Wait, these LEGO games are good?
I cannot comment on anything Star Wars related without mentioning my undying love for the franchise. In general, the same principle applies to LEGO. Despite this, up until now I hadn't given any of the Lego games a fair shake. Either these games are as good as everyone claims, or LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars is an outstandingly enjoyable entry in the Lego series of action puzzle games.
I use the terms action and puzzle lightly, because Lego Star Wars III is more about running through familiar Star Wars environments that are recreated in Lego and experiencing humorous references to the source material. In this case, the source material is the popular Clone Wars animated series. I haven't seen a single episode of the Clone Wars cartoons, but my experience with the Star Wars movies was enough to carry me through. Some of the inside baseball is much funnier for Star Wars fans, but some of the moments in game are comedic for anyone. The story is communicated entirely through pantomimed cutscenes, so the ability for it to appeal to Star Wars neophytes is impressive.
The dialogue-free story wouldn't work so well if the game's presentation wasn't top-notch. These are some of the more appealing visuals I have seen on the Wii, and the score to the game is as sweeping and engrossing as any other Star Wars experience. Even though the graphics are by their very nature blocky, I was wowed by the effects and the sheer amounts of enemies on screen.
The high volumes of enemies come into play during the game's large battle mode, which transports the game's standard corridor brawling mechanics into a sort of Battlefield conquest mode crossed with tower defense. Players summon defensive structures and assault vehicles in an effort to capture the enemy's nodes and base. It feels like it could be a mini-game of its own, and fortunately the developers thought so too.
This game mode can be played outside of the main game with or against a local companion. While playing with a friend was appealing, I found this to be the more frustrating mode of play. Veering too far away from one another causes the screen to split, and in the larger battles the graphics slow to a crawl. The lowered framerate does nothing to help the fact that characters are smaller in split screen, and the mayhem of the large battles often leads to confusion between players. Attempting to use the already fiddly pointer controls in split screen mode is nothing short of a nightmare.
The entirety of Lego Star Wars III can be played in drop-in/ drop-out co-op mode, and players will be glad to hear that the massive battles are the only real hiccups in the multiplayer experience with the rest of the game playing smoothly. Adventuring through most campaign missions with a friend works seamlessly, and both players will appreciate the variety during the story mode. While it isn't too lengthy of a game, one gets to fly starfighters, duel with lightsabers, and kill plenty of droids. After the end of the three main campaign arcs, you can also replay missions to collect every coin, brick, and the many unlockable characters. Most characters are simply palette swaps of a certain character type, but this keeps the game simple.
At times, the simplicity of the game can reduce to bad design. One mission has the player using an astromech droid to open some doors within the environment, an environment that contains two doors with astromech ability hotspots, two empty checkboxes atop the screen, and a bright red notice reminding you to use the astromech droid. Opening the first door is simple, but the second simply will not budge. The player is supposed to somehow intuit that they must instead destroy and rebuild a nondescript grey box featured in a largely grey area of the environment before proceeding. In its efforts to hold the player's hand, Lego Star Wars III sometimes forgets the simplest of directions.
A few frustrating moments and some jittery split screen action aside, Lego Star Wars III has sold me on the Lego series of games. LSW III trumps even Nintendo's own games in its ability to foster truly cooperative and casual local multiplayer. I can't tell you if this is the pinnacle of the series, but if it is, the hike up to the top must be a pleasant journey.