TT Games has that Pixar-like ability to make kids entertainment that even the over-20 market ends up recognising. Since 2005 it has developed a small hill of great casual LEGO titles based on films that Gen-Xers could relate to. Its latest effort takes the Clone Wars animated series, material that's likely to be less familiar than their other titles, and gives it the standard plastic-brick treatment.
While Clone Wars maintains the stud-collecting (the game's currency), combat and puzzle elements of its LEGO predecessors, the real difference is how this title deals with challenge. This is a 13-level game that never quite evolves beyond a tutorial-level of gameplay. At best it achieves a rudimentary interpretation of what the console game of the same name has to offer - the same universe and characters but different levels, and very different gameplay philosophy.
Like all the LEGO titles in the franchise, Clone Wars features Lost Vikings-style puzzle solving that has you switching between a cast of characters who specialise in certain abilities. Jedi will move objects using the Force, machine gunners and heavy gunners can break through different sets of bricks, while R2D2 can be used for hacking mini-games or floating across platform gaps that would be impossible to traverse otherwise. While there is an enormous cast of unlockable characters they all fit into just a few basic character types.
It's a shame that the game essentially plays itself for you, then. The issue with LEGO Star Wars III is the quantity of solutions it spoon-feeds you – strange considering how many critics found the console version a bit too hard for kids. Instead of finding a medium ground it pounces on you with hints and words of encouragement at the first sign of difficulty, like you're some sort of Bubble Boy being coaxed to walk safely across the room. As you get near a potential puzzle the portrait of the character needed to solve the puzzle will start flashing, leaving guess-work out of the question. In case you were still left baffled R2D2 appears at the bottom of the screen to explain the actual procedure for the puzzle.
For a generation of casual players who aren't game savvy – or not familiar with simple gameplay concepts – this might be a windfall but in the context of the rest of the franchise it feels like it alienates fans who are even slightly more adept.
Combat is served up with a similar make-it-simple philosophy. Fights break out around every corner which pit you against brittle waves of battle droids and Sith that can be taken out with a few blaster shots or lightsaber slashes. Should you be taken out the punishment is pretty lenient – your collection of Lego studs is sapped, something that ends up affecting you final score but not your character.
Combat will occasionally move from land and into space for dogfight levels. These stages are fantastically well-paced, making ground-based combat feel like sluggish busywork in comparison. You're given bombing runs and told to take out attacking ships, and for the first time you're introduced to an enemy who poses – at least superficially – a decent threat. Missiles take you out in a single hit (which means more studs lost more often), so there's a legitimate reward to timing your barrel roll just right to avoid the galactic car crash. The 3D effects of the platform are at their best in this segment too. Shrapnel and debris will hurtle towards you after close-quarter explosions, finally putting the 3DS to good use and using the 3D effect to add a bit of meat to the combat.
But outside of the dogfights Clone Wars maintains a plodding, mechanical rhythm that doesn't feel fitting for a game that inherited LEGO's typically fun features. It's the by-product of a game that grips your hand and never quite trusts you enough to let go, and unfortunately means LEGO Star Wars III never develops beyond the by-the-numbers status it starts off with.