- The Washington Times - Friday, September 15, 2006

Superhero and cartoon characters have become integral parts of the electronic entertainment industry. Around the world, youngsters and guys who can’t get dates spend countless hours in front of their computers and video-game systems.

With this in mind, I salute the meld of pop-culture character and Silicon Valley with a look at some…

Comics plugged in

LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy

(LucasArts for Xbox 360, rated E, $49.99)

Danish toy bricks once again become building blocks for a galaxy far, far away in the sequel to an award-winning video game. This third-person adventure gives a pair of players the chance to work cooperatively through Episodes IV, V and VI of the “Star Wars” film saga.

They solve puzzles, fight battles and immerse themselves in the mythology through the use of more than 50 LEGO-fied heroes and villains within 18 missions, all designed with the best constructible and destructible intentions in mind.

What’s the story? It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the empire’s ultimate weapon, the Death Star, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet. Pursued by the empire’s sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy …

Characters’ character: Nearly every scene from the movies can be re-created on television screens as legends such as Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Yoda, Darth Vader and Lando Calrissian are controlled in free-to-roam environments that build upon the classic science-fantasy adventure.

The game begins and always continues in the most dangerous bar in the galaxy, the Mos Eisley Cantina, as the characters enter episode lounge areas and doors to emerge in the films.

Depending on situations, they will be called upon to build items, fight off foes such as storm troopers or Tusken Raiders and use their expertise to help teammates.

Be it R2-D2 unlocking an escape-pod door, Ben Kenobi using Force powers to build a tower or Han Solo shooting his way out of the Death Star, the game does a great job with varied and heated action. The Hoth snow-speeder fight is especially spectacular.

A voluminous supply of unlockables also is available in the cantina. By collecting LEGO studs strewn about the terrain, players accumulate the game’s currency and can spend it to unlock hints, more characters and golden bricks (used for more opportunities to build stuff).

Additionally, once the first mission in “A New Hope” has been completed, players can move between films and even revisit scenes as mini, free-play adventures.

Through the use of a character customizer, players also can assemble unique combinations of the heroes and villains that can be used in those free-play levels. That concept leads to rewrites of the plot points of the Star Wars saga; mutated LEGO characters can mingle where they once never existed.

The audio atmosphere of the game is fantastic as John Williams’ score booms throughout and, although no lines of dialogue are spoken, plenty of familiar effect noises, character grunts and creature sounds enhance the plot points.

How would Lt. Frank Drebin fare? Last year, the simple control of characters and their ability to fire and put away weapons, throw an occasional Force blast and drive vehicles was more than enough for the lieutenant to handle. However, now players can mount creatures (sit on the back of a Bantha or Tauntaun), build and then maneuver vehicles (from a speeder bike to an AT-ST) and pilot spaceships (take a trip on everything from a T.I.E. fighter to the Millennium Falcon) to move freely around terrain.

Parental blood-pressure meter: 120/80, normal. Loads of cartoony violence accompanies the action as characters explode into pieces when they die. Chewbacca can tear off an enemy’s arms. Vader can Force-choke a Jawa to death. Even Leia can slap a foe into submission. However, it’s family-friendly, tongue-in-cheek fun that revolves around everyone and everything built from plastic bricks, none of which ever bleeds.

What if I want to read a book? Dark Horse Comics chronicles the adventures of the Skywalker clan in a sequential-art format. I suggest a read through Star Wars: The Special Edition Box Set ($28.85) which offers comic-book adaptations of all three early films (“New Hope,” “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi”) based on George Lucas updates to each in the late 1990s.

What’s it worth? LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy is a delightful experience and will put a smile on the mug of the Star Wars fan and anyone who has ever been, or still is, a child.

Pop bytes

A brief review of game titles that didn’t have time to get fully plugged in.

Spider-Man and Friends: Doc Ock’s Challenge

(VTech for V. Smile systems, $19.99)

Children take part in an educational adventure to stop the evil Dr. Otto Octavious with the help of Spider-Man, the X-Men’s Storm and Fantastic Four’s Thing.

Specifically, the 6- to 8-year-old in the family works through six colorful missions and four extra challenges that use either VTech’s cartridge-based hand-held or console game system to get some lessons in angles, simple machines, the planets, the food pyramid and mirrors and lenses.

The on-screen, narrated action definitely will keep tykes busy and engaged. It mixes third-person exploration, minigames, the ability to switch heroes and use their powers with plenty of problem solving and introductory science.

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