Lego Star Wars was a surprise hit when it was released in 2005. The game seemed to fit squarely into the casual family game space, but built a cult following of "regular" gamers/Star Wars enthusiasts who really loved the action. So it's little wonder that LucasArts followed along with a sequel, Lego Star Wars II. And in just about every respect, this game is better. Surprisingly, Lego Star Wars II isn't the work of Aspyr Media, which brought the first game to the Mac. Instead, it was released by Feral Interactive.
The original Lego Star Wars borrowed scenes and characters from George Lucas' less-loved "prequel" trilogy tracing the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker and his reincarnation as Darth Vader. This game specifically focuses on what it calls "The Original Trilogy:" The events depicted in Star Wars: A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
As with the first game, what you're doing is playing a third-person action game using scenery and characters that look like they've been created in Lego blocks. Star Wars and Legos--this game tickles two centers of the geek brain simultaneously.
Gameplay itself is pretty straightforward platform-style action--you, assuming the role of the Star Wars characters you play, need to complete scenes from the movies. You'll go on a mission like trying to save the Rebel base on Hoth from the elephantine AT-AT walkers, using grappling hooks on the backs of snowspeeders just like Luke Skywalker did. Or you might find yourself in the tree villages of the Ewoks on the forest moon of Endor, readying troops to battle for control of the Imperial shield generator that protects the second Death Star while it's under construction. There are puzzles to solve and battles to win, but it's all pretty straightforward and approachable, and quite "linear," as they say in game reviews--meaning each level has a specific start point and end point that makes sense as you're traipsing through it. The game follows the original movie scripts closely: You'll have to destroy the Death Star, train with Yoda and fight Darth Vader, and then pilot the Millennium Falcon into the new Death Star, blast its reactor core and escape.
Because the game combines Legos and Star Wars, there's plenty of action, but there's little in the way of actual violence (unless you consider a Lego Chewbacca tearing the limbs off a Lego Stormtrooper to be violent). It's more funny, than anything.
You can have a friend join you in cooperative play, if you'd like--you can also replay levels in a "Free Play" mode once you've conquered them. Both of these add to the replay value, as does the tons of unlockable content you'll gain access to along the way--hours and hours of additional fun and challenges you'll get access to the more you play. As with the original game, you collect "studs" and can use them as currency to unlock content. You can also gain access to "Minikits" that will give you control of vehicles you can fly around the scenes you're in, too.
It's worth noting that while Lego Star Wars II is rich with the sound effects and cinematic soundtrack of the Star Wars movies, there's no actual movie dialogue--you're left to use your imagination about what the characters are saying, just as you would with "real" Legos. That's a carryover from the first game, and it's not a disappointment--the stories and cinematic cut scenes are very well represented and well animated. The one weakness is in camera control, which is lacking and often so far back from the action as to make it nondescript. One of these days Lego will get camera control right (its Bionicle game, also brought to the Mac by Feral, was similarly encumbered).
Feral deserves kudos for making sure Lego Star Wars II supports gamepads--I didn't try all of my gamepads, but my trusty Logitech model worked fine with this game once it was configured. That really adds to the game, and it makes this an extraordinarily easy transition from the console versions that have been around for a while. Therein, perhaps, is a criticism, albeit a mild one: If you have a console, you may very well have already played this game.
Lego Star Wars II excels as a family-friendly action game, but that's also a potential weakness, at least for experienced gamers who will find the action to be less than challenging. But you can't be all things to all people--Lego Star Wars is a lot of fun, especially for younger players and original Star Wars trilogy fans who maybe aren't as fast on the draw as they used to be.
Still not sold on it? Well, you'll be happy to know that Feral has prepped a demo that will give you a taste of the action--as long as a 400MB download doesn't scare you.
If you're a MacBook or Intel Mac mini owner, by the way, you're in luck--Feral says Lego Star Wars II works just fine with the integrated graphics offered by those machines.
The bottom line
As a family-friendly action game, Lego Star Wars II excels. Hardcore gamers might leave a little disappointed, however.