The LEGO series has been an ever-present for a number of years, covering a broad range of franchises. It seems that as long as an IP has scope for action, it can be a LEGO game, though the success rate can vary when TT Games struggles to turn the source material into exciting gameplay. This summer LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens joined the ranks, and it deserves credit for making the most of limited source material while also introducing some fresh ideas.
Though a hugely successful movie, plenty wondered whether its limited number of set pieces and action sequences would be enough for a retail LEGO release. In fairness, this game delivers with some clever workarounds. The core story campaign stretches out to over 10 levels, though a couple are stretching the film thin. In addition, though, there's an introductory stage to please fans of the older movies and a series of extra levels and challenges that can be tackled afterwards. The additional stages will give Star Wars fans some thrills, as they touch upon subplots and clarify some small aspects from the film. Pleasingly, these stages also benefit from following their own scripts, with the extra freedom enabling some interesting level design.
Some of the unlock requirements for extras are steep, it must be said, with plenty of 'Free Play' and repeated plays needed to rack up enough gold bricks to access all levels. Thankfully there are quickfire challenge missions that are also available for accumulating gold bricks, which can be found by running around in open areas based on the core planets and areas. It's well constructed for a typical playthrough - relive the film, and then do a mix of challenges, replay story stages and then new levels in order to build-up the completion percentage.
As for the gameplay, anyone that's played a LEGO game has a good idea of what to expect. Sizeable stages need to be navigated with a mix of jumping, puzzle solving and lots of primitive combat and block smashing. If you see LEGO bricks, you break them, and they're sometimes reconstructed to create new objects. The core controls are simplistic, which makes sense for a franchise aiming for accessibility, and it's a formula that's changed relatively little.
With that said, The Force Awakens does move things forward a little, adding welcome variety throughout a playthrough and broadening the scope for future LEGO games. One key change to puzzles comes from multiple build options with bricks - those that have an orange shine can be used on 2 or 3 different items. This can lead to puzzles where you construct switches or platforms in specific orders to traverse a tricky section, or a chosen build can be the difference between finding a special item or simply moving on to the next section.
There are bigger changes, too. This title makes confident use of cover-based gallery shooting sections, in which you pop out from cover to blast away at Stormtroopers. There are also a decent number of flying missions, in which you swoop around and blast away at Tie Fighters, base weak points or even through exciting chase sequences. Aside from a minor annoyance with the game forgetting our choice of inverted flight controls between play sessions, these made the Star Wars fanboy within this writer extremely happy.
As is typical with LEGO games, this one isn't best-in-class with any of these play styles - 3D action platforming, shooting, flying. Yet it's all competent, accessible and most importantly fun. That's the great gift of the LEGO series as a whole, in that it consistently delivers enjoyable gaming; this entry also adds improved variety and some of the better level design of recent LEGO times. Unlike some titles in the series over the years, The Force Awakens serves up levels with sensible and occasionally clever puzzles, clear and logical paths, and some praise-worthy twists and turns.
The sadness with all of this is that, ultimately, one of the best LEGO games in recent times is let down by technical shortcomings. Some are likely exclusive to Wii U in this current generation of hardware, notably the framerate. For the most part performance in single player is acceptable if not exceptional, and there are occasional scripted moments (when there's less strain on the hardware) where it runs rather well. There are bottlenecks where the game struggles, however, and playing in local co-op drags the framerate down further. If playing on Wii U our recommendation is the same as with other recent LEGO titles on the system - opt for single player.
That's disappointing, and there are some other aspects that lack polish. We encountered a few glitchy moments where characters briefly got stuck, or a peculiar section where the sound became oddly distorted for around 60-90 seconds. Some general sound levels are iffy, too - recorded lines lifted from the film aren't always loud enough, so we recommend turning subtitles on.
Those issues aside, there's still much to like in the presentation. There's the trademark LEGO humour, though it's dialled back a little, and the portrayal of areas from the film is - at times - impressive. The quality of the source material also helps with the soundtrack, with the iconic John Williams score - along with the newer music written for The Force Awakens - driving the action. For fans of the film and the broader Star Wars universe there's a lot to like.
LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens is certainly worth strong consideration for Wii U gamers. It's the most fun we've had with a LEGO game in quite some time, as a matter of fact - smart design, some gameplay variety and a surprisingly impressive amount of content all weigh heavily in its favour. It strikes us as a game that had one of the more experienced and imaginative TT Games teams at the helm, and it charmed and entertained us over a number of hours.
Though it's one of the most enjoyable LEGO games we've played recently, it loses a point or two from us simply due to performance issues on Wii U. It struggles to maintain a tolerable framerate in co-op, and even has some tough moments in single player. That's a pity, but we still recommend it overall. This one fails to fully complete its Jedi training on Wii U, ultimately, but it's still strong in the Force.