Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
Digits & Dragons
  by Greg Allen
September 2006

The Force is Strong with These Bricks

Want a recipe for success? Try this strange one: take one of the most rehashed science fiction properties of all time, combine it with an aging toy brick maker, mix it together and let it simmer for a while until the gameplay is boiled down to a level even an eight-year-old could enjoy. Result? Try over a million copies sold in the first week.

In case you have been out of the gaming loop, this was the recipe for Lego Star Wars, a 2005 hit game whose sequel, Lego Star Wars 2: The Original Trilogy, just came out this month. Already the game has sold 1.1 million copies and shows no sign of slowing down. But how is it so successful and why is it so dang fun?

I really shouldn't like this game; it is licensed from a movie (which almost always makes for a poor game) and it is tailored to be played by people of just about all ages (and of course I don't consider myself part of that group). Yet there is something about the snarkiness, the creativity, the just plain fun of the game that has made me a convert. Whatever kind of gamer you are, this is one not to miss.

The Building Blocks of the Game

The premise of the Lego Star Wars games is pretty simple. You take the role of the heroes from the movies and work your way through their adventures. It turns out that most of their adventures (in the game and the movies) involve either destroying stuff or using the force to solve puzzles, so the gameplay isn't all that complex. The story isn't all that complicated either if you have seen the movie. Although there is no spoken dialogue, the plot sticks to the first three episodes in Lego Star Wars 1 and the original trilogy in Lego Star Wars 2.


Obi-Wan, no!!!

Now, running through the Star Wars stories for the fortieth time wouldn't be all that fun, but the Lego experience changes all of that. Every single piece of the game, from Princess Leia to the Deathstar, is built with those plastic blocks we know and love. In addition to being every Lego builder's dream, it also makes it a lot easier for the game to keep a family rating. No blood or guts, just bits and blocks spilling out from every droid you blast down!

Work Together, You Can

With a few exceptions, playing a game by myself really doesn't do a whole lot for me. I would much rather interact with someone else (and the game), whether it is cooperative or competitive. Lego Star Wars makes this easily possible with a co-op mode that lets you and a friend battle bricked baddies on the same Playstation, Xbox, or even PC.


Our party isn't exactly inconspicuous

The flexibility of the two-player mode is reminiscent of an arcade game and a ton of fun. A buddy can join or drop out at any time and will take control of one of the characters in your party (throughout the game, you'll always have at least one companion).

Speaking of characters, there are about fifty different characters from the movies that you can play with, everyone from droids to Darth Vader and from Yoda to Boba. These characters aren't just bland reproductions either; many of them have special abilities such as Chewey's ability to pop arms off, Ben Kenobi's force, or Han Solo's rapid trigger finger (Han shot first!).


Poppin arms off - it's what wookies do best!

And as if that weren't enough, once you unlock a character through the story mode or by "purchasing" them in the Mos Eisley Cantina, you can then use their pieces to create new characters. Yo-bacca? Han-Vader? Princess 3PO? Whatever you can think up, you can play as. Ah, the beauty of Legos.

Aren't You a Little Short for a Stormtrooper?

As I mentioned previously, this game has been made completely accessible to a younger audience. There is no limit on the number of times you can die and there is almost nothing you can do that would force you to repeat a section; all paths lead to the exit. This doesn't mean that it is overly simplistic. There are little puzzles throughout every level both to progress through the story and to find hidden treasures. Ideally, you would want someone with a little gaming experience to help along a gamer in training.

Beneath the kid-friendly exterior are a whole lot of further secrets and treasures to uncover. These can be as simple to find as going crazy with your blaster and uncovering a secret passage or may require you to return to earlier levels with characters you later unlock. (Stormtroopers, for example, have access to a lot of areas that Wookies do not!) Unlocking these secrets will give you points, gold bricks, and mini kits, the latter of which allow you to build vehicles that you can bring back in to the levels.

As much as I have raved about the game, there are a few shortcomings that may be unavoidable in making a game catering to every age group (and about every major gaming platform). The camera is on a pretty fixed track and uncontrollable by the player, which means there are occasionally awkward angles and views of the action.

This drawback is pretty easy to get used to, but what gets more annoying as you progress is the limited set of moves that your character can use. Sure lightsabers are cool and everyone loves firing off a blaster, but sometimes it would be nice to have a little more flexibility in dealing out righteous justice. Ah well, such is the price to pay for accommodating so many.

The more I think about it, the more amazing I find it that this game playable by kids is loved by adults and hardcore gamers as well. Perhaps it is that attachment we all had to Legos in our youth, or maybe the love we had for the original Star Wars series. Whatever it is, it works. The Lego Star Wars series is fast paced, funny, and hard to put down.

The Star Wars Gaming Universe

No matter what type of gaming you are into, there is probably a Star Wars game of that type. As you would predict, it is an extremely mixed bag in terms of quality. If Lego Star Wars hasn't filled your appetite for the force or you are looking for something a little more mature, there are a couple of earlier Star Wars games you should check out.

Knights of the Old Republic is probably one of the best Star Wars games and gives players the chance to master the force - for the light or the dark side. KotOR was developed by Bioware (of Neverwinter Nights and Baldur's Gate fame), and stays true to the company's reputation for success. If you don't like having a smiley face permanently plastered to your face, this game will give you the chance to get a little evil!

Star Wars Galaxies is a massively multiplayer instantiation of the Star Wars universe and although it has had mixed reviews it may hold appeal for World of Warcraft refugees.

There are Star Wars games by the dozens out there, but if you are a Star Wars fanatic you have probably already played them. And if you are not a huge fan? Well, even better: there are plenty of other games on the horizon that should fit your taste, no matter what your age.


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