One of developer TT Games' biggest challenges with the LEGO franchise is keeping the series fresh. Since as far back as 2008, the developer has been releasing two or more LEGO titles a year, a feat made all the more impressive by the fact that hardcore gamers, parents and kids alike still continue to buy each and every one year after year.
With multiple games releasing annually, and with the basics of each game largely staying the same, the continued success of the licensed LEGO game franchise revolves around TT being able to introduce new ideas and concepts to a more-than-decade-old game formula. Sometimes, they succeed in that task. Other times, they don't. Sometimes, it's somewhere in between.
Where does LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens fall on that spectrum? Squarely in the "success" category. TT Games' retelling of the latest entry in the Star Wars saga isn't perfect, but in terms of variety, new gameplay concepts and pure fan service, it's one of the best LEGO games to have been released in ages.
Two new gameplay features are largely to thank for this. LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens introduces a system known as multi-build to the franchise, and after its inclusion here, it's hard to imagine playing future LEGO games without it.
In the simplest terms, it lets players build multiple objects out of the same pile of bricks. Use the bricks to build one device, use said device, then break it back down into bricks and build something else. In practice, it allows for a sense of exploration that has been sorely lacking from the series. Players can now choose to build a device necessary to advance the level or can build an optional device that might grant access to a hidden mini-kit or other red brick. It also opens the door on a number of new types of puzzles. Certain puzzles will require you to build objects in a certain order, while others focus on the speed at which you can build, destroy and then rebuild a device somewhere else.
It might not sound like all that much, but it's a much-needed breath of fresh air for the franchise that is used well throughout the game's campaign. Serving an entirely different purpose is the other major new feature: blaster battles. These segments are cover-based battles reminiscent of gunplay from Gears of War, as players move from cover to cover and pop their heads out to shoot enemies doing the same. Puzzles are often incorporated into these segments as well, as players must examine the environment to determine how to defeat a certain turret or get past a shield.
There is a blaster battle segment in nearly every mission, but they never overstay their welcome and feel right at home in the Star Wars universe. This also applies to the game's spaceship battles. While not exactly new for the LEGO Star Wars games, there's much-needed variety in these segments as well. Sometimes, the game will have players zooming through trenches and mountains, blasting away at enemies in an on-rail Star Fox-like segment, while other spaceship moments allow for players to freely roam a given area, battling it out with TIE Fighters. You can do barrel rolls and flip maneuvers, fire proton torpedoes, boost and more. It's more fleshed-out and entertaining than it has any right to be.
Adding to the entire package is the fact that, somehow, TT Games managed to round up nearly the entire film's main cast to record additional dialogue for the game, including from Harrison Ford. Better yet, the writing and new dialogue never feels all that out of place and is delivered with surprising sincerity and just the right amount of humor from all parties involved. It's almost worth the price of admission just to hear Harrison Ford utter the phrase "wookie cookies." The writing is genuinely funny at times, and it makes playing through even some of game's more boring levels rewarding.
That brings us to only real downside of LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens: it's stretched too thin. Most LEGO games adapt entire film trilogies. Such was the case with titles like the original LEGO Star Wars, and more recently, LEGO: Jurassic World. In contrast, LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens is, for the most part, only pulling from its namesake. The result is that more than a few levels go on for far too long or don't really feel like they should be levels in the first place.
To combat the lack of content to pull from, TT Games added a Battle of Endor prologue mission alongside a number of brand new levels it calls New Star Wars adventures, which are missions set after Return of the Jedi but prior to The Force Awakens. It's a good idea in theory, but the end result is that few of the six extra levels are interesting. Most revolve around Max Von Sydow's movie character Lor San Tekka, specifically how he received information about Luke's whereabouts and how he reached Jakku to meet up with Poe Dameron. It sounds way more interesting than it actually is. Players do get to (sort of) see how Han Solo and Chewie captured the dangerous Rathtars from the film, but the level is far too short and doesn't exactly offer much new information for lore-hungry fans.
While some of the game's levels fall flat, there is thankfully plenty to do and collect after completing each story mission. Various planets include free-play environments where players can run around to discover collectibles and accept different types of missions, and simply unlocking the game's huge cast of new and obscure Star Wars characters is fun for hardcore fans.
That's all to say that, overall, LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens isn't to be missed by Star Wars fans and LEGO game players alike. It's not perfect, but the sheer amount of great — the multi-build system, the blaster battles, the spaceship dogfights, the voice cast, the humor — more than makes up for it. The level of fan service on display is enough to make even the scruffiest nerf-herder smile, and it's just plain fun to boot. This may be LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but it feels like a new hope for the long-running franchise.