LEGO Star Wars III: Clone Wars is the latest in a series of games that make the unlikely mix between the famous toy and famous movies. The game itself follows the first two seasons of the Star Wars Clone Wars animated series on television (which I have to admit, to my chagrin, I have never watched. I am the world’s worst Star Wars fan). Find out whether the game is a brick-building success or a brick-breaking mess after the jump.

Anyone who claims not to have enjoyed playing with LEGO as a kid is either a the galaxy’s biggest liar, or had a seriously deprived childhood. When the first LEGO Star Wars game—which covered the first three episodes—appeared on the scene for Playstation2, there was much joy and elation at the way that developers Traveller’s Tales and Lucasarts had tackled the game. Not only was it faithfully to both the LEGO and Star Wars franchises, it had a whimsical humor of its own that endeared it to many of the fans. It was also an obsessive compulsive’s dream game.

The second LEGO Star Wars game covered the original three movies, but the same whimsy and delightful treatment was still there, as well as the same OCD approach to things. There have been other LEGO franchise games in the interim, and now there’s LEGO Star Wars III: Clone Wars (which I’m going to abbreviate to LSW3CW, because I’m not going to have much left in the way of fingers by the time I’m done typing the title out every time I need to mention it. Also, I’m terribly lazy.)

LSW3CW uses the Arena scene at the end of the second Star Wars movie as its launch point, after which you’re introduced to the game’s hub, the starship Resolute. This is where you find the game’s first massive improvement over the first two LEGO Star Wars games. The hub is simply massive, and not just in terms of size. The hub, in some cases, is actually more fun than the mission modes. Unlocking and exploring the hub, however, requires that you play the mission modes to gain the requisite gold LEGO bricks needed to open the hub. The hub itself is where you can not only start missions, but unlock new characters, unlock star ships and vehicles, and play a couple of extra minigames.

One of the first things you’ll notice, if you’ve played any of the other LEGO franchise games, is that the graphics have been polished up quite a bit; the lighting is more dynamic, the feeling of depth is much greater, and the number of objects on the screen at the same time is simply astounding. The same humor from the previous games shows through in many of the character animations and cut scenes. The sheer attention to detail is definitely praiseworthy. It’s fun to watch these LEGO-fied versions of the Star Wars characters wandering around doing their own thing. Even the most deadly monster is rendered into sheer, unrelenting cute. Not sickening cute, certainly. For that, they’d need to create a LEGO My Little Pony game, and there are lines that I draw at what I play.

The core of the game is the Story Mode missions. To start a mission, you need to stand in front of one of the consoles dotted around the hub world, and activate it. This console not only allows you access to the missions, but other game modes and characters (as you manage to unlock these modes and characters). The missions themselves are broken down into three storylines, one each for Count Dooku, General Grievous, and Asajj Ventress. When you play through a mission for the first time, you have to play with the characters assigned to you. The obvious point here is enforcing the replay of levels through denying access of portions of the levels to certain characters. For example, some doors can only be opened by droid characters. Finishing the level in story mode unlocks the Free-play mode for that level. When you come back to a level in Free-play, you can select any of the unlocked characters to play the level with. The game automatically assigns seven other hot-swappable characters for you to make your way through puzzles.

One of my biggest complaints in this game is that sometimes it is not clearly evident what you need to do to proceed. You could chalk it down to the puzzle process, I suppose, but you never quite know. That aside, the rest of the game is amazing fun, and it’s much better fun playing local co-op. The great thing about co-op is that the screen splits dynamically as the other players wanders off to their own thing, and each player can explore the levels independently. The only really big pity is that co-op is local only, and not online.

The other issue I have is a matter of control. When using the force to move things around, it’s difficult to move objects in three dimensions with a two dimensional analog stick, and when a particular puzzle requires that you move a specific piece of LEGO to very specific place, this imprecision can get a little frustrating. Controlling a starfighter involves the same problem of moving in 3D space with a 2D control system. It’s not a game-breaking problem, thankfully, but still heavily on the annoying side.

One of the best innovations to the LEGO Star Wars series is the addition of a new quasi real-time strategy mode, in this case called Ground Battle. This mode sees you and your opponent taking to the field and building and taking over bases. An element of strategy comes into play here, because most structures come in three flavors: normal, silver, and gold. The silver and gold structures require that you build or summon special weapons or vehicles to destroy them. It is great fun, and possibly one of the best things about this game. If you do not want to go up against the AI, you can battle against a second player in Arcade Mode. On the other hand, if you enjoy Ground Battle that much, you can play specific challenges as well, with specific timed objectives.

The last bit of criticism I have to level at the game is that, after you’ve finished the main campaign, finishing the game to 100% can become somewhat of a grind around  the 80% mark (the main campaign, incidentally, will take you up to around 35% completion; gold bricks, minikits, vehicles, and characters all count towards full completion). There is just so much to collect (minikits from the free-play levels, gold bricks from just about everywhere, red bricks that allow cheats, bonus bounty hunter missions, etc. The list goes on!) that getting to 100% will take you quite some time—at least as long as you’ve spent playing the core missions, if not far longer.

Yes, there is a lot of longevity here, but the lack of online play and online ground battle rankings shortens this lifespan drastically. Make no mistake, this game is a lot of fun, and many of the problems from the previous games have been fixed, lending to its enjoyment factor.The exploration and puzzles in the game make for some compelling playing as well, and there are an extraordinary number of secrets to uncover. The fact that this game is also mostly child-friendly is a big plus, too. If you’re looking for something fun to play for a few weeks, and you enjoy Star Wars or LEGO (or both!), then I recommend this game.

Score: 7.5/10 (points lost for lack of online play, control issues, and forced replayability)