Computer and video games based on Legos have been around since 1997, but we’re going to discuss a particular kind of franchise, the Lego license franchise. This particular franchise started out once the publisher Giant obtained a license for Lego games. They then approached LucasArts in 2003, with the intention of developing a Lego game based on the Star Wars franchise. LucasArts at the time was busy with several projects but, they liked the idea and agreed to license the characters out. Giant not able to develop the game themselves then tapped Traveler’s Tales Games to develop the title. This is Lego Star Wars.

Let’s talk briefly about Lego games prior to this. As said before, games based on Legos have been developed since 1997. Many of them made by Lego Media themselves, primarily focused towards children, and understandably ignored by adults. These games varied from adventure, sports, and racing, to name a few genres. I don’t have too much experience with them personally, but none of them had the type of block building we would see with Lego Star Wars, although some of the games did have block building to a degree.

Traveler’s Tales, the game’s developer was founded in 1989 and got its start working with Psygnosis on games like Brian Stoker’s Dracula, and Puggsy. They also ended up making several Disney titles and even a few Sonic the Hedgehog games as well as Crash Bandicoot. They still develop games outside of the Lego series, but Lego Star Wars and all its follow-ups is probably their most known work.

So what is Lego Star Wars you ask? Quite simply it’s a game published in 2005, based on the Star Wars three prequel movies, the Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith. Rather than make one game per movie, they chose to compress all three movies into one game. It seems like a lot, but this works surprisingly well. The Phantom Menace, and Revenge of the Sith are divided into six chapters each, while Attack of the Clones, is only divided into five chapters. These chapters cover many of the key points in the movies, following most of the plot points as you might expect.

You start out in Dexter’s Diner, just go with it. This is actually how you choose which episode and what chapter you will play. It also serves as a location where you can buy hints and extras, with currency you collect throughout the game. Some extras may help you, while others serve as humorous little add-ons like mustaches.

At first you can only choose Episode I, chapter one. This chapter titled Negotiations starts much like the movie with our heroes preparing to negotiate some kind of treaty when they are attacked and forced to escape down to the planet Naboo. During this chapter, you get a quick introduction to how force powers work, which allow you to move items and reconstruct smashed items into useful objects. You also learn to use the Jedi’s primary weapon the light saber. It can smash most things and deflect laser blasts.

In these games you have two characters on screen most of the time. You can switch between the characters with a push of a button as long as they are standing close together. It is balanced quite well, with different characters having different abilities forcing you to switch back and forth to complete different tasks throughout the game. For example, your Jedi can jump higher than a standard character. So to get to a higher platform you might need to switch to your Jedi, leap to the platform, and press a button to lower a ramp for the other character to climb. In another example, your Jedi only carries a light saber so you may need to switch to a character with a blaster in order to shoot a target that triggers some kind of event. There are times though, that you may have more than just two characters to choose from. Sometimes it may be just for extra variety, but other times you will have droids with you, and they are the only ones that can open certain locks. There are also times, in which to open a door, you must stand on multiple buttons. Once you stand on one, the other character should automatically stand on the other.

The other cool aspect to the two character set up is that you can have two players at any time you want. A friend can simply sit down and join the game as the other character and help you through the level. It is also very easy to drop out at any time as well, making it once again a single player game without any reloading of levels. The only real minor downside to this is that you share the same camera. If your characters split up the camera will zoom out as much as possible to keep both characters on the screen. When this happens some jumps can be hard to judge. For the most part though, this is not an issue, because you are meant to stay together.

Another part of the game is vehicle based levels. Most of them are fun but can be exasperating. This is because they are on rails. What this means is that where you can shoot and dodge, you have little to no control over forward movement. If you miss a necessary target, the next part of the level may not open up and you will have no choice but to crash. This may be the influence of LucasArts as they have developed several popular games in the past that use this method such as Rebel Assault.

Lego Star Wars is meant to be played more than once. As you play through story mode and complete each level, you unlock free play mode for levels you complete. First of all it is impossible to obtain all the collectibles in a level during story mode. What you are supposed to do is return in free play mode with all the characters you managed to unlock or buy. Using these unlocked characters you can now shoot targets you couldn’t reach before, jump or repel to new platforms you couldn’t get to, and so on. I did not play much of free play myself but it is an interesting idea and does allow you to explore the level even deeper than you might have during story mode.

As you play you will find a lot of collectibles. These come in the form of studs, which is the games currency, minikits, gold bricks, and many more things. Using these collectibles, especially studs, you can buy more characters to use during free play, useful tools to help you find more minikits, and other strange and fun things.

Minikits seem to be parts of vehicles split up and spread out through the level in ten pieces. Find all the pieces and you unlock another vehicle. The vehicles you build from minikits apparently unlock levels specific to those kits. I was not skilled enough to collect all ten in any level. By exiting Dexter’s Diner, you can go to the parking lot and have a look at your minikits. Finally if you score high enough you might be able to unlock the bonus Episode IV level. In this mini level, you play as Darth Vader and one of the storm troopers searching for Princess Leia on the rebel ship from the movie’s famous beginning.

The health system in Lego Star Wars is expressed in a row of four hearts. If anything happens to your character you will lose one heart. The good news is you can regain hearts by defeating enemies, when they fall apart they will drop hearts. If you lose all four of your hearts, you will fall apart, lose a small amount of studs, and then reappear in practically the same place. It doesn’t sound like much of a punishment, but when you’re trying to collect those studs it can get quite agonizing. I finished a few levels with very few studs at all.

One annoyance you can have with the game is that on rare occasions you can jump or fall in a location that the developers did not expect you to, or more likely never meant for your character to actually be. In these situations you basically wind up being stuck. In most cases you can’t jump over the same rock that you may have jumped over to get into this position, or jump out if you fell into this predicament. If you’re lucky your other character may wander close enough to you that you can switch to him and maybe even finish the level. Other times you can fix this predicament by having the other character leave the current area. Once in the new location your other character is just suddenly there with you again. I actually used the two player element to join my game and get myself out once or twice, using some of the solutions I’ve mentioned, and then I just dropped back out. What is also really painful about this is there are no checkpoints or save spots. This means if you can’t get out of the position you’re stuck in you can’t just load a previous save. Loading an earlier save basically just means that you are restarting the level, and if you are doing really good can leave you feeling very frustrated.

Lego Star Wars is quite fun, although it was perhaps originally aimed towards kids, the subject matter caught the attention of the adults that grew up with Star Wars. As dumb as many of us might have thought the idea of a Lego Star Wars game might be, it is actually executed quite well. Sure the story might be simplified a bit, but all the elements are there. Game play itself feels pretty tight. When you make jumps they feel solid and most times you feel pretty confident that your character will land them, unlike some games in which jumps feel more like luck.

One thing I did notice was that I had trouble defending myself as a Jedi. Many times the light saber’s blows did not seem to land and I would end up getting killed. Sometimes it just seemed easier to switch to a blaster wielding character and take care of business.

The graphics are cutesy but still look pretty good almost ten years later, what do you expect for a game called Lego Star Wars? I found the sound effects to be a mixed bag. While many of them came from Lucas Sound, there were a few that felt like they were placeholders that were never replaced. In one mission you must fly a starfighter where you must destroy specific targets before you are allowed to land. All the ships around me had the right sound effects straight out of the movie. Unfortunately my ship had a very disappointing weak sound effect whenever I fired my lasers.

There is controller support for the game, but it is minimal. The buttons may not map where you expect them to and they cannot be reprogrammed because of some strange glitch in the programming. Also be aware that if your controller becomes unplugged at any time, you cannot simply plug it back in and keep going. Instead the game switches to keyboard support and ignores your attempts to continue to use the controller until you restart the game.

Once you’ve completed the first chapter of Episode I, the other two episodes immediately open so that you can play them in any order you wish. Episode II seems to be the weak link here, only having five chapters. Because of this, it starts late into the movie with Obi-Wan traveling to the planet Geonosis to discover the clone army. I found this a bit jarring, as there is perhaps 30 minutes of movie before this happens. Why this decision was made I do not know but, I think it was a poor one.

Lego Star Wars’ biggest flaw comes in the form of some type of instability. Many people claim that the problem is trying to run the game on modern operating systems like Windows 7 and Windows 8. From my own experience I found this to be quite untrue. As running the game on Windows XP did not make it any easier than running it on Windows 7. The real issue seems to be with running it on modern graphics cards. Though, as far as I can tell the problem goes all the way back to almost its release.

The problem is that there are certain points in the game that cannot be completed correctly. Chapter five of Episode I demonstrates several of these glitches, for example, in one part you simply have to enter a room, but the game won’t let you. What happens is you climb down a set of stairs and take a door to your right. The room is displayed for just a moment and then you are suddenly bounced back to the previous room with the stairs. Try as you might over and over just to get into that next room. The workaround is thankfully simple. Once you enter the room, quickly tap the button to switch characters and this usually allows you to remain in the new room.

In the next room, you must get R2-D2 up a small step in order to unlock the door. In the console versions this is not a problem. In the PC version you can’t get him up those stairs. I only managed to get up through trial and error, pushing my controller diagonally up, then diagonally down until I eventually made it up.

These types of problems continued throughout the game. In one chapter of Attack of the Clones, you must get C-3PO across a room full of moving platforms. Using your Jedi powers, you simply trigger the switches to move the platforms. What happens is C-3PO cannot climb onto the platforms, nor can he transition from one platform to the other. His character cannot jump at all, so it is not a matter of jumping. Luckily the workaround for this was simple. While he’s trying to climb onto the platform you just trigger the move switch and he is suddenly on the platform where he needs to be. It can be quite frustrating.

In one final example you must chase after Count Dooku. He flees from you, while his goons come after you to slow you down. Once you dispatch them you enter the next room in which to progress, you must stand on a floor button to open platforms on the walls with more floor buttons, sounds simple enough. While you step on the first button, the computer controlled character is supposed to jump onto the platform and stand on the next button, so that you can then jump to the second platform and stand on the third button, and so on. Unfortunately the computer controlled character cannot jump up to that first platform. He’ll jump and land on part of the platform, but there’s a step. Normally this step doesn’t matter but the game sees this as practically a wall. This is a major issue because you cannot make the other character stand on the floor button, so that you can jump on the platform button. The only way I was able to pass this problem was quite stupid actually. I stood on the floor button and the computer controlled character jumped on the platform. At this point I all tabbed out of the game and back into it again. When the game opened up again the computer controlled character was standing on the button and I was able to proceed with the rest of the level. A risky move, for sure, because the game can crash sometimes when you use alt tab.

So you may be wondering why I call this a graphics glitch and not a problem with modern operating systems like most people claim. Well it’s a problem that persists through many of the Lego games for PC in the form of something called vsync, or vertical synchronization. It is a graphics setting that matches the refresh rate of the graphics card and the monitor to prevent screen tearing. Something that I think was more of a problem with old CRT monitors then today’s flat panels. In later Traveler’s Tales’ Lego games, you will have an option in settings to turn vsync on and wipe away any problems, it is documented on several forums. This is not the case for Lego Star Wars though. There is no setting in the game to turn vsync on or off. So what can you do?

Towards the end of my play through I discovered that I can manually turn vsync on in my graphics card’s actual settings. This solved all of my problems. I replayed several the levels just to see if this really fixed it. Unlike before where I got stuck transitioning between rooms and bouncing back, I could now enter the next room with no problem. R2-D2 was able to climb his step without any issue. C-3PO was able to walk on his platform without any help from me, and I was able to chase after count Dooku by jumping on those buttons without any issue. I search the web several times looking for solutions to these problems, but I never found any suggestion to manually turn on vsync. This may be that it never occurred to anyone else, or that this ability is limited to only some graphics cards. For example, I was unable to do the same thing with an ATI Radeon 3800 graphics card. The card I used during this play through was Nvidia-based.

As of today I understand the game has sold well, and spawned several sequels. Part of the success of this game was no doubt the fact that it came out briefly before the opening of Episode III Revenge of the Sith, and so revealed some spoilers and a general plot line of the movie. Fans looking for any hint on the third movie might have picked this up just to get a sneak peek and ended up helping to drive sales.

Is Lego Star Wars worth a play through? The simple answer is yes. It is a lot of fun; it has its own twist on the movies, sometimes altering scenes to fit the Lego world a little better. It is clear that it was created with a lot of love and care by Star Wars fans. Though marketed for children I am willing to bet a lot of adults like me have found it entertaining. Most of the sound effects are right, the characters only talk in grunts, but that’s okay because who has not seen these films to not know what’s going on. The controller support is limited but you can handle it. As long as you are willing to deal with its strange vsync graphics problem you’re going to have a good time.  I know it hampered my enjoyment until I stumbled on my solution. If you’re not willing to deal with this problem, there may be a better alternative out there and will deal with that soon.

This concludes our look at Lego Star Wars from Traveler’s Tales. As this is my first post please leave some feedback, let me know what you thought. I’m hoping to cover more of the Lego series so please tell me if you’re interested in hearing about the other games. Thank you for reading.

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