In 2011, Traveller’s Tales and LucasArts released LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars, based on the animated series. It received generally meh reviews (averaging about a 6.5/10) from critics, but I’m here to say: the heck with those guys. This thing was fun, and a big step forward in LEGO games.
LEGO Star Wars brought us all into the Traveller’s Tales version of the LEGO world(s). There were previous LEGO video games, with varying degrees of success. (I personally had a LEGO Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets game on PC the I couldn’t get far in, because there was a bug or something that wouldn’t give me a piece I needed to move on, for example.) Traveller’s Tales took LEGO, took Star Wars, and put their mark on it, and showed us all that they are the go-to studio for fantastic LEGO video games.
In the first LEGO Star Wars, the game covered the Prequel Trilogy (including some spoilers for Revenge of the Sith, which hadn’t yet been released). It introduced us to the idea of the LEGO “hub” world, using Dexter’s Diner from Attack of the Clones. We found a lot of fun, a few easter eggs, and just how awesome LEGO minifigs look wearing ridiculous mustaches. There was plenty of single or co-op platforming, and some on-rails vehicle levels (pod racing, starfighter battles). We were introduced to the variation in abilities: high jump, Force user, small character, grappler, etc., and the ability to build new LEGO objects (or complete existing ones) out of the elements around us, along with the usual puzzle (including differing abilities)/platforming, and how we’d have to come back via Free Play using other characters to get ALL the secrets on each level. We were also introduced to the little bits of humor that persist through today’s games.
And we played it, and it was Good.
LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy covered what it said on the tin. We got a few new abilities (Stormtrooper disguises, Chewbacca pulling off people’s arms FTW!), we worked through the OT, a big change was that vehicle levels were no longer on-rails, but free movement (and gave us the option to switch vehicles in Free Play mode). Additionally, LEGO SW2 gave us the Gold Bricks, which once all were collected, gave us access to an additional bonus level; and the vehicles completed by collecting all mini-kits were now usable in bonus levels. Additionally, special Bounty Hunter missions were added, in which you had a fixed amount of time in a subset of one of the regular levels to hunt down and find one of the OT “good guy” characters.
And we played this, and it too was Good.
Enter LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars. In 2011, to play off the popular animated Clone Wars show, Traveller’s Tales came out with this third installment in the series. By this point, TT had in addition to the original Star Wars games (and a compilation re-release) put out two Indiana Jones games, LEGO Rock Band, the first LEGO Batman, and LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4. This last game in particular would show the “story-driven” structure of the levels, seen also in many of the later TT LEGO games (most notably, LEGO Lord of the Rings and LEGO The Hobbit, where one essentially has to play through the world just like in the movies, and it is only opened up once the final level is completed).
LEGO Star Wars III, however, retained the hub design, although followed some of its predecessors (particularly Batman) with dual hubs: a Republic cruiser, and a Separatist ship. Transit between the two was made via one of the vehicles present in the bays, which would also include vehicles made from collected minikits. This transit, which allowed the user to free-fly the spacecraft into an ongoing space battle between fighters on both sides, also offered hidden items and some challenges, a precursor to the races and similar challenges present in many of the more recent TT LEGO games. (And let’s face it: it was just fun!)
As with LEGO Star Wars II, this game presented the usual story missions, plus bonus levels, plus Bounty Hunter missions. Additional abilities were added, such as lightsaber tossing and Force-shoving droids. A significant upgrade in vehicle combat (over the previous 2 Star Wars games) was the ability to hop in and out of vehicles in a level - a feature now standard in today’s TT LEGO games. Following on from LEGO Indiana Jones 2, LEGO Star Wars III now had boss battles at the end of level sets, and the ability to split screen in co-op mode. Additionally, completing some levels now required you to switch between party groups, for “simultaneous” action. And Force users gained certain “team up” abilities at points, a feature which be found in many of the later LEGO games in various forms. The character designs followed the cartoon versions, rather than the movies.
A very interesting change, however, was in adding RTS/map-control type levels to the gameplay. For these levels, you would have a number of enemy strongholds to take out, and replace with your own. As you went along, and made the strongpoints your own, you could add heavy field-grade weapons, vehicle dispensers, troop dispensers, etc. Adding in the right blend of these was key to taking out the enemy.
And we played it, but apparently according to the critics it was mostly “okay”. (Some of the lower overall scores of the bunch, especially to that point.)
In my opinion, this combination of improved vehicle combat (including a smoother engine), troop commands, RTS map-conquest elements, combined with the usual puzzle platforming, make LEGO Star Wars III the best game of the bunch by far. It’s a shame that the RTS levels haven’t made a reappearance in other LEGO video game titles*, as they were a fun and different experience, above and beyond the challenges and races and puzzles of the latest games.
*As far as I know, although I haven’t played through everything yet. I’m happy to be corrected.
With all these new Star Wars movies set to come out, let’s hope that there’s a LEGO Star Wars IV somewhere in the near future, and that it takes on the best of these ideas - at least semi-hub driven, with new character abilities, new ways of puzzling through levels, and hopefully, a return of the RTS levels.