For a start, where in the first game exploding and rearranging Lego blocks into different objects was mainly the province of the Jedi characters, here others get a chance, piecing together loose piles of blocks into different configurations, making this a bigger part of the game. Better still, the character-switching dynamic of the original is back, and more central to the gameplay this time around. As before, different Star Wars heroes have different skills. Obi Wan and, later, Luke, can use Jedi powers to move certain objects, while blaster-packing characters like Han and Leia get a grappling hook which, used at specific points, can help them reach new areas of the level. R2D2 and C3PO, meanwhile, are the only ones who can open certain doors, but face restrictions on their movement (particularly in the case of a certain slightly camp gold robot). For much of the game, switching characters and mixing and matching abilities is the only way to go.
And that’s not all. Lego Star Wars II goes big on block-shifting puzzles, and on puzzles that rely on operating cranes and vehicles, It even has a neat hat-swapping device in several levels, placing a helmet on Han or Luke’s head so they can pose as a stormtrooper and fool security (though noticeably Leia won’t do likewise – she must be precious about her hair).The best thing is that, the more the game goes on, the more it starts to layer these puzzles one on another, so that completing a particular section might involve a mix of Jedi powers, cheap disguises, and moving droids from place to place using cranes. It’s not so much a case of recognising what you have to do, as working out in what order to do it. Even the game’s few boss battles benefit, with Luke and R2 teaming up to give Luke’s dear old dad a shock so that sonny-boy can get some payback for all those missed child-support cheques.
The vehicles themselves are particularly cool. Stomping through Mos Eisley in an AT-ST is one of the early highlights of the game, and if there’s a more surreal sight than Yoda driving a tractor in any game this year, I really will be very surprised indeed.
Of course, while Lego Star Wars II is mainly a case of building on the original’s strengths, it also attempts to sort out what deficiencies there were. Perhaps the biggest failing of Lego Star Wars was a relatively short lifespan, only slightly extended by the lure of numerous unlockable characters and the chance to revisit earlier levels and pick up bonus collectibles. Here, you’re given more reason to keep coming back, with each level sporting secret areas that can only be opened by a bounty hunter or a stormtrooper, plus objects that can only be moved by those wielding the good or the dark side of the force. The levels themselves are longer, and as each chapter has two additional bonus missions to be locked, the overall tally raises from eighteen to twenty-four. This time, it won’t be over in a single weekend.