Use the Force
Has there ever been a movie-based video game line as successful as the one stemming from the Star Wars flicks? Probably not. Since the mid-’90s, LucasArts has placed everything from space combat to 2-D platforming to first-person shooting to third-person action to racing in the films’ universe. Surprisingly often, they’ve hit the mark.
As such, the animated Clone Wars TV and movie series, with its new stories and unique art style, promises to inspire some great new interactive entertainment. Last year, it gave Nintendo’s handheld a good helping of fun: Cheat Code Central gave The Clone Wars: Jedi Alliance a solid 3.8, citing terrific production values, a fascinating story, and respectable gameplay. This year’s follow-up, The Clone Wars: Republic Heroes, adds some interesting new ideas, but unfortunately the developers failed to pull all the elements together into a truly engrossing experience. This is a decent buy, but not really a recommended one.
The game takes place during the clone wars (duh), in which some separatist star systems secede from the Galactic Republic. Despite a plethora of cutscenes and dialogue snippets, however, this game doesn’t try too hard to add to the story. Most of the “story” elements go like this: you’re with the good guys, those are the bad guys, you have to kill them, here’s your current mission. Usually that would be enough for a video game, but Star Wars junkies will be a little disappointed.
When it comes to gameplay, the most important new development is that you’ll be controlling two completely different characters, a Jedi and a clone soldier, and will switch between them frequently. You’ll have to coordinate the characters’ movements not so much in the military sense (there’s no real emphasis on flanking, stealth, or simultaneous movements), but more in the sense of keeping both paths clear and solving two-person puzzles.
The Jedi is the fast, offense-oriented character. He controls pretty much the same way the protagonist in the previous game did. You walk using the stylus, tap enemies to attack them (you can tap multiple enemies in quick succession to pull of combos), and can deflect gunshots with your lightsaber by tapping the Jedi with the right timing. It’s hard to tell why you can’t just use the D-pad and buttons for all this, especially when you’re having trouble maneuvering in tight quarters, but overall it works well enough.
The clone soldier is a different animal, preferring to take his time and pick off enemies at opportune moments. His weapon is a firearm, which he shoots whenever you tap an enemy. You can take cover by walking near object in the environment, a system that usually works (sometimes you take cover when you’re not trying to, and sometimes you can stand right behind an object without your soldier ducking down). The clone soldier sections feel a bit like Gears of War, albeit small and without the over-the-shoulder view. In our opinion, they’re a much better use of stylus control. They’re also a great addition to the gameplay, and add some variety, whatever their flaws.
Speaking of variety, there are several mini-games that spice up the experience. Some of the more powerful enemies and obstacles require you to complete quick-time events (such as tracing an arrow in the correct direction, or touching numbers from lowest to highest). Also, there are platforming puzzles, which you complete by tapping the platforms you’d like to jump to. These are some of the toughest parts of the game, especially for those with long reaction times, but the challenge rarely detracts too much from the experience. When you die, you almost always start reasonably close to where you left off, so it’s just a matter of giving the part that gave you trouble another go. Even if you give up and turn off the console, you’ll usually be within five or ten minutes of where you left off when you start again from the save point.
The main problem is that despite this nice blend of puzzle-solving, combat, and mini-games, the game starts to feel somewhat boring after a while. The puzzles are rarely challenging or inventive, tending as they do toward the “stand on the switch, then use the other character to handle whatever the switch activated, repeat” style of design. They keep you occupied, add hours to the game, and break up the combat, but that’s about it.
As for the combat, it never really draws you in either, and thus starts to feel repetitive in a hurry – thanks in part to the DS’s small screen (which couldn’t have been helped), but also to the far-away camera views and weak sound effects (which could have been). The cover system gives the clone sections a touch of strategy, though better level design could have taken fuller advantage of this new feature. The Jedi sections, lacking even that, quickly devolve into you jabbing your screen frantically while your enemies shoot away.
Presentation-wise, things are pretty much the way they were last time around. The music has that ineffable Star Wars feel, and the environments are great for the DS, recreating the Star Wars universe with a good deal of detail. There are no noticeable hiccups in the way the game runs, and our only real complaint is that the camera doesn’t help any; we’ve already mentioned how far away from the action it usually stays, but also, the angles at which it shoots can make the levels seem needlessly cramped.
This game does reward replay, and you can try stages you’ve beaten again at will, but it’s doubtful many players will feel like going through the sections more than once. There are hidden items scattered through the stages. Killing enemies quickly and with combos increases your score multiplier, so you can always try to improve your numbers.
When all is said and done, you should try The Clone Wars: Jedi Alliance before giving this game a shot. Even if you like the earlier game, you might want to either rent this one first or wait for it to come down in price. The innovations here, particularly the cover system, open up a world of possibility, but it doesn’t seem like the developers were up to exploring too much of that world.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.4 Graphics
The environments look very good for the DS. 3.3 Control
The stylus controls, especially regarding cover, can be a little wonky, but they usually work. 3.2 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music is great, but the sound effects are weak. 2.8
The game rewards replay, but it gets boring before the first time is done.
3.3 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.