Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Lego Star Wars II

I know what I'm going to be doing most evenings for the next couple of weeks... We bought Lego Star Wars II last night for our Playstation 2.

We don't usually buy brand new games for the PS2. If you wait a couple of months, you can buy it used for half the price (unless it's a very popular game, in which case you may have to wait a year). After a game has been out about a year, sometimes less, it becomes a "Playstation 2 Classic Hit" and is available new for $20. This is the case with Star Wars Battlefront 2, which we rented for Logan last weekend (through a free Blockbuster rental; thank you Coca Cola Corp!), and which he's really enjoying. It's easier for him than the original Star Wars Battlefront. We'll have to get that for him soon.

But we did buy Lego Star Wars II new. Half way through the summer of 2005 we bought Lego Star Wars new. We hesitated to spend so much money on a game, but we got more than our money's worth out of it. Logan still plays it, long after we got through all the levels. It's his "go to" game when his friend, Dylan, comes over. Since it was such a raging success, we decided to get the new version when it first came out.

The premise for Lego Star Wars II is the same as the first Lego Star Wars: it's a Star Wars game using Lego characters and building blocks. While some of the sets are textured rock, or shaped space ship corridors, all of the usable vehicles, all the characters, and all of the props are made from Lego bits. To give you an idea, in story mode Lego Star Wars II starts with the classic scene from the beginning of the first Star Wars movie (later renamed Episode IV). The blockade runner and the star destroyer are all made of Lego! This carries through to when characters lose all their life points. When a character "dies" it just breaks apart into little Lego bits.

The graphics aren't revolutionary. That's okay, because it's the game play that makes it work. You take on the characters from the movies in a third person perspective adventure game. Lego Star Wars covered the events in episodes I through III. Lego Star Wars II handles episodes IV through VI. The idea is to go through each level, some of which require you to solve puzzles. As a reward system, whenever you break something it showers the ground with small round Lego pieces. You have to pick up as many of these as you can, filling a bar at the top of the screen. In the original game if you filled the bar in all the episodes it unlocked a special "Episode IV" level (which does not exist in the new game). I don't yet know what the reward is in this game.

For the most part the game can be played by kids of almost any age. Logan was 6 when we went through LSW I. When a character dies, they break apart and they lose some of the small bits they were collecting. However, they reform a couple of seconds later, without losing the progress they made. There are some portions that are difficult for kids that age, but that's okay. The game has an ingenious co-operative mode. Up to two players can play at once, both on the same screen. Apparently one of the most popular ways of playing LSW I was as a parent and child team. When the going gets too tough for the child, he or she can drop out. The character remains on the screen, controlled by the game's AI. The parent then gets through the hard part and the child jumps back into the game.

Each movie (episode) is split into six chapters, just like in the last game. The chapters are framed with cut scenes. Between chapters, and when the game starts, your characters wander around the cantina at Mos Eisley. As in the last game, you can break the furniture for more Lego bits. Logan and I have been doing this profusely, because for 250,000 pieces you can buy an "Extra" that allows you to pull in the characters from the first game! Outside the cantina is where you'll find the vehicles you build with the discovered "minikit" pieces. You can also blast certain things for extra pieces. There are a couple of unique aspects to this version. First, you can punch as well as shoot with your blaster. If you accidentally shoot or punch one of the characters wandering around the cantina, it starts a "bar fight", where characters start shooting at each other. Like the fight in the original Star Wars movie, after a few seconds it's over and people go back to normal. Second, you can build unique characters in the cantina. For instance, you can put Darth Vader's head on Princess Leia's body. So far we were able to build a couple of characters, but we have no idea yet how to get them into actual play. They might only be available in free play.

That's another thing we loved about the original game. You play through the chapters to go from episode to episode. Once you cleared through a level you can go back and play it in free play mode. After you finish a level you are given a number of characters available to you in free play. Typically you have a choice of about half a dozen characters in free play, which you can hop into at any time. Like the original, there are some hidden things that can only be opened in free play. For instance, in Episode IV, Chapter 1 there is one door that can only be opened by stormtroopers. It's impossible to get in there in story mode. You have to go through it in free play mode. In fact, it looks like the game has been set up to give a richer free play experience. I couldn't figure out how to get to any of the minikit pieces in story mode (not that we tried too hard; Logan was having way too much fun blasting stormtroopers). (Minikits are hidden pieces, ten per chapter, that build a Star Wars vehicle when all the pieces are in place.)

Games are different from most entertainment media in that sequels are usually better than the originals. This game is no exception. The Rebel blockade runner level is well designed. The ability to punch is kind of neat. I understand that you can do more with vehicles. You get a hint of this in a hangar on the blockade runner, where you have to use a crane to advance through the level.

I do have a couple of quibbles:

  • The camera angle issue from the first game is still present. There are a couple of times when I would have liked the ability to swing the view around to see something, but you can't control it.

  • Perhaps Logan ran through it too fast for me to check, but it didn't look like the game checked for available space on the PS2's memory card. We didn't have enough room on the cards to save our progress through the first chapter. I had to shut down the game, delete and arrange some stuff on our cards, and replay the level.

  • You can't save in the cantina, at least not in any obvious way (like going to the Select menu). After replaying chapter 1, the game saved automatically. That was good. Logan went to bed and I picked up some 30,000 extra pieces to get us more than half way to our goal of recovering the saved characters from the first game. When I went to save, I could not.

Those issues aside, the game is an improvement on the first one. The cut scenes are a little longer, and very much in keeping with the movies. I've seen the cut scene at the end of Episode V (it's on a TV commercial) and it's hilarious. In chapter 1 there is a machine that gives Princess Leia a hat, a view port with a window box of flowers, and another view port that lets you see Vader use the force on the blockade runner crew.

Looks like we've got many hours of fun ahead of us. Fortunately Logan is a year older and more co-ordinated. We're getting through the levels more as a team than we did last year. And I now have a really good incentive for getting him to finish his homework quickly!

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