When LEGO Star Wars appeared last year, it was justifiably lauded as one of the surprises of 2005. Equipped with the kind of instant accessibility and gentle learning curve every young gamers' title requires, its tongue-in-cheek humour and knowing use of LEGO (still a favourite of every '80s child) meant its appeal stretched to adults. Yes, you could complete it in a solid afternoon of play if you were taller than three foot, and no, it was hardly complex or deep. There was something hugely appealing about seeing the Star Wars films reconstructed in LEGO however, and the sales suggested we weren't the only ones who felt that way - in 2005, only two games sold more copies.
If there was one bugbear we had with the whole thing, it was that LSW dealt with the slightly rubbishy modern Star Wars trilogy. But, conveniently enough for the intro to this preview, that's a complaint that'll be addressed this September, when Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy is set to launch on a plethora of platforms (since you asked, the PS2, Xbox, PC, PSP, Xbox 360, and even on some console called the GameCube. Meanwhile, handheld specialists Amaze Entertainment have been charged with getting versions for the GBA and Nintendo DS up and running).
Laid out over six chapters and taking in (amongst others) the Tantive IV, the Jundland Wastes, Hoth, Tatooine, Mos Eisley Spaceport and the Death Star itself, LSW II looks like being yet another well-considered lesson in how to handle movie tie-ins. It helps when you're dealing with such a beloved film property of course, though there's every sign that developer Traveller's Tales isn't shirking on its duty to create a worthy sequel to the first LSW. For a start, it looks like sticking religiously to the films. As in the movie, things kick off aboard the Rebel blockade runner, where Darth Vader and his stormtrooper cronies board the ship, leaving the player to guide Princess Leia and Captain Antilles to R2-D2, who'll help transport the stolen plans for the Death Star off the ship as little LEGO Rebel troopers try and hold back the waves of stormtroopers.
Over the next six chapters, commendably little from the films appears to have been chopped for the game - there's the chance to knock about Jawas and Womp Rats in the Jundland Wastes with old Ben Kenobi, some zipping around Mos Eisley to be done in Luke's Landspeeder, run-ins with Hans Solo and Chewbacca (who are also controllable), and then off to the Death Star via Tatooine to face off against hordes of TIE fighters and pop a proton torpedo or two into the the reactor core of the Death Star.
It's likely the new vehicles will enhance the experience somewhat as well, for whereas the original LSW contained only a handful of Star Wars vehicles, each sectioned off into their own on-rail levels, the vehicular aspect here is far more open and flexible. Now, players are free to jump into and out of vehicles (cutely, the "health" of a vehicle is represented by little metallic hearts, replacing the player's health hearts) and glide about the levels in their ride, while the rails that restricted vehicle movement in the first game have been entirely disposed of. Riding creatures is also possible in this follow-up, with Tatooine's Dewbacks and mammoth-esque Banthas on hand. We're told the former can even drop "little LEGO presents". Charming.
Meanwhile, key battles such as the Death Star trench run and the Battle of Hoth include vehicle-only gameplay, but have incorporated elements of the on-foot parts of the original - exploration, interactivity and free play. The minikit vehicles from the first game will be reappearing as well (in the first game, finding ten minikit pieces throughout a given level let you assemble the vehicle), only this time you'll be given the chance to actually ride them in dedicated bonus levels, rather than leaving them parked outside as you build them. Back on foot, things are a little more familiar, though some of the puzzles are looking as though they could be a little trickier, with multiple character swaps and much lever switching the order of the day.
There's a smattering of other new additions. The chance to chop and change body parts from the 50-strong cast (see above) may sound superfluous as new features go, but will no doubt appeal to the kids. New character-specific attacks (amusingly, Chewbacca can yank enemies' arms out of their sockets, and Vader will have his Force choke) and an optional difficulty mode that adapts to how well the player is doing sounds a bit more like it for us older gamers. And when you've exhausted the new trinkets on offer, there's always the two player co-op mode, a feature of the original that we loved every second of.
As in the first game though, one of the biggest joys offered by the title will surely be its comical take on the films. Even in this day and age of hugely expensive CGI sequences, we've rarely looked forward to cut-scenes quite so much as we did in LSW (even though they were wordless, an even more impressive achievement), and from the footage released so far of this sequel, the humour is still alive and well, with every nuance of every character, from C-3PO's slightly mincing, camp walk to Han Solo's arrogance, captured beautifully here. It's almost worth the price of admission alone. Come September, there'll probably be a few million other gamers who agree.