It's games like this that make the wait for the Wii Motion Plus add on, scheduled for release in the UK in the spring, even more excruciating than it already is. Lightsabers and Wii Remotes should be a match made in heaven, but instead it's so far proven to be a match made in the bowels of hell. Lightsaber Duels, a bare bones 3D beat-em-up released to coincide with the Clone Wars animated film and TV series that continues LucasArts' soul-destroying milking of the now irreparably tarnished Star Wars franchise, is yet another example of a Wii game that doesn't actually work properly because the controls are asking too much of the technology.
Performing even a rudimentary combo is a complete frustration because the Wii's motion sensing technology isn't responsive enough. Take, for example, Ahsoka Tano's Shii-Cho Slash four hit combo, which requires a swing of the Wii Remote left, right, left, then down. Even with very deliberate, considered slashes the combo won't come out every time. So you try again, getting even more frustrated with each stab. By the time you make it work your wrist is in tatters. And your eyes are bleeding.
The Lightsaber Showdown mini-game exemplifies Lightsaber Duels' broken fighting system. Every now and again both fighters will find themselves in a stand-off, with one attacking and the other defending. If defending you're supposed to use the Force to predict what attacks are coming via a small box that prompts the correct direction to swing the Wii Remote. Because the Wii doesn't pick up your swings accurately, and therefore not quickly enough, you fail this mini-game more often than not because the window of opportunity isn't massive. Joy.
But it's the parry system that's worst. Here you need to hold B and swing the Wii Remote in the opposite direction of your opponent's swing. Timing this correctly in an actual fight is virtually impossible because the Wii wasn't designed for this kind of precision gaming. It's a shame, because a solid parry system might have given Lightsaber Duels some much needed depth to its shallow combat.
While frustration will rank high on your feelings list after half an hour or so, it won't top actual physical pain. If basic fighting doesn't leave your Wii Remote arm flopping about like a jelly tentacle, then the sporadic Lightsaber Lock stand-offs, where the camera zooms in and lightsabers clash as both duellists vie for advantage, will crush your wrist and forearm bones into dust. Here you need to wait for a three second countdown then shake the Wii Remote from left to right as quickly as you can. Because the whole game is made up of a series of one on one fights that can last up to 10 minutes each, Lightsaber Duels is one of the most knackering games on the Wii.
The rest of the controls aren't too taxing. Character movement is controlled with the control stick on the Nunchuck, dodging is a case of pushing a direction and pressing A, blocking is with B and Force powers are triggered by holding the Z button and swinging the Wii Remote. Overall though, we reckon Lightsaber Duels, as with many Wii games, would be a much better experience if every move was doable with button presses only.
Lightsaber Duels also suffers from being pretty bare bones. The single-player campaign is essentially a series of one on one fights with frantically cut together snippets from the movie that act as story filler. This will please younger gamers but won't do much for anyone else. On the plus side it'll take you a decent amount of time to work through, depending on what difficulty you play it on, and switches things up by forcing you to play as the good guys (Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Mace Windu and others) from the limited roster. The in-game banter ties in well with the Clone Wars tone, and every fight has its own lines of Nickelodeon-friendly trash talking, but it's very repetitive because you'll be facing the same bad guys over and over again - Asajj Ventress, Count Dooku, General Grievous, and so on. When you've got a 12+ rating it's hard to kill anyone off once and for all.
On the multiplayer side of things, you can play one on one duels with a friend on the same console with characters and in arenas you've unlocked from the campaign, but there's no online play. On top of this you've got a Challenge mode, where you can unlock new costumes, characters and extras, pits you in one off battles with pre-determined conditions, and a Battle mode, where you take a character on a whistle-stop tour of the galaxy in an effort to prove yourself top duelling dog, but overall the multiplayer is an extremely conservative and uninspired effort.
The graphics are the high point. The character models are impressive, with nice animations and lightsaber effects - from the normal fight view General Grievous looks great (up close he looks a bit worse for wear). Even better are the arenas, some of which really show off what the Wii is actually capable of when developers take the time to try. One arena in particular, Separatist Listening Post, is a collapsing sky platform set against a blood red background that starts tilting during the second round. It does a great job of making the fight feel epic, with electrical sparks flying when you whiff a Force charged attack and everything, and, ergo, the game more fun.
You might say that we're being overly picky, that Lightsaber Duels is clearly aimed at younger Star Wars fans, perhaps those who have been "treated" to popcorn and a visit to the cinema to see the film, and therefore we shouldn't review it with Street Fighter-tinted goggles, but the combat system is going to be unresponsive and frustrating for gamers of all ages. Lightsaber Duels will please younger fans of The Clone Wars movie who don't know any better, but for anyone else the combat system will be too frustrating to forgive. The wait goes on for that perfect Wii lightsaber game. Roll on spring 2009.