorts of bad guys can slow you down but it cannot stop you.
Clone Wars ups the number of times you die as well as the number of times you can get stuck on a puzzle. There were a couple of places when I could not figure out what to do next and had to consult a walkthrough.
The game is rather erratic in how much help it offers. For example, silver containers can only be destroyed by explosive devices, and anytime you start shooting a silver object onscreen text reminds you that you need explosives, even if you are shooting it with explosives. Gold containers, on the other hand, can only be destroyed with a machine gun or a squad of soldiers firing simultaneously, but the game only mentions this once, after which you are expected to remember it. This sort of arbitrary behavior weaves itself throughout the game, which sometimes insists on holding your hand through a problem and other times leaves you entirely to your own devices just when you need a little help.
New Stuff: Strategy, Scene Changes, 3D Space Flight
Clone Wars does not stick entirely to action-adventure gameplay. Some levels are strategy-based. Players start with bases on which they can build weapons and barracks and then must go forth and destroy all the structures on enemy bases to take them over. While very simple, these levels are quite fun. You can even use an enemy’s weapons against it.
The real-time strategy levels are a nice addition, although in true Lego form, the missions are far easier than those of a typical RTS. Even though you have the option to use items to protect your bases and weapons, the bad guys are so harmless that it is unnecessary. These items are probably more useful in the game’s two–player mode, but I don’t have any friends who can be lured over to my apartment with the promise of playing a Lego kid’s game, so I didn’t get a chance to try anything besides single player.
Another interesting addition is scene swapping, in which two groups of good guys become separated and you alternate between their stories. Often you need to use one team to help the other.
The game also spends some time in outer space. Players can hop in a space craft, shoot at enemies and fire torpedoes that will take down giant battle cruisers.
In between missions, players can explore a spaceship. As you progress in the missions you are able to open up more of the ship for exploration, eventually reaching the point where you can hop a spacecraft and visit an enemy ship. This is fun, although the game really needs to offer players a map, ideally one that lets you jump to where you want to go.
Verdict: A Lot of Fun Stuff To Do
Playing through the game you will find areas you cannot access. Often there will be a control station that the game tells you can only be used by certain characters who aren’t part of your team. Once you have played through a level you can replay it in a free play mode that allows you to choose which of the several dozen Star Wars characters you want to play. This means that you can go back as the necessary character once you have unlocked him her or it. Some characters are unlocked during the course of the game. Others can be purchased in the hub ship.
Surprisingly ambitious for a video game based on a toy franchise, Clone Wars is not perfect but it is perfectly enjoyable. The varied gameplay, colorful visuals, lively animations and many extras make it one of the most satisfying kid’s games I have ever played. I don’t think I could have enjoyed the game any more even if I knew what on earth it was about.