Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars review

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Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars review

Just how much has the Lego franchise evolved since the series shot into the stratosphere with Lego Star Wars and its sequel? As you pew-pew and swoosh-swoosh your way through Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars, you’ll probably change your mind a few times, as we did. There’s loads of content here, but only some of it’s the stuff of legend.

Fans of the Clone Wars cartoon — and secondarily, Episode II, whose big Geonosian arena battle is LSW III’s prologue level — will love the faithfulness to the source material. Ongoing struggles against big bads Count Dooku, General Grievous, and Asajj Ventress form the three main story arcs (six levels apiece), and each one adapts key episodes from the TV series’ first two seasons. The attack on Grievous’ ship in “Shadow of the Malevolence” is a giant space battle; “Ambush!” is a more Lego-typical mission with Yoda and clone troopers melee-ing across a coral planet; and “Weapons Factory” is a unit-building affair reminiscent of a very, very light strategy game.

Yeah — that surprised us, too. Traveller’s Tales gets credit for mixing up the gameplay, but sadly, experiments like the handful of unit-building levels really don’t play to the series’ strengths. Spending studs to generate cannons and vehicles and troop barracks, all as part of the drawn-out process of taking down shield generators and destroying enemy bases? It’s just too tedious and thinky. Lego games’ simple puzzles and smash-’em-up shenanigans have always been their biggest charm, and we can’t picture parents and kids enjoying these levels together the way they would anything in, say, Lego Batman. Playing by ourselves, we found our excitement waning.

Much of the optional side content here is also a bit offputting — stuff like Arcade Mode (where two players compete in customizable strategy-type levels, via a split-screen), and even the Systems feature, which lets you warp to any unlocked star system and fly around it in various unlocked ships (Geonosian Solar Sailor, Hyena Bomber, and so on). At first, we thought the latter was a great idea, until we reacquainted ourselves with Lego Star Wars’ space flight: it’s less clunky than it used to be, but it’s still pretty cumbersome and occasionally confusing, especially when you add a second player to the mix.

When the game sticks with what works, though, it evokes the slap-happy fun of the first two Lego Star Wars titles. Running around as a Jedi has always been the best thing about these games — the way Lego Harry Potter so successfully adopted the Force-power mechanic was proof of that — and the cartoon’s focus on Anakin, Obi-Wan, Yoda, and company makes it perfect fodder for some great ground missions. Set in a dark tomb, “Lair of Grievous” is actually spooky, while “Duel of the Droids” uses some slick perspective-shifting: first you play as Anakin, then as Ahsoka, until the two finally meet up at the end of the level, just in time to see R2D2 and the evil R3S6 duke it out (!). Several small-but-nice additions, too, are based around Jedi characters, including the ability to saber-cut through certain panels, saber-climb some walls, and even dual-wield sabers against Grievous and Ventress.

Regrettably, as with many Lego games, co-op play — what many consider the heart of this series — is limited to one system. But in most story missions, it’s still rousingly fun, with plenty of terrific opportunities for teamwork, whether you’re ganging up on the Zillo Beast or even just working together to demolish new, heartier types of Lego. When Lego Star Wars III sticks to the basics, it’s still a crowd-pleaser.

On Xbox 360

+ Lots of gameplay variety and Jedi action; best-looking Lego game yet.

+ Really captures the feel of the Clone Wars cartoon and universe.

- Unit-building battles and system-exploring are good experiments, but not very fun; needs better direction/tutorials in spots; no online co-op.

? How about an all-new Star Wars tale, told with Legos? We’d love that.

7.5

 
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