Superhero and cartoon characters are integral parts of the electronic entertainment industry. With this in mind, I salute the meld of pop-culture character and video game with a look at Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars (from LucasArts and Traveller's Tales, reviewed for PlayStation 3, rated E10+ for players 10 and older, $49.99).
The epic saga of the Skywalker clan once again comes to brick-building life courtesy of the Lego universe in this third-person extravaganza.
Adapting critical scenes from the third "Star Wars" film, "Attack of the Clones," and episodes from the first two seasons of Cartoon Networks' "The Clone Wars" animated series, the game features 32 story-based missions and 48 bonus levels to keep Padawans of all ages feeling the Force.
One or two players eventually can select from more than 100 Star Wars' legends transformed into minifigures as they explore 16 star systems of the famed science fantasy franchise.
What's the story? From the official website (www.legostarwars.com): With the Republic and Trade Federation at odds over the growing power each was wielding across the galaxy, Nute Gunray of the Trade Federation ordered a blockade of Naboo to gain leverage in political dealings.
This ill-advised move quickly backfired, and Senator Palpatine used the event to rise to power as the supreme chancellor of the Galactic Republic. Unknown to others in the Senate, the chancellor is also Darth Sidious, a powerful Sith Lord with a devious and evil plan for the galaxy.
With Chancellor Palpatine now playing both sides against each other, the Jedi Council and the Separatist army began combat in what would come to be known as the Clone Wars.
Play the role: Players choose from a set group of characters during a mission or can go back and replay the level in "free play" mode where they pick from any minifigure that has been bought or unlocked.
They eventually will appreciate the moves of Jedi, Sith, Clone trooper and droid, including Anakin Skywalker, Padme Amidala, young Jango Fett, young and old Obi-Wan Kenobi, Jar Jar Binks, Captain Rex, Darth Maul, bounty hunter Cad Bane and even Han Solo.
Each offers a selection of cool moves, such as Ahsoka Tano (a star of the animated show) throwing a light saber and special Clone troopers using rocket launchers.
Jedi now can cut through blast doors with their light sabers and use the weapon to help climb walls.
Using a headquarters aboard massive starships engaged in battle (the Resolute versus Malevolence), players easily can access new missions set on planets ranging from the arid Geonosis and rocky Florrum to the colorful industrial metropolis on Christophsis.
Additionally, they can use elevators to explore the cruisers to find more surprises, even gaining access to the Separatist ship using purchased spacecraft.
Get to the action: Those familiar with the Lego Star Wars video game format already know that missions involve combat on the air and ground, solving environmental puzzles, destroying as much stuff as possible and collecting studs, gold bricks (130 to be precise, but who's counting?), red bricks and minikits, which leads to unlocking extras and characters in the game.
A trio of new features adds to the nonstop action.
Let's start with massive ground battles. Commanders can accumulate studs to equip bases to attack Separatist forces. It includes building barracks to push out Clone trooper battalions and lending support with the construction of massive cannons, vehicles and other armaments to crush the opposition.
Next, the game features boss battles with legends such as the Asajj Ventress-controlled Octuptarra Droid, General Grievous' pet roggwart named Gor and a final fight against the massive Zilo Beast.
Finally, a Story Swap mode takes its cue right from the animated series as players maneuver key characters in a mission and switch through two plot lines to eventually meet up and conquer objectives.
For example, during "Duel of the Droids," the player first works with Ahsoka to confront General Grievous before an abrupt screen wipe moves the player over to control Anakin Skywalker as he rescues R2-D2 before the pair reunite to try and escape the general.
Memorable moments (in no particular order): Squashing a battalion of super battle droids under the massive legs of an AT-TE (All-Terrain Tactical Enforcer); jumping on a skalder (big rhino) to charge into a pirate swoop bike; using Anakin to cut through swaths of battle droids in numbers that just overwhelm the screen; piloting and landing a Republic gunship; knocking a light saber out of Asajj Ventress' hand and picking it up to use against her; and thumb-cramping encounters with Grievous' MagnaGuards
Violent encounters: Combatants never die, but a fatal blow causes them to grunt a little and fall apart into a collection of Lego pieces, losing streams of those valuable studs. Characters controlled by the player come back to life within seconds of each brick-busting demise. And please be careful, Lego Star Wars newbies, as blasting or taking a light saber to your own teammates will just as easily cause their destruction.
Read all about it: Dark Horse Comics does not disappoint the tween comics lover with 80-page, full-color, digest-size books tied to "The Clone Wars" cartoon series. The latest, Star Wars: The Clone Wars — Deadly Hands of Shon-Ju ($7.99), stars Jedi Knight Aayla Secura.
Pixel popping scale: 8.0 out of 10. This beautiful-looking game, often taking its cue from the animated designs of the cartoon (especially within space and outdoor locations), is really propelled by the cute cut scenes that stand alone as a humorous tongue-in-cheek look at the "Star Wars" canon.
Multiplayer: A pair of local players can work together (and just as easily drop out) at any time during the missions. A fluid split screen allows each to move around and explore on their own or take part in full-screen action when the pair work near each other.
A new "head-to-head" combat mode will find opposing forces buying military might (a predetermined number of studs is available to start) to attack one another in matches involving an accumulation of resources and aggressive assaults.
Players will love the watered-down, real-time strategy possibilities as they choose to act as Republic or Separatist forces and can finely hone attacks down to using a radio-equipped Clonetrooper to direct his brethren.
I'll admit to spending hours with my pint-size tester as we set up objectives, such as destroying each other's central bases or trying to escape the planet while we attacked each other.
What's it worth? I can think of no better a video game franchise for the family to play together than any of the awesome Lego-themed brands built by Traveller's Tales set in the Indiana Jones, Batman, Harry Potter and Star Wars universes.
Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars may not be game-of-the-year fodder, but it does deliver a fun and humorous interactive experience further enriched by watching the latest Star Wars cartoon or building an actual Lego set.
I've spent hours with my offspring working and arguing over the best ways to attack levels, succeed in battles and collect the maximum amount of stuff while marveling at the developer's on-screen wit and designs.
It clearly bridges the generation gap as parent and youngster can equally enjoy a galaxy, far, far away.
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