We love Star Wars. We love it like a brother. But when it comes to games, George Lucas' labour of love can get mangled beyond all recognition in the name of squeezing cash out of its loyal fanbase. The first Lego Star Wars game defied logic. Fans loved it. Kids loved it. Their Dads loved it. Gamers loved it. Which made a sequel all-but-inevitable. So why is this second foray into that renowned galaxy far, far away, just not putting the hum into our lightsabers?
Something good first: Lego Star Wars II is one of the funniest games we've ever played. Almost every classic scene from Lucas' cherished film trilogy has been given a slapstick spin. One moment that stands out is when Darth Vader arrives at the second Deathstar (at the start of Return Of The Jedi) to check why the station is behind schedule. We see the black, phallic villain grilling one of his officers before the camera cuts to a bunch of Imperial engineers sat behind a roadworks sign drinking tea, chatting and fiddling with their tools. Chortle. The humour isn't limited to the cut-scenes either. Almost everything in the game has been given a quirky makeover, just subtle enough to seem natural in a 'Wars setting, but noticeable enough to make you spit your drink the first time you notice it. At times, the game plays out like Carry On Star Wars.
And, in terms of concept, it has to be said that Lego Star Wars II is still inch perfect. The unlikely marriage between the easily swallowed kid's toy and the most lucrative entertainment franchise ever created is still a happy one. It works. It flows. It's a real grin.
So why the long face? Our main gripe is that this never feels like a proper Xbox 360 game. You've seen Gears Of War, Mass Effect and Dead Rising, and you know what this machine is capable of. For fifty quid you expect something a bit more eye-pleasing than a handful of Lego models that look as if they've been buffed and polished like collectables in an avid Star Wars geek's trophy cabinet. Sure, it has the visual edge over the regular Xbox version, but even when it's pumping out of a spangly HD telly,Lego Star Wars II never looks like a full-fat next gen game. In fact, there isn't much here that'll cause your 360 to even break a sweat.
IN THE BRICK OF IT
The action follows the standard platform formula: jump across platforms, break crates (of Lego), and collect everything that spills out. Combat is satisfying without ever being too exciting, even when you're reliving a heart-stopping moment from one of the movies, like running the trench of the Deathstar in an X-Wing, or scrapping it out with the Rancor in Jabba's palace. And, as Harrison Ford's legendary scoundrel says: there's no substitute for a good blaster. We could sit and shoot burning holes through plastic Stormtroopers all day, but when it comes to yanking out the lightsaber for a spot of Jedi action it all goes wrong. Jedis are supposed to be the guardians of the galaxy, the most rigorously trained warriors in the universe, but in Lego Star Wars II they feel like fat kids nudging a dead badger with sticks. There's only one attack button for the love of mike, and it's the same one you use for parrying and blaster-bolt deflecting. It might make the game simpler to control, but we're sure that even the younger Star Wars fans out there will be left hungry for a somewhat more fulfilling blade-on-blade action style.
THE DARK SIDE
Puzzles teeter along that fine line between challenging and hair-yankingly frustrating. Most involve building stuff into bridges, or moving blocks of Lego to make jumping platforms, or to sit on top of switches etc. Generally they feel natural and well thought-through, but every now and again you'll be left scratching your head wondering what to do next. Sometimes it'll be down to the semi-fixed camera obscuring your view of some vital piece of the puzzle, and other times it'll be because there's a tiny pile of bricks hiding inside a space bin you didn't destroy. If in doubt, wreck the place up.