[i]Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy[/i] ([i]LSW2[/i]) is a difficult game to review. I keep finding myself trying to reconcile my need for well-designed, challenging problems with my appreciation for simplistic gameplay and Just Dumb Fun; my mature gaming tastes are both at odds with and acting in concert with my childish glee. It’s as if I’m trapped between two worlds — somewhat fitting for this “your-chocolate-in-my-peanut butter” sequel, which is every bit as bipolar as its predecessor.
At its core, [i]LSW2[/i] is a basic platformer with strong collect-a-thon elements for you obsessive types. You proceed through the three episodes in the original Star Wars trilogy, each comprised of six sub-chapters, collecting Lego studs (the game’s currency) and blasting pretty much everything that moves and, to be honest, just about anything else you feel like blasting as well. There’s no real strategy to it; it’s barely even beyond base button-mashing at times. Occasionally you’ll have to stop and figure out how to bypass an obstacle, but generally the answer is lying in a nearby heap of Lego bricks waiting for you to assemble them into a platform, cannon, or what-have-you — and if you don’t see a heap, then you probably have to make one by blasting stuff. If you’re not concerned with acquiring True Jedi Status (by collecting a set number of studs per chapter), then you have all the time in the world to experiment and muddle your way through somehow, as you can respawn indefinitely without caring that you probably lose a couple thousand studs each time. There is literally no pressure and frankly not too much challenge either.
With that being said, I don’t want to meet the kind of gamer who is unable to enjoy this game. If you can honestly say that you’ve played through a couple of levels of either this game or the previous [i]LSW[/i] and didn’t have a smile on your face as you gleefully (and probably systematically) dismantled every wall, barrel, console, and enemy with repeated application of a plastic lightsaber, then you’ve lost all sense of your childhood (or possibly never had one to speak of). This is exactly the same type of gameplay that makes Rampage so popular, and it has a much better presentation and (licensed) storyline than any of the titles in Midway’s Godzilla/King Kong homage.
At the heart of [i]LSW2[/i] is simplicity, much like the plastic building blocks from which the graphics take their unique look. You never need any more than four buttons in Story Mode: jump (some characters can double-jump), attack/defend, switch characters, and build/special; for “Free Play” mode (unlocked for each chapter after you complete it in Story Mode), you also need one or two for changing your current character. Using those simple commands and the unique abilities of each character (class), you have all the tools you need to progress through the game. This is literally gameplay so simple that a child can master it. In fact, with no frustrating limiting factors, this is a great title for less-experienced gamers (both young and old); every mode also offers cooperative play for two players, meaning you can play right beside your child, younger sibling, parent, grandparent, boy/girlfriend, specially-trained monkey… whatever. Why should you hog all the fun for yourself, after all?
In addition to the Free Play modes, there are unlockable bonus levels for each Episode once you complete all six chapters and have enough Gold Bricks. There are also some additional levels that you can unlock as you progress through the game. All those studs you collected can be used to purchase additional characters for Free Play as you encounter them in the game, as well as to buy cheat options (powered-up blasters, invulnerability, mini-kit detectors, etc.) that you unlock by finding each chapter’s red Power Brick — often fiendishly hidden away in the most out-of-the-way locales. You can also mix and match certain character “pieces” to create your own characters for Free Play, either combining various abilities or just creating your own distinctive look. Finally, for the price of 200,000 studs, you can unlock the ability to import your [i]LSW[/i] save file and most of the characters and mini-kits you’ve obtained in the first title (although some characters won’t be carried over due to their inclusion in [i]LSW2[/i]), assuming you played it on the same platform; Xbox360 owners can purchase an equivalent file from the Marketplace, since that system didn’t get [i]LSW[/i].
Visually, the game combines basic plastic bricks with 21st-century gaming technology to both simulate an actual Lego play experience and improve upon it, adding reflections, lighting, facial expressions (Lego Han’s smirk is awesome) and some rudimentary physics to the distinctive blocky construction. In-game cut scenes advance the plot in the finest pantomime traditions (plastic bricks don’t talk, but they do occasionally laugh and otherwise audibly emote) at fairly regular intervals. In the audio department, the usual top-shelf Star Wars score accompanies most scenes, with LucasArts sound effects providing authentic lightsaber swings and blaster shots along with the ever-present explosions.
The game is not perfect, however. The most annoying aspect is the usual bane of 3rd-person platforming titles: the camera. You can pan it a bit to look around, but there is no zoom or free-roaming ability, which can and will be a pain for some jumping puzzles. Additionally, those cut scenes I mentioned are unskippable, so you’ll have to sit through them each time you hit them. Finally, vehicle-based missions like the Rebel Attack on the Death Star (Episode IV, Chapter 6) can be difficult to control, as they moved from being “on rails” in [i]LSW[/i] to more free-range in [i]LSW2[/i]. I would also be remiss if I didn’t at least mention that there have been reports of the game locking up on a couple stages, across all platforms; fortunately, the game’s auto-save feature minimizes the losses caused by these occurrences, but they can still be aggravating if they strike near the end of a long session.
And so I find myself back where I was at the beginning of this review, unsure of how to actually score the game (at least as far as our ratings here at Snackbar Games go). The game’s absolute lack of difficulty means that you’ll probably beat the main Story Mode in the space of a rental, and you could probably unlock everything in an additional day or two if you devoted yourself to it. On the other hand, this is such a feel-good, play-anytime (with anyone) title that it almost deserves a full purchase just to have it in your library. I could go either way on this one, but in the end I think I’ll bump it up to a full purchase; despite the shortcomings, this is a quality title and you should easily get your money’s worth out of it — especially if you play co-op with a friend and/or someone you love.