It seems the Lucas juggernaut never sleeps, as the Star Wars universe continues to expand at an exponential rate. The sheer amount of content and merchandise related to the Star Wars franchise is as vast as the galaxy in which this space opera takes place. We now explore Clone Wars: Jedi Alliance for DS, and it’s a rare adventure that should leave fans of this epic saga quite satisfied.
Jedi Alliance is based on the recent Clone Wars movie and TV series, and it tells of events that occurred between Episodes II and III of the main Star Wars canon. In this adventure, you’ll play as various members of the Jedi Council (as well as a padiwan or two). Someone is collecting lightsaber crystals for use in harnessing the great powers of The Force. Dooku and the Separatists have formed an alliance with a group of Sith-like witches known as the Nightsisters, and it’s up to the powers of the Light Side to investigate the matter and bring balance back to The Force.
One thing you can count on here is that LucasArts has constructed an interesting tale with entertaining dialogue that should satiate fans of the franchise. Jedi Alliance is a well-formed and polished product, and though it doesn’t impress greatly on any particular gameplay level, it still promises to immerse players in an epic struggle of Light and Dark. Cutscenes are done in real-time, using Alliance’s in-game engine, and the scenes meld seamlessly with gameplay to make for a cinematic experience unrivaled on DS.
Jedi Alliance is likely best described as an adventure game, though there are plenty of action elements as well. The game is comprised of nine chapters, and you’ll be given the opportunity to choose from six different Jedi (including Anakin Skywalker, Obi Wan Kenobi, and Mace Windu) to play as during missions. You’ll always travel in pairs, and the game does a wonderful job of carving out a unique presentation based on the partners you choose. The characters all play essentially the same – with some slight variations in each character’s ability to form combos during lightsaber duels – but the mixing and matching of Jedi definitely adds real replay value to the package.
Chapters offer a colorful variety of gameplay elements, including combat, puzzle solving, and context-sensitive micro-games. Combat takes a backseat to other more adventure-like gameplay, though little exploration is required and puzzles are quite basic. However, considering Clone Wars is likely aimed at younger Star Wars fans, the game’s difficulty and level progression are well balanced.
You move your character with the stylus, and motion is very fluid. Combat is initiated somewhat automatically. When enemies are present, your characters will ready themselves for battle, and you’ll then be able to move faster around environments, as well as Force-jump quickly to enemy locations by simply tapping on them. When close to an enemy, you then tap them to enter full-on combat. Lightsaber duels consist of little more than fast-tapping on the enemy, but chaining together low, mid, and high-level attacks allows you to execute simple yet satisfying combos. A multiplier also builds as you fight, and if you continue to stay within the fray before the multiplier drops, you’ll do additional damage to enemies.
There are crates and other environmental objects scattered throughout levels, and by sidling up to them and tapping, you can use your lightsaber to bust them open for various goodies or health crystals (which fully restore your character’s health bar). Other interactive elements, such as doors and puzzles, are engaged in the same way, and your character can jump by tapping on jump pads that appear in various places throughout the game. The only buttons ever used are the shoulder buttons (either one does the same thing), which allow you to use The Force. When you press on the shoulder button, if there’s an object in your vicinity that can be manipulated with The Force, it will glow, and by simply tapping on it, your character will interact with the object.
Additionally, at key points throughout chapters, you’ll engage in a few Elite Beat Agents-type micro-games. They consist merely of sliding your stylus from one end of a marker to the other before the marker’s outline becomes fully red. Usually, these context-sensitive micro-games can be sensed because of various cinematic cues, but the lack of audio feedback makes these little bits of gameplay feel somewhat hollow. There’s usually only a small handful of markers chained together to make up an event that lasts little more than 30 seconds, but often they’re preceded by a cutscene that cannot be skipped. If you fail the micro-game, you have to sit through the cutscene again; if you fail multiple times, well, it can get frustrating.
Other issues we had with the game have to do with input recognition. Often we’d find ourselves tapping on jump pads multiple times, yet our character wouldn’t respond fast enough. Additionally, one technique that allows you to deflect laser blasts by tapping on your character at the point of contact never seemed to work with any level of consistency. However, these weren’t huge issues, as the game is more about immersing you with its cinematic pacing than fast action.
Also worth mentioning is the handful of mini-games that play into the story. When playing as R2D2, for instance, you’ll have to activate various mechanisms by stopping gears in timed sequences. Another mini-game requires you to break through blast doors by tracing your lightsaber (stylus) accurately along an outline on the touch screen. There are a few other touch-centric mini-games as well, and though they make repeated appearances throughout the game, they increase in difficulty and work well within the context of the story.
The crown jewel of Jedi Alliance, however, is its presentation. In the graphics department, Clone Wars on DS has few rivals. There are things this game does with the system that simply do not fail to impress. Real-time lighting and shadows, fluid and expressive character models, and an incredible level of detail put Jedi Alliance in a league all its own. The framerate is solid, and there is a healthy variety of environments, in spite of the game being extremely short. The cinematic camera works surprisingly well, lending an epic quality to the overall experience, but characters sometimes move a bit too far from view.
The game’s aural elements are also quite impressive, offering a host of themes new to the Star Wars repertoire. The voice work is top-notch, sounds are used to great effect, and musical cadences lend power and emotion to key events in the game’s story. We do have a couple of minor criticisms, however. One, the music occasionally sounds a bit distorted, and though you’ll likely only notice it during more climatic, action-packed portions of the game, it still manages to add a few rough edges to what is otherwise a pristine production. The other issue has to do with musical themes occasionally fading in and out somewhat abruptly. No matter, the game’s presentation still comes together with surprising power, and the story is very well-paced.
The Clone Wars: Jedi Alliance is an impressive feat on DS, and it’s also an entertaining, often thrilling adventure. Though the gameplay has a few minor issues and it doesn’t tread any new ground, the presentation ties everything together to make for an experience that shouldn’t be missed by fans of this seminal, science-fiction franchise. There’s no denying it’s an incredibly short adventure, but the ability to mix and match Jedi, as well as the myriad challenges contained within each mission, offer real replay value. Additionally, there are a ton of unlockables, including cheats, costumes, pictures, and 3D character models.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.8 Graphics
Some truly impressive visuals on DS. Clone Wars defines the term: “pushing the hardware to its limits.” 3.8 Control
Though we’d prefer a bit more freedom and agility with the playable characters, LucasArts Singapore has mostly nailed the adventure feel they seem to have been going for. Some issues with input recognition hamper the experience. 4.1 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Some wonderful, new additions to the hallmark Star Wars musical library. Sound effects work great. Some discernable distortion and abrupt musical fades at various points throughout the adventure leave a slight blemish on the presentation. The lack of aural feedback during context-sensitive events is regrettable. 3.7
Yes, it’s short; no, the gameplay isn’t mind-blowing. But Jedi Alliance manages, through its presentation and production values, to put you right there in the Star Wars universe, if only for a very brief time.
3.8 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.