Star Wars The Clone Wars - Lightsaber Duels!

December 1, 2008

Since the launch of the Wii, legions of wannabe-Jedi, driven by their delusions of grandeur, have had visions of a game that captured the true essence of wielding a lightsaber. After over two years of rumors and speculation, LucasArts finally unleashes Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Lightsaber Duels for the Wii, a traditional fighting game utilizing the popular laser swords. Is the force strong with this one, or does it belong at the bottom of an imperial trash compactor?

Lightsaber Duels is set during the events of the recent animated feature film, The Clone Wars, which chronicled the continuing struggle between the Separatist army and the Republic. At the heart of this tale lies Count Dooku, who has devised a sinister scheme to frame the Jedi for the kidnapping of Jabba the Hut’s son, Rotta. As Jedi Knights Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker, as well as Anakin’s new padawan Ahsoka Tano, players will take down the deadly villains of the Separatist army.

Many times fighting games attempt to have a deep, meaningful story, ultimately compromising the quality of the title. Thankfully, Lightsaber Duels never self-indulges, merely using rather short cutscenes to set up each new battle with a little bit of narrative. During the actual battles, characters have on-screen interaction in the form of chatty, but relevant, dialogue. Otherwise, there’s very little actual story, but the narrative present only enhances the experience rather than detracting from it.

Lightsaber Duels is a fighting game and not an action adventure. The game features both single and multiplayer modes, but nothing on par with The Force Unleashed. Instead, players will engage in a series of one-on-one battles with some of the fiercest villains in the galaxy.

Single-player has several modes; campaign, challenge, battle, free play, and quick play. The bulk of the time will be spent in campaign mode, which serves as the primary story mode for the game. Challenge mode allows players to take on various opponents who must be defeated while meeting certain conditions in battle, and battle mode is an endurance match where players must defeat a series of opponents in a row without losing. Free play allows players to select any opponent and stage to practice, while quick play arranges a matchup randomly.

Though there’s some variety, the overall experience can get redundant. The campaign mode can be blazed through in an hour, but there’s tons of extras to unlock by playing through the game’s other difficulty settings, as well as the challenge and battle modes. New characters, stages, outfits, concept art, and a movie gallery are all attainable for the dedicated.

The multiplayer options also increase the replay value, allowing gamers to go head-to-head with some of their favorite Jedi masters, Sith lords, and battle droids. Just like in single-player, multiplayer features traditional free play and quick play. The quick play option is rather pointless and more like an artificial attempt to bulk up the game’s content. Another major downer is the lack of any online play. At this point there’s no excuse for not including it in a Wii game.

There’s enough content to keep gamers occupied for hours, but there’s easily room for improvement.

As if the cartoon look wasn’t a dead giveaway, Lightsaber Duels was made for less-skilled players and kids. There’s hardly any challenge to it at all. The grand master difficulty puts up a little resistance, but we almost never lost on the lower difficulty settings. Ironically, one of the more challenging elements is the menu navigation, which is needlessly frustrating.

The name of the game is Lightsaber Duels, and as expected, this fighting game is all about sword-based combat. Lightsaber attacks are accomplished by swinging the Wii remote in various directions, while dodging and parrying are done with standard button inputs. Characters can also utilize the force to execute devastating attacks or hurl objects at helpless combatants. These moves drain the player’s force meter, though it can be replenished quickly with a few landed strikes.

The controls aren’t too complex, requiring players to memorize only a few combos per character, but due to some sensitivity issues with the Wii remote, combos can be difficult to pull off without a steady hand. Sometimes it pays to just waggle mindlessly, while at other times more refined input prevailed when we could pull it off. After playing a few matches, though, your arm will get tired.

In the thick of combat, it’s hard to determine if your force meter has enough in it to execute a force attack. The fighting styles aren’t varied enough, as there’s basically the Jedi and Sith characters which utilize force powers, and then the droid characters that have more brute strength, but lack force power altogether. The various battle arenas also come into play, with destructible objects that can be hurled and various characters and vehicles that can attack without warning.

The most noteworthy flaw with Lightsaber Duels is the fact that it never truly feels like you’re wielding a lightsaber. In fact, the lightsaber sequences in the Star Wars Trilogy arcade game felt more authentic and intense, and those utilized a joystick. This is a game that would have benefited from waiting for the MotionPlus controller add-on. As it is, you might as well be pressing buttons to initiate attacks instead of swinging your arm. At least the controls would then be responsive and accurate.

Despite these issues, Lightsaber Duels can be an enjoyable fighting experience with enough patience and practice. But it’s another one of those Wii games that really doesn’t benefit from motion control.

For a Wii game, the visuals are well done. Character animation is fluid, special effects really shine, and there’s a lot of attention to detail. Almost every stage has a lot going on in the background, and some feature dynamic situations such as the Rancor breaking lose or the Sarlacc wreaking havoc. Some of the character models could have used a bit more work, and the overall selection of characters and environments isn’t as varied as other fighting games, but it has a nice look.

There’s extensive voice work used throughout the game with mixed results. One nice touch is when you fight the same character the dialogue is consistent with the situation, resulting in some candid moments. Narration during the cutscenes is done in the style of wartime newsreels, which come off as a bit cheesy. Many of the sounds effects are great, including the buzzing of the lightsaber coming from the Wii remote’s speaker. Several classic tunes are used, as well as updated remixes--giving the soundtrack a fresh feel.

Lightsaber Duels is an average fighter with solid visuals, but it doesn’t deliver on its most important element. There’s plenty of fan service, and swinging the Wii remote around can be fun at times, but the payoff just simply isn’t enough. This one’s still a padawan in training.