Full disclosure: I’m a Star Wars nut. I’ve got premium 12-inch action figures all over my office, and I’m an IG-88 short of a re-creation of the bounty hunter scene from The Empire Strikes Back. I’m also a big fan of Lego; they were my favourite toys as a kid, and I’ve been squirreling away sets for my 1-year-old son and I to build together when he gets older. But enjoying the Lego Star Wars games has nothing to do with fandom: Traveller’s Tales consistently produce the best co-op family games on the market, and Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars for consoles may be the best Lego game yet.
It also introduces more new ideas than any previous Lego game. After playing through the prologue, you watch a scene where Separatist villains Count Dooku, General Grievous, and Asajj Ventress split off in three directions; these paths serve as the narrative for the game, as you play through episodes of the cartoon series dealing with the three baddies. Each path also deals with a specific kind of combat: one focuses on traditional Lego action/platforming, the second on Lego Star Wars III’s hybrid space combat-action/platforming, and the final consists of the new Battleground stages.
The Battleground stages introduce a touch of strategy to the series for the first time. These levels pit the armed forces of the Republic against dug-in Separatist fortifications: shield generators, cannons, and so on. You start with a set of building pads that allow you to build your own equipment, from droid deployers to walkers like the AT-TE. You purchase these units and emplacements with the Lego studs you earn by blasting scenery or Separatists on the battlefield.
You can also direct clone troops using clone leaders like Commander Cody and Captain Rex, which allows you to turn the tide of battle by taking over the separatist building pads. These Battlegrounds are a noteworthy addition to the franchise, and best of all, they can be played in competitive multiplayer – another first for the series.
If you’re a fan of The Clone Wars series, there’s a lot here to love. It uses some of the best episodes of the series’ first and second season as inspiration, and the levels expertly capture its steadily darkening tone. “Legacy of Terror,” the episode that features Geonosian zombies, in particular, is a spine-tingling descent into the depths of Geonosis, full of tension as the zombies jump out of the darkness at you.
The game has a few noteworthy flaws. The designers must suffer from “repeated Star Wars Battle Syndrome.” Lego Star Wars III’s prologue is an unnecessary slog through the Arena battle at the end of Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones; it wasn’t fun the first time in Lego Star Wars, and it’s not fun now. Sure, it’s a showcase for the large amount of battle droids Lego Star Wars III can throw at you at once, and teaches you about the new controls and abilities of the characters, but the 3DS version handles its tutorial without making you relive a scene from a crappy film.
The split-screen during co-op can also be a problem. It divides the top and bottom of your screen, but it rotates left and right depending on what parts of real estate appear. While it allows each player to go off in their own directions, it’s distracting to watch. It also detracts from the co-op nature of the game - shouldn't you and your partner play on the same screen, working together to overcome any obstacles or puzzles?
Yet these nitpicks have barely interfered with the fun I’m having. With all of the additions, it’s the biggest and most enjoyable Lego game yet, and even better, it shows that something good can indeed come out of the awful Star Wars prequel trilogy.
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