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July 20, 2006


Platforms: PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube, PC, Game Boy Advance


So many games we've played together.
So much fun we've had.

From SpongeBob to Sly Cooper.
From Zoo Tycoon to Roller Coaster Tycoon.
From Dog's Life to Disney's Extreme Skate Adventure.
From Princess Peach to the Prince of all Cosmos.
From Ratchet to... er... Clank.
And the list goes on.

My kids and I (along with my wife, of course) love to do many different activities together. Board games, playing with bubbles, creating things with their big bucket of LEGO pieces (note the deft foreshadowing), fun family trips around the Chicago area, family movie nights, and of course, playing "Jump on Daddy," though I think they like that last one a little better than I do.

But because of the important role that video games have played in my relationship with my kids, it will always be a special thing that we share. And it is the nature of that sharing (and sharing in general) that is the crux of this review.

For the past couple of years now, our joint gaming adventures have taken on a familiar pattern.

  1. I reveal the new game.
  2. There is much rejoicing.
  3. We............... waaaaaaaaaaaait............... for............... the............... gaaaaaaaaaaaaame............... to............... looooooooooooooooad (especially for PS2 games).
  4. And I start playing, while the kids watch our new interactive adventure unfold before them.

But just how interactive is their adventure if I'm the one with the controller in my hand? Oh sure, I often pause and ask the kids what they might do to pass an obstacle, and I wait until they come up with the solution. And they've gotten pretty good at it, actually. But that's really no substitute for controlling the action yourself.

After I'd played through a level or sometimes the entire game, my kids would sometimes ask for the controller and give it a go on their own, safe in the knowledge that I was always there to help if they needed it.

But they never wanted to take the reins from the very beginning. And although I was lending a helping hand, my motives were not purely altruistic, as I enjoy many of these games as much as they do.

So although I would always ask if they wanted to try out a new game before I did, the answer would invariably be no, and for a while, it was our own little win-win status quo.

That is, it was the status quo, up until we played LEGO Star Wars a few months ago.

We went through steps 1-3 (above) as per usual, but when it came time for Step 4 (I start playing), something strange happened; my kids started to play instead of me, and even better, they played together.

Just like that, my children staged a bloodless controller coup. And although part of me will miss the way things used to be, I couldn't be prouder, because they've come off the relative safety of the sidelines, to craft their own journey.

There are still games that are too tough for them to start playing from the beginning, so they don't necessarily start playing every game. But there has definitely been a shift, in that they no longer assume that Daddy plays the early levels of every game while they watch. The default is now that they play from the beginning, and if it's too difficult or intimidating, then it's Daddy's turn. Yes, I realize that video games aren't a microcosm of life in general, but it's always gratifying to see your kids be more intrepid and self-assured when trying something new.

So what makes LEGO Star Wars so special?

First things first. At least as far as my kids are concerned, Star Wars wasn't the draw here. Neither one has seen any of the Star Wars movies (Patience, kids. Soon, the movies you will see.), and before playing this game, they probably would have thought that Mace Windu was just another one of the funny names Daddy likes to make up when he's being silly. Now, of course, he's the purple lightsaber guy.

And while my kids are both big LEGO fans, they played other LEGO games on GameTap that didn't resonate as much as this game has.

Don't get me wrong. The lightsabers are awesome, and the LEGO-ization of the Star Wars environment is truly, truly delightful - a crucial part of what makes the game so kid-friendly. But in the end, when it comes to the games that my kids love best, it ain't the license. It's the gameplay, stupid.

Gameplay-wise, LEGO Star Wars is the best of both worlds. It not only offers an open-ended Free Play mode that kids love so well, but in addition, the story mode hits the sweet spot of being challenging without being too difficult. In addition, "dying" isn't very traumatic, in that you turn into a pile of LEGO pieces, and respawn in a couple of seconds. No harm, no foul, and more importantly, no nightmares.

Combined with their newfound sense of gaming independence that this game gives them, it's also a terrific catalyst for siblingular (Me fail English? That's unpossible!) teamwork. Sure, each one of my kids enjoys playing the game alone, but it isn't until they play together that the gameplay potential of LEGO Star Wars is fully realized.

The drop-in anytime co-op mode makes it very easy for my kids to play for as long or as short as they want, without affecting each other's gameplay (and when one of 'em is finished, I remind them that I'd be more than happy to step in and help........ assuming they want my company, of course. *sulk*). They run around together, pretending to be the characters they're controlling. They encourage each other and help each other to advance and overcome obstacles. And although the worlds they explore together aren't "real", there's nothing fake about the parental joy it gives us to see them playing together so generously and enthusiastically.

LEGO Star Wars also has tremendous replay value. Once you've completed a level, you have the option of going back and playing in the Free Play mode, which allows you to roam freely and switch characters on the fly.

Speaking of switching characters, each character has a unique skill-set that is needed at particular points in the game. Only Jedis can use the force to move, destroy or repair objects. Only droids can open certain doors. Only Jar-Jar Binks *shudder* can jump high enough to reach certain platforms. Only those with guns can shoot targets. Only those small enough can travel through the ductwork, etc.

There many other terrific things about LEGO Star Wars, not the least of which is that most parents will love it as well. As with many of the games I play with my kids, just because a game is kid-friendly, it doesn't necessarily make it a "kiddie" game.

This game is also a feast for the senses. It looks gorgeous, and the sounds are true to the Star Wars universe, which only adds to the immersiveness. And that's saying something, considering that we played the game on the PS2, the weakest of the current-gen (in the process of becoming past-gen) consoles.

Finally, if there is one thing that makes me even prouder than I am of their newfound gaming independence; prouder than I am of their growing teamwork skills, it is this. Without having seen any of the movies or reading a single review, they knew instinctively that a character as annoying and pointless as Jar-Jar Binks would be the ideal practice dummy upon whom to hone their lightsaber skills.

*sigh* They grow up so fast.


If any of you vaguely recalls that I wrote something about LEGO Star Wars in the past, you're right. It was included in my 2005 Holiday Gift Guide.

"Hey! You just scratched my lightsaber with your LEGOs!"
"Hey! You just vaporized my LEGOs with your lightsaber!"

Like chocolate & peanut butter, this combination may sound strange to some, but for some reason, it just works...really, really well. This is a terrific game for kids, and is one of the few kid-friendly games for the Xbox. EDIT: To clarify that last sentence, there are plenty of kid-friendly games for the Xbox that also appear on the PS2 and GameCube, but the exclusives are few & far between.


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