Better than making lightsaber sounds in your room by yourself.
LEGO Star Wars II (LSWII) is a frustrating game to review because it is so much like the original, which I hold in high regard. Although this sequel does almost everything the original LEGO Star Wars did, it won't receive the same amount of praise due to design excesses that hurt the delicate balance of the original. In other words, LSWII just has too much gameplay. I'll explain.
The gameplay of LEGO Star Wars never won awards, and it won't here either. You once again guide blaster- and lightsaber-wielding Star Wars characters through linear environments directly lifted from the films, fighting stormtroopers and flying in space vehicles. Nothing has changed from the original game, but of course gameplay wasn't the reason people played it; you trucked through the simple action and puzzles to see the LEGO-parody locations and joke-heavy cinemas.
It was appropriate, I am seeing now, that LSW was a short game. The quick completion of each level encouraged you to continue playing until you saw everything. LSWII also has plenty to see, but unfortunately, the levels are much longer and larger. Since they are never difficult, they broach monotony while yielding just as many rewards (read: visuals) as the previous game. The developer promised that LSW's lack of difficulty would be fixed this time around, but apparently they decided that more numerous and more difficult enemies would do the trick rather than revamped game design. I did occasionally get stuck at a puzzle or have to think about something for longer than usual, but this was more a frustration at obtuse objectives than active involvement with the game. Something the developer did decide to revamp is vehicle play: this time around the vehicle missions are free-roaming as opposed to set on rails, yet the vehicles still move forward on their own and the levels are mostly linear. These missions are confusing, have weird objectives, and are simply not as fun as the original's vehicle missions. The one exception to this is the excellent on-rails speeder bike mission on the moon of Endor. Otherwise, consider the uninteresting gameplay of the original LSW not fixed here, indeed broken twice over.
There are a few additions to gameplay that appear to spruce things up a bit. Most characters have a close range attack when next to an enemy and their purpose is mostly humor: Chewbacca rips off the arms of enemy combatants (an action discussed but never seen in Star Wars), while Leia, there's no other way to say this, bitch-slaps them. Also, some blaster characters can dodge laser fire if you stand still during a firefight, and blaster characters can now build objects out of broken LEGOs in context appropriate situations. There is also a mode to create your own LEGO character out of LEGO pieces and use him or her (or it) in the game. All of these additions are either aesthetic or tangential and alter the game very little.
The graphics of the game should receive high marks, again not for detail or complexity but for simple comic beauty. The worlds are much larger and rendered even better this time around, while the cinema scenes reach a Pixar-esque level of humor within their short length. I do think there was more to make fun of in the first three episodes of Star Wars than in this trilogy, but the developers have still made the short level intros and outros fun to watch if you're familiar with the movies. The sound, on the other hand, is just as sadly utilitarian as before – the music is lifted directly from the films and played on a loop. The sound effects are also accurately recreated making LSWII's audio authentic, if predictable.
If the game can be saved, it is through its cooperative mode – there really is no other way to play this game, especially now that the levels are larger and the objectives require more teamwork. Although the camera is still mostly unmovable and too rigid for two players to share, the game's emphasis on humor and nostalgia make co-op the only worthwhile way to play, and for all its faults, it is still fun.
There's plenty to keep you occupied here, as the developer has added objectives to Free Play mode (where you can switch between LEGO characters as you play) and many new items hidden in each level. All of these will gain you some secret levels that are, truthfully, not that satisfying. But there are plenty of things to do for completists.
In the end, I recommend LSWII to those who really loved the original – for me, it was worthwhile to see all the cinemas and locations, and plenty of fun in co-op. It doesn't live up to the original by any means, but it should offer a good distraction to those with nothing to play. Rent if you can.