Here at Co-Op Casual Fridays, we try to cover two basic types of games. The first type is games that are appealing to kids, often (but not always) based on popular franchises from movies, television, etc. Examples would include the Ben 10 series, Power Rangers, and Harry Potter. The second type of games we cover are those that are appropriate for the non-standard gamer, those who would choose Peggle over Halo 3, or Rock Band 2 over Modern Warfare 2. From time to time, these two different groups overlap, and such is the case with the LEGO games. Kid-friendly, based on pop culture mainstays, simple enough to play with your grandmother, and yet still fun for "hardcore" gamers, LEGO games are great, and LEGO Star Wars is the series that started it all.
It's hard to believe that the first LEGO Star Wars game came out almost five years ago, in March of 2005. Star Wars fever was incredibly high, as the final film in the series would arrive in May of that same year. Almost all movies have lots of tie-ins, but Revenge of the Sith had a mind boggling amount of merchandise. LEGO Star Wars wasn't even the only video game release for Episode III, and it was probably overlooked by most people, who thought of it as a "kiddie game". LEGO Star Wars was indeed designed to appeal to the younger set, but that didn't stop it from being fun for games of all types.
The basic premise of the game is simple. Two players control LEGO versions of famous Star Wars characters as they complete missions based on the Prequel Trilogy story. The little LEGO people are adorable, yet are still as formidable as their real life versions. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gonn swing lightsabers with ease, deflecting blaster fire and melting through battle droids. R2-D2 can interface with doors to open them. Princess Amidala's blaster makes short work of enemy troops. Some light puzzle elements break up the action nicely. The trademark LEGO bricks in the environment can be broken apart and rearranged to cross platforms, build vehicles, and more. A wide variety of cool Star Wars vehicles were used occasionally, and these levels were very memorable. The action elements, vehicle battles, plus the puzzles are a good combination, and though the gameplay isn't particularly innovative, it all comes together for a good experience.
The humor in the LEGO Star Wars games is everywhere. The cut scenes lack any real dialogue, but make up for it with funny bits, often slapstick in nature (which of course, the kids love). Even during gameplay, the humor is still evident. The LEGO characters are cute anyway, and even more so when they do something goofy; you can't help but enjoy yourself. Even the violence is funny, not intense or scary. Watching LEGO arms and legs fly all over the screen is hilarious. I know it was enjoyable for me as a parent to just watch my kids as they played and listened to their laughs at all the antics on the screen.
We've discussed the elements that appeal to kids. But what about the more casual gamer? Why is LEGO Star Wars a good choice for these people? It's the forgiving nature of the game that makes it appropriate for them. When characters die, they simply respawn again, in the same location. There's no restarting levels, no running out of continues, or any other game paradigms that can be a barrier to inexperienced gamers. If the action becomes too tough, you can drop out at any time, then come back when things cool off. There are some parts that are more challenging than others, certainly, but most of the time the game isn't frustrating at all.
Probably the best part of LEGO Star Wars, and the one that will appeal to the more experienced gamer, is the replay factor. Playing through the story mode is a good time, but it doesn't really take all that long. Free play allows players to go through each of the levels with their choice of characters. Want to be Darth Maul and Yoda working together? No problem. Each character's abilities open up new levels and secret areas with hidden items to collect. Jedi Knights are probably the most useful, with lightsabers, force powers, and a high jump, but many types of characters are needed if you hope to unlock all the secrets. Earning 100% for a level can be quite challenging indeed!
LEGO Star Wars was a smashing success, and sold quite well. I remember quite clearly how much my kids and I were looking forward to LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy, and it didn't disappoint us. As an older Star Wars fan, I prefer the Original Trilogy, and besides the familar story, there were several tweaks and new features added to the sequel. The third and most recent game in the series is LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga. As you'd guess from the title, it combines the first two games into one package, and adds in plenty of extras. We had only played the first two games on the Gamecube, so it was a no-brainer for us to buy The Complete Saga for the Xbox 360. It's been out for a couple years, so it's a bargain title, and can usually be found for under $20. If you've not had the chance to enjoy a LEGO Star Wars game, I recommend picking the last title up. It's by far the best of the LEGO games that we've played (note: we haven't tried LEGO Indy 2... yet), with an incredible amount of content providing hours of casual gaming goodness.