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rare female film critic | by maryann johanson

Wii of the weekend: ‘Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga’

I wish I could say that I’ve been spending all this extended holiday weekend doing nothing but playing with my new Wii, but alas, it wasn’t until late last night that I finally had the first chance all week to turn on the console. And then I was up looong into the wee hours playing Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga, which is so ridiculously entertaining that it should be outlawed as a narcotic.

I apologize to the Lego people for ever doubting the appeal of the Lego video games. I had to play one of them to understand how hilariously, wonderfully goofy it is to see those blocky little people running around wreaking destruction on plastic blocks in order to collect silver and gold studs. Oh, and building stuff out of piles of bricks in order to see what happens? Brilliant!

As someone who is not a devoted gamer, one of the things that I often find frustrating when I do play is the constant game-overing. I appreciate that serious gamers enjoy the rewards that come with putting a lot of time and effort into a game, but I love that Lego Star Wars doesn’t require that I turn my life over to it nonstop. (This is a real beauty of the Wii: it has moved casual gaming beyond Bejeweled.) If it’s possible to game-over here, I haven’t found it… and believe me, I’m barely even a Padawan Jedi, so I keep getting shot by battle droids and walking over cliff faces. And I just pop back up again! No need to go back to the beginning of the game, or the level, or anything. (Yeah, I lose a few studs, but that’s fine. I can just go back to Mos Eisley and collect more!)
I’ve yet to reach True Jedi status, as you may imagine. But I was quite proud of myself for, last night, completing the initial story levels of The Phantom Menace. I know I missed tons of cool stuff on each level, and not just the stuff I’m supposed to miss because it’s deliberately inaccessible until I go back for “free play” later… but I don’t care. I love the multiple ways you can replay each level, and I love that it lends a sense that almost endless exploration is possible. Other games have sometimes left me feeling annoyed with their linearity — if I want to go back and explore more, I have no choice but to just play the level or the whole game again. I feel like I’m in charge with this game, that I can play the ways that give me the most pleasure, and that I’m not at the mercy of a preconceived notion of the way I’m “supposed” to be playing.

I realize that that may merely be a symptom of my lack of experience with new games: maybe lots of today’s games, and not just those for the Wii, are like that. But if that’s true, I had no sense of that. Nothing in the way that games are marketed to the general public made me understand that there are action games (as opposed to games like SimCity that are more unstructured) that let me explore like this. And that goes for the Lego games, too: I assumed this would be like first-person shooter with Lego characters instead of more realistic-looking ones. I would guess that people who read magazines and Web sites geared to gamers probably understood how gaming has changed, but it seems to me that a game like Lego Star Wars could be appealing to those who aren’t already keyed into the gaming subculture.

I wish this hadn’t been kept a secret from me for so long. It’s not fair that this kind of enormous fun has been denied me till now.

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