LEGO Star Wars II:
The Original Trilogy
Developed by Traveller's Tales, published by LucasArts, for all platforms; reviewed on the Xbox 360. Rated Everyone
A LEGO version of Chewbacca, the Yeti-like creature from the Star Wars films who bellows like a grizzly bear, is in a firefight with white storm troopers. The bad guys literally fall to pieces as the laser bursts -- do it with me now: "pits-yu! pits-yu!" -- echo around a room made of building blocks. C-3PO, that hoity-toity golden robot, wanders into the line of fire and a leg snaps off, forcing him to hop as the little party tries to save the princess.
That scene is like a dream stolen from my eight-year-old self, who wanted nothing more in life than a ready-to-build X-wing fighter. Now here it is being played out on my TV screen. I thought I was long since done with plastic building blocks and the Skywalker clan, but I was transfixed by LEGO Star Wars II. This is truly a family video game that everyone can enjoy.
The idea, introduced last year, pairs LEGO characters -- squat plastic people with snap-on limbs and accessories such as helmets and capes -- with George Lucas's space opera. The first game took players through the most recent trilogy, episodes one through three in the story, and was hurt by the association.
This sequel gets almost everything right: back to the original three films, with Luke and Han Solo and the rest played for laughs in a game that is bursting with fun stuff to do.
LEGO Star Wars II starts off with a story mode traversing six levels based on the plot of each film. The scene opens with a space freighter being dwarfed by a hulking grey destroyer, the same view that so surprised moviegoers in 1977, but this time the ships have little raised circles to allow the pieces to snap together. The recognizable characters then act out short pantomimes -- LEGO people don't have working mouths -- that are often very funny. When Darth Vader tells Luke about his parentage, he holds up a family snapshot with a dark-suited man holding a boy -- a chip off the old building block indeed. New and old fans of the source material, even those who have been turned off by the merchandising juggernaut in recent years, will be won over by the clever parodies here.
The humorous touches don't stop when the play portions begin. You overcome many obstacles by building vehicles and erecting bridges using blocks, which is hilarious to watch.
And whoever designed and programmed the various characters deserves a promotion: The short-legged Princess Leia sashays distinctively, Han Solo does trick shots with his pistol, and Chewbacca pops the arms off his opponents. The mix-and-match ability of block people allows for more high jinks, such as propping a storm trooper's helmet on the wookiee's huge head.
There are several levels that require you to fly LEGO ships, including those forest speeders from Return of the Jedi, but you make your way through most of the game with the cast members travelling in packs of two to seven controllable figures. Each has different abilities -- droids open doors, for example, and Jedi warriors use the Force to move structures -- and you can switch on the fly, depending on the situation. This adds strategy to the straightforward action, and the puzzles you encounter later in the game, when you go back into the stories to find secrets using all the characters, can be very challenging.
In fact, the best way to get through the game is to find a helping hand. The co-op mode allows two players to team up and tackle the levels together, making it absolutely perfect for parents and kids. There is even a drop-in, drop-out play structure so that adults who tire of holding up the progress of young experts -- don't feel bad, it's a generational thing -- can sit back and watch for a while.
For some older players, this game will tap into nostalgic feelings for an era when merchandising and the movies were just getting acquainted, when the idea of using licensed toys and props to act out your own adventures was still a novelty. As for the kids who are too young for nostalgia, they will agree with their elders about one thing: LEGO Star Wars II is a blast.