LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga
March 1st, 2008
I’ve been gaming on almost a daily basis since the mid to late 70s. First Pong (yes, Pong) then an Atari 2600 and later on every computer platform I’ve ever used including Commodore 64s, TRS-80s, Atari 800s, Apple IIs, Amigas, PCs, Macs, and Linux.
I was such a hardcore gamer that in 1999—and I swear I’m not making this up—I actually negotiated permission to setup a Quake server at a job interview while wearing jeans and flip-flops. And I got the job. (Ah, those glorious dot-com days…)
But that all came to a halt in 2005. That was the year I stopped playing video games. It wasn’t a conscious decision and it didn’t happen all at once. But by the end of 2005 I just wasn’t into it anymore. For someone with my history, realizing you’re not a gamer anymore is hard to take. I suppose it’s a bit like realizing you aren’t a child anymore. Maybe the two are related.
Not that I think gaming is childish. Gaming is a mainstream entertainment medium that’s on the verge of equaling cinema in terms of cultural significance. I can imagine a gaming Oscars in the not too distant future that gets more viewers than the film Oscars. But once you spend a significant amount of time with anything you begin to see it in new ways. With video games that means looking beyond the flash and veneer of explosions and blinking lights and seeing art, communication, story telling, and culture. Which is fine and all. But that kind of detached examination necessarily takes some of the fun away.
Then again, maybe I was just bored. My staples were turn-based strategy, real-time strategy, and first-person shooters. But I’d played them all and new ones seemed like more of the same. Even now, three years later, top examples in each of these genres seem like just refinements on old ideas. (Which is why I’ve been following the IGF with such interest for the past few years.)
My last attempt at gaming was Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, by all accounts a shining example of the FPS genre, and a game I’ve been so thoroughly bored by that I just had to search Google to remember its name. We’re breaking up. But it’s not you, Samus, baby. It’s me.
Which is all so you can understand how happily surprised I am by LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga. At its core, LEGO Star Wars is a third-person puzzle shooter. And the graphics on the Wii version (or probably any version) are nothing to write home about (they’re LEGO bricks, after all, the ultimate in low-resolution toys). But what it lacks in flash it more than makes up for in simple, solid-gold gameplay and something that most games lack entirely: charm. In-jokes and cut scenes abound to entertain anyone who has seen all six movies. Every character has a special move or mannerism that will be familiar to fans. Cut scenes with no dialog tell the core of each story with humor, style, and wit. Han shoots first and Wookies rip people’s arms out of their sockets.
Playing Episode I was not only more satisfying than watching the actual movie, it made re-watching it all the more entertaining. Each level (36 in all) contains hours of replayability in the form of different modes (story, free play, challenge) and collectibles. The game offers an immense amount of extra, unlockable content including new levels, dozens and dozens of playable characters, secret areas, and alternate play modes. The seamless ability for a second player to drop in or out at any time is absolutely brilliant and allows parents to help younger children at key times or just grab a few minutes during a longer session.
But the success of this game may boil down to one essential element. Like real LEGOs, LEGO Star Wars doesn’t force you to play in a particular way. I always built my LEGO models once. After that, I just threw all the pieces into a huge bag with all my other pieces and built whatever I wanted. If you aren’t interested in building the secret LEGO model hidden in each level, you don’t need to bother collecting those pieces. Replaying the levels as Darth Vader is just plain awesome. And you don’t even need to play the levels if you don’t want to. One of the funnest sessions I had with this game was the first time we started a Jedi brawl in the Cantina (which serves as the lobby for the actual levels). We destroyed everything in there and had an absolute blast. We’re currently trying to save up enough studs to buy Ghost Yoda.
If Star Wars isn’t up your alley, LucasArts is set to release LEGO Indiana Jones (Summer ’08) and LEGO Batman (Fall/Winter ’08). I’m getting Indiana Jones as soon as it’s available. Maybe Batman, although honestly, it’ll have to be something really special because I may be all LEGO’ed out by then.
My children (a boy age five and girl age seven) adore the game. Without putting too fine a point on it, LEGO Star Wars may be remembered as the Super Mario Brothers of their generation.
Recommended? Hell yes.