Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a cultural juggernaut, but it isn't without its detractors. It may be a rollicking adventure, many say, but a lot of it feels like a retread. Characters, locations, and story beats echoed those of the very first Star Wars film, with even the movie's creators acknowledging that there were many (deliberate) similarities between the two.
Much the same can be said about Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens. As the newest entry in the long-running Lego series, there's more than a touch of the familiar about this game. It's gameplay, puzzles, and basic structure are all well worn, and even some of that trademark goofy Lego humor is starting to feel a little predictable. No surprises doesn't necessarily mean no fun, however. This game isn't a mold-breaker in the same way the superior Lego Dimensions was, but it delivers on its core promise of being an engaging, fun, and charming title that's imminently suitable for families. It's also goofy enough for adult fans of Star Wars to get a few giggles out of.
Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens follows the plot of the movie closely, allowing you to play through many memorable sections from the film like the desert planet of Jakku, the lush forests of Takodana, the ground (and the skies) of Starkiller Base, and more. You can play as dozens of different characters from this movie and other Star Wars films, but for the bulk of your first run through of the game's story mode, you'll be in charge of key characters from The Force Awakens such as Rey, Finn, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Poe Dameron, and BB-8.
Befitting a title aimed at young children, character controls are simple, and with unlimited lives and immediate respawns, there's no real penalty for death. As is standard with the Lego games, many characters have unique abilities which are used to solve puzzles or access specific areas. Rey, for example, can use her staff as a lever to activate some switches, while Chewbacca is armed with explosives that can destroy certain structures.
None of it is too challenging; the game specifically tells you which characters to use to overcome obstacles, and even the more obtuse puzzles usually just involve finding the right object in the world to destroy in order to "build" a new Lego structure. But the fun--as in previous Lego games--is in the way you'll have to swap between multiple characters to achieve objectives, such as using BB-8 to maneuver a winch whilst regularly swapping out to Finn to build the rails for the winch to run on. Lego games are built for co-op enjoyment, and The Force Awakens is no different. The puzzles are just hard enough that younger players will require adult assistance to solve, making it an ideal game for some outstanding kid/grown-up game sessions.
There’s also a new mechanic added to puzzle-solving--the ability to "choose" which Lego structures to build (and the order in which to build them) to solve some puzzles--which adds little to the overall experience. Despite the potential for interesting solutions or a greater variety of outcomes, this new mechanic usually just results in different animations that lead to the same conclusion. It's window dressing and adds rather little to the Lego formula.
Combat is the weaker half of Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Most enemies in the game can be defeated through simple button-mashing, save for a few bosses that require some loosely timed quick time events to vanquish. There is one new addition to battles here: in some levels, characters can duck behind cover and shoot at enemies (like a Lego version of Gears of War). But the game's concessions to a younger audience make this addition challenge-free. Hitting the left trigger automatically targets an enemy, so there's never any need to actually aim.
That formula may be well traveled by now, but it's still a pleasant one to experience, even though a lot of your enjoyment will depend on your affinity for the Star Wars universe (and The Force Awakens in particular). "Charm" is a word oft-used to describe the Lego series, and it's still appropriate here. Simple though they might be, I still found delight in many of Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens' levels. It was exciting flying Poe Dameron's X-Wing above the lakes of Takodana and over Starkiller Base's thermal oscillator, dogfighting against waves of TIE fighters amidst chatter from my fellow pilots. I also loved controlling both Rey and the stormtrooper she Force-controlled in the movie to escape her imprisonment from the First Order.
And while the goofiness in which the Lego games approach their source material has now become somewhat rote, it still elicited several laughs from me. It was funny to hear some ambient chatter from two stormtroopers about one of them achieving a 3 out of 10 ranking in a recent target practice session (a new record, apparently), and I laughed out loud when Kylo Ren, during that pivotal scene in the snowy forest, bemoans not simply walking over and picking up that fallen lightsaber. Trying to use the Force, he says, was just "cooler." And I swear there was a gag directly referencing a "secret" cameo within the film (that is, a cinematic spy who played a stormtrooper in The Force Awakens). It's little asides like this that make the game enjoyable for grown-up gamers despite the simplicity of play.
There are even several extra levels that expand on the events from the film, including a pre-film timeline rescue of Admiral Ackbar from the First Order's clutches and another detailing exactly how Han Solo and Chewie secured those Rathtars in the first place. For Star Wars fans, these are exciting (and apparently canonical) additions, and it's given more authenticity by the inclusion of nearly the entire cast of The Force Awakens, who recorded new lines of dialogue for the game. It's wonderful if you're a Star Wars completionist, but it's also annoying as these new, non-film levels are hard to access. They're locked away until you earn the requisite number of gold bricks within the game, so you're going to need to play a lot of Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens to experience them all.
Playing a lot of Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens won't be a chore, though, especially if you do have a younger partner to take with you on your galactic journey. These Lego games are confectionaries now, little candies that don't have a huge amount of substance but are enjoyable nonetheless. Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens doesn't really take you to a new galaxy far, far away, but it's still a pleasant journey.