Along time ago (well last year, anyway) in an a galaxy close, close, to here, Lego Star Wars achieved the impossible - it managed to make Episodes I, II and III bearable to broken- hearted nerds. We're not sure if it was the cheeky irreverent humour, the laid back pace of the gaming or just the fact that it would let you happily spend an hour or two repeatedly kicking JarJar's face off, but either way it applied industrial strength Nurofen to the root cause of prequel pain.
Easily the best thing about it, however, was the hidden bonus level in which you stalked the corridors of the Blockade Runner as Darth Vader; something that left fans salivating for a sequel set in the original Trilogy universe. Luckily, they didn't have long to wait; Lego Star Wars II has managed to deliver on that promise in spades.
THE NEXT EPISODE
Like the last game, LSW2 starts in a hub world, and this time it's based around the familiar but dingy surroundings of the Mos Eisly cantina. From here you can access episodes IV, V, and VI, although the second two episodes are locked until you've finished the first level of Episode IV. The cantina's a little empty at the start, but as you progress through the game it fills up with the characters you've unlocked. You can actually have a lot of fun watching them merrily attacking each other, and seeing Princess Leia bitch-slap Boba Fett's head clean off will never get old. You can also check out any vehicles you've made here and create new characters in the character generator.
The story mode initially plays just like LSW - laugh at the sweet cut-scenes then frantically run around shooting things, hot- swapping between characters to solve puzzles and building objects to assist you on your way. Appearances can be deceptive though, and as you play through you'll notice that the gameplay's been tweaked to within an inch of its life. Almost everything around you can be manipulated, smashed or ridden, and being able to simply leap on passing vehicles (or even animals, in the case of the Tuskan Raiders Banthas) will make you giggle like an Ewok. Character swapping is now essential to progression, and you'll need to change bodies far more frequently in order to use their different skills. Droids operate machinery, rebels have a grappling hook, Jedis can use the force and certain doors can only be opened by Stormtroopers or bounty hunters. The characters are bursting with personality, and each has a little signature move (Chewie pulls off the arms of attackers, Lando kisses the hands of female characters, C3-PO looses limbs with a frightening regularity, Han has a cheeky wink and Leia... well, Leia has a suspiciously manly voice). The construction aspect has also been greatly improved since last time, and it's here where the Lego part of the license makes its presence known. Building isn't restricted to characters with force powers any more and most will happily drop to their knees to throw a few blocks together. You never know what object you'll create until it's finished, and half the fun is seeing whether you've created something useful or something pointless but amusing. In the first game you were mainly building switches and blocks to push around. Now you'll find yourself constructing large vehicles that you can actually pilot, and the thrill of clicking together your own Scout Walker and then using it to stomp the crap out of Stormtroopers is a game highlight.
THE X-WING FACTOR
The purely vehicular levels have also had a sprinkle of makeover magic. In the first game, these were basic on-rail shooters which, though fun, were fairly basic. Now vehicle levels are fully free-roaming, giving you the freedom to zoom around (often at terrifying speeds) to your heart's content. It's a good thing too, as it's hard to imagine how much fun crippling the legs of AT-AT's with a tow cable would have been otherwise. Destroying a big target like a Star Destroyer or reactor usually requires a photon topedo or bomb, which fl oats behind you once you've grabbed it from a nearby generator. It's a slightly strange idea though and seems to be there to add a bit of to-ing and fro-ing to stretch out the levels. Likewise, the areas where you have to defeat a checklist of enemies before you're allowed to progress. The trade off for all this extra freedom is that the action is now seen in a pseudo-isometric top- down view, meaning that the thrills are far less immediate than before. It's mainly not a problem (the escape from the core of the Death Star II in the Millennium Falcon is awesome) but for some levels - the trench run for example - you really want to be in the sweaty cockpit, hearing Obi-Wan's ghostly squeaks egging you on, rather than looking down on a tiny X-wing from above.