Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars: review

The Lego games from Traveller’s Tales have always mimicked the spirit of the building blocks themselves, serving as toy boxes full of imagination, colour, and straight-up fun. But too much of anything can dull you to its joy, and as the seventh instalment in the series (and the fourth Star Wars title, counting the Complete Saga release), another return to the world of blocky blasters and plastic protocol droids threatens to do just that. To avoid this fate, Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars adds a fresh coat of paint to the well-worn toy box and throws in enough new pieces to fill it to the brim and then some.

You’ll jump into the square shoes of countless characters from the Clone Wars television series as they pantomime everything with that goofy Lego humour we’ve come to expect. You can hop between three story paths at your leisure (each with its own key villain), covering a smattering of episodes from the first two seasons. The premise may seem less interesting to grizzled Star Wars purists out there, but the show is captured to perfection with delightful humour that would put a smile on anyone’s face. (Unless they’re still hung up on The Phantom Menace, in which case it’s probably hopeless.)

Look, it's a video game based on a Lego product based on a cartoon based on a movie series!

So the humour is intact, but how has the gameplay changed? To sum it up in two words: speed and scale. The basic mechanics are all there– namely, light puzzle-solving and breaking stuff– but there’s significantly less puzzle-solving and a boatload more of breaking stuff. Jedi slice up battle droids with an uncanny grace, and while the ease of deflecting lasers makes them overpowered, it looks cool enough to justify the imbalance. The Force is another nifty tool at their disposal and can now directly manipulate objects. Clone troopers are also (unsurprisingly) a common sight and come equipped with a variety of weapons, depending on the chosen soldier. These are the two main “classes” you’ll take control of during the story; either choice is easy to grasp, bordering on overly simplistic. While this makes for a faster game, the lack of puzzles and platforming might be harmful if not for that one special ingredient: scale.

Lego Star Wars III has increases the scale to gigantic proportions. You’ll virtually wade through seas of droids, duel a Sith atop an oversized robot plummeting through the air, and go up against enormous star cruisers using tiny stunt-fighters. It doesn’t hurt that the game looks great; top-notch lighting effects, motion blur, and animation do wonders to immerse you in this ridiculous world. It would have been nice for more monsters and locations to be built from actual Lego bricks, but that’s the only real gripe to grumble about here.

Pictured: oversized robot plummeting through the air. We're not making this stuff up.

The freedom that takes advantage of this scale is made possible with the genius invention of adaptive split-screen (pioneered by Lego Indiana Jones 2) which lets you ditch your fellow player instead of arguing over directions on a single screen. While this poses some camera problems, the end result is more than satisfactory. Some story sequences will intentionally split up the characters as they take on challenges of their own simultaneously, helping each other out indirectly until everyone reunites. This is a neat touch that mimics the moment-to-moment action of the TV series in a genuinely clever way.

Now, when we say “Lego Star Wars”, the first thing that jumps to mind probably isn’t “RTS”, but that’s exactly what this game has brought to the table. Uncomplicated but unexpectedly fun, this mode has you dashing about a sprawling battleground in an effort to build bases, form an army, and destroy the opposition. As usual, breaking stuff yields sparkly Lego studs, which can be used to purchase turrets, vehicles, and structures for your outposts. This is where the clone commanders really come in handy, since they’re the ones who can order soldiers around and get things done. The strategies aren’t deep and the rules aren’t very well-explained, but breezy-yet-effective tactics combined with the joyful feeling of stomping a group of battle droids in a hulking AT-TE walker make the mode well worth playing. Multiplayer options for both co-op and versus are the icing on the cake and will bring back nostalgic memories for those who engaged in large-scale Lego wars as kids, complete with rampant destruction and wooshing speeder bikes.

This entire mode could have been a mess, but it's a highlight of the game.

However, not everything has been turned on its head in this entry to the series: beating the game is still merely half the battle, as a whole mess of collectables and unlockables are waiting for you. The primary way of earning the needed funds is Free Play, a mode that lets you choose any level to bring in your character of choice from the staggeringly large cast. Using character-specific powers will let you access areas with elaborate gags and secret treasures, so poking around is always worthwhile. You’ll have plenty of secret items to round up and more than enough to spend them on, which brings us to the vast Star Destroyer known as the Resolute.

Acting as the game’s hub, the Resolute slowly opens up as you make your way through the story. You can spend studs on new characters and vehicles, many of which lay hidden behind sealed doors. Collecting golden bricks unlocks even more corridors to investigate and the sense of exploration will draw you farther and farther into the collection of unlockables and surprises.

Why this creepy cyborg beast couldn't be built entirely out of Lego bricks is beyond us.

Rather than feeling stale, Lego Star Wars III is a fresh take on the mini-genre Traveller’s Tales has built for themselves and, while not outright better than its predecessors, offers pure, preposterous fun for those with a functioning sense of humour. If the cartoon-centred, family friendly vibe is scaring you away, don’t let it; this is one of the rare cases where everybody can have a good time.

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Written by Stephen K

A lover of video games in general, Stephen will happily play just about any sort of game on just about any sort of system, especially if it's a platformer or an RPG. Except sports games. Sports games are boring.

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