Plenty of people my age remember Legos as a rudimentary, bricks-only affair, and remember, also, having no trouble using their imagination to build elaborate, fantastic buildings, stories, and landscapes using only a limited variety of blocks in primary colors—and that’s not taking into account pieces that were lost, slightly broken, or chewed up. Legos presented an ingenious solution to the jigsaw puzzle: a ton of more or less identical pieces, and if you were missing even the most essential, you could make do. That all changed with the introduction of themes (castle, space exploration, and town—at first, anyway), which fragmented basic sets into smaller and more specialized pieces of an infinite variety. In the bigger picture of Lego’s quarterly statements, it probably made sense to diversify and expand, but in hindsight, and speaking as a former block-jockey, it was clear that the company was doing the imagination part for you, leaving you with nothing to do but coerce your parents into paying Lego’s legendarily overinflated prices, follow the directions, and shut up. The company moved from “inspire” to “pacify” in under a decade.
It’s only natural, then, that Lego’s expansion into video games and movie merchandising is guided by similar principles. Long since having abandoned, almost completely, their original template, Lego is a kind of apotheosis of modern branding: Aspects of the Lego toys have burrowed into our cultural consciousness deeply and indelibly, while at the same time their currency as a fixture is now used to smuggle some of the biggest brands in the movie industry, including Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, Batman, Pirates of the Caribbean, and—perhaps biggest of them all—Star Wars, right into our homes once again. Thus Lego solidifies its bid for permanence by both enabling and hijacking the enduring marketability of these mega-brands.
Nothing would please me more, of course, than to wipe the slate clean for LucasArts’s Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars, but while it looks like a lot of elbow grease went into designing and building the game, there’s some continuity between my complaints then and my complaints now. The very idea of the classical, imagination-driven Lego world would make for an insufferable video game. (Lincoln Logs: The Game, anyone?) Since the whole Star Wars universe has been fully reproduced for gameplay, no more imagination is required to get through it to put together any other Lego set on the market.
Not that any building is involved. There is a story and there isn’t—fragments of Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, minus the melodrama, and now equipped with some weirdly infantile comedy (everyone at one point has an ice cream cone), without any kind of linear narrative. In fact, nothing much is linear about the game. The screens more often than not are packed to the gills with ten thousand bad droids, a few dozen good clones, and a handful of Jedi heroes, making the scenery so busy that the game often has to give you a “you are here” directional balloon. You slash or blast your way around, Lego bits explode sometimes, you collect stuff to unlock other stuff, you get your LucasArts fix.
I’d back up to give you context, but that’s basically it. Most scenarios have the player or players running around variations on a bowl-shaped arena, completing simple tasks and shooting up baddies, or defeating invincible big bosses, before moving on to more of the same. After several hours with Lego Star Wars III, I couldn’t see the horizon in any direction, it was as if I was simply fighting my way from one battalion of droids to the next.
The game’s big challenge—and it’s a Sisyphean challenge or nothing is—concerns figuring each level out. And we’re not talking about satisfying logic puzzles or mini-trials of chance or skill, but simple things, like shooting five purple circles, only nobody tells you anything so helpful as “Shoot these five purple circles to complete the round,” or any kind of spatial orientation that would have you feel your way through. You’re just fumbling around in the dark most of the time. You’d better like massacring dopey Phantom Menace droids.
This frustration is tempered slightly by the fact that endless play is absolutely assured by your character’s never-ending supply of extra lives. When you die, you blow up into a shrapnel-cloud of Lego bits, and then reappear instantly. (At last, an interactive video game depiction of Valhalla!) And if you had trouble with some of the Sectilogy’s tin-eared dialogue, you can take comfort in the fact that there isn’t any, not even in the cutscenes, where the only language is grunts, whimpers, huhs, and hmmms.
Parents: you might identify with my “get off my lawn”-isms above. It seems like everything is going downhill, and in my day, etc. But in spite of my bellyaching, I have to say, if the game’s target demographic resides in your household, he or she will find the graphics and gameplay—especially when it concerns dual-player—pretty transfixing. I don’t have to like it myself, but kids seven and up certainly will, and that’s a credit to the game’s expert construction.