Despite the fact that there's an army of Star Wars fans out there who are capable of growing hair on their faces, Star Wars The Clone Wars, the animated series that's heavy on super cute androids and digital caricatures of Yoda and co, is firmly aimed at boys aged six to 12. This is the reality of Star Wars. It's not designed for old fuddy duddies like you and me. It's designed for our sons and nephews. That much should have been clear the second Jar Jar Binks tripped up Liam Neeson on Naboo.
But that doesn't excuse how bad Star Wars The Clone Wars: Lightsaber Duels, last year's Wii-exclusive tie-in, turned out. It was bare bones, a boring one-on-one fighting game with tear-your-hair-out controls. It didn't matter what kind of Star Wars fan you were - for young or old the game was a bitter disappointment.
Still, somewhat predictably, it sold well enough to justify a sequel, Star Wars The Clone Wars: Republic Heroes, due out this September. This time, though, insists LucasArts associate producer Vince Kudirka, the game will be good. At Activision's pre-E3 London event he told us why.
"The big thing we wanted to change this year was to do a story game that pays off the show the best," he explains. "Fighting games, I mean it was good fun, it was great and I think it did a great job of bringing in all the different characters, but with this one you can have a plot that's based in the world of the show. We go to different locations that are featured in the show. We have some other characters. Cad Bane (mysterious bounty hunter) is a new character that showed up at the end of season one, he's featured prominently in our game. That I think is a big difference and a big strength of our game."
In fact, it's a completely different game. For a start it's being released on every platform under the sun, not just the Wii. It's not a one-on-one Dragonball Z-style fighter, either, but a full-on action game in the vein of Marvel Ultimate Alliance, that can be played co-operatively with up to two-players. And it's got a brand new storyline, too, penned by a show writer and designed to bridge the gap between seasons one and two of the animated series. Already it's clear this is something of a back to the drawing board effort.
You play as one of eight major Jedi from the series, Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Mace Windu, Kit Fisto etc, or one of eight different Clone Troopers, including Clone Captain Rex. The Jedi gameplay is, as you'd imagine, full of lightsaber combat and simple combos. There's an area of effect stun, there's a Force Blast (which can be charged up and used to push enemies and environmental objects) and, providing depth, moves like Force Push can be integrated into lightsaber combos.
The big new feature for this game is what LucasArts calls "droids as toys". You can jump onto any enemy in the game, take it over and use its abilities. Anakin can, for example, leap on top of a droid, thrust his lightsaber down into its head and then steer it as if driving a mechanised ape, firing its lasers at anything and everything. One droid can be used to lay down mines. Another, called a Destroyer (like a rolling ball with a shield), can be jumped on and rode. We might not have seen that kind of madness in the films, but it's a damn sight more exciting than waving your wand and muttering "these aren't the droids you're looking for".
Clone Troopers play very differently. The left thumbstick is used for movement and the right is used to direct fire, lending the Clone Troopers a Geometry Wars feel. Clone Troopers are dependent on the gun they're using - mini-gun, rocket launcher, that sort of thing. It doesn't quite equate to class-based gameplay, but it's getting there. Essentially, though, there are two classes in the game. One wields a lightsaber and one shoots a big gun.
While the assets and basic level structure were created first on PC, they were "branched" early in development so that each version is designed to make the most of the platform it's on. That goes for the Wii version, too. Given that the lightsaber controls on the last Clone Wars game were, frankly, awful, how will the controls work this time around on the Wii version?
"The controls are so different in this one because that was a one-on-one fighting game, so they're definitely different," Vince explains. "We tried to make it as accurate as it needs to be for the gameplay. That's something that we did learn from that, to make sure that the controls respond properly.
"I think my favourite thing about the Wii controls are the Clone controls. We're using the UV pointer on the Wii Remote, and the B button's the trigger. So you actually point the Wii Remote at the screen and there's a reticule and you can move around and do direct point to shoot. It feels really good. It feels like you're holding a blaster and taking out all of the droids."
While the game is Lucas-approved in terms of Star Wars cannon, the development team has been granted a bit of lee-way when it comes to coming up with new stuff exclusive to the game. The game's main villain is a prime example. All-new Skakoan super villain Kul Teska has been created specifically for Republic Heroes. Might he appear in the second series of the show? "It's a possibility. There's been some talk about that. Nothing I can say for sure." That would be the ultimate acceptance.
Republic Heroes is almost guaranteed to be better than Lightsaber Duels, that much is obvious. Is it a Star Wars game for hardcore gamers? No, it isn't. But for Wii-owning fans of the animated series, it looks like it'll be a solid tie-in best played co-operatively. How many games can LucasArts get out of the series? "Oh man the sky's the limit," says Vince. "The show's going to be around for a long time." Then so will Clone Wars games.
Star Wars The Clone Wars: Republic Heroes is due out on PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, DS, PS2, PSP and PC on September 18 2009.