LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy is the first Xbox 360 title I?ve seen since Kameo: Elements of Power (see my review) that is equally fun for kids and adults alike. My son and I recently got hooked on the original LEGO Star Wars title?which focused on the events of STAR WARS Episodes I through III--during a three week trip to France in August, when we stayed at a home that had an Xbox. Now, the sequel to that hugely entertaining title is out for both the Xbox 360 and Windows PCs. And it provides the same puzzle-solving, humor, and action-adventure as the original. Suffice to say, it's our new favorite game.

If you're not familiar with LEGO Star Wars, it's essentially a humorous walk through the Star Wars movies, but with LEGOs. Sure, that sounds silly, and it is. But the LEGO-based characters, sets, ships, and other objects in these games provide a surprisingly credible rendition of the movie originals, all without any spoken words at all. In LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy, you progress through the events of George Lucas' original Star Wars films--Episodes IV through VI for purists. Knowing the movies inside and out is a plus, and almost required. There were a number of sequences where my son got stuck but I was able to help out solely because of my ingrained Star Wars knowledge.

For the most part, LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy is identical on the Xbox 360 and Windows PCs. The only real differences involve PC-specific issues like using the keyboard and mouse instead of the Xbox 360's controller.

Plot

As mentioned above, LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy follows the events of the original Star Wars movies. Your objective, of course, is to defeat the evil Galactic Empire, run by the Emperor and his evil minion Darth Vader. The game, like the original movie trilogy, is split into three parts, each of which follows the plot of a particular movie.

During the game, the plot is advanced with numerous video shorts that tie individual action set pieces together. Because there is no voice-over work, the character movements and reactions are usually exaggerated to great comic effect. Even if you're not intimately familiar with the movies--and really, who isn't?--these video bits serve to bring you up to speed. Each part is split into various game play segments, each of which gets its own opening scrawl, just like a Star Wars movie.

Game play

LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy is an absolutely magical combination of action and puzzle solving, and its great fun regardless of your age, though younger kids might find a few of the puzzles a bit confusing. What's unique about this title is that it's really a two-player game at heart. While it's possible, barely, to play the game by yourself, it's much more fun to play in two-player cooperative mode, with each player playing an onscreen character simultaneously. Given that many of the puzzles require two actions to happen simultaneously, or near-simultaneously--this cooperative mode is definitely the way to go if you can swing it.

During the game, you'll play various good characters, like Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, Lando Calrissian, R2-D2, and C-3PO, as well as pilot numerous ship types, including X-Wing and Y-Wing fighters and snow speeders. Depending on your character's type--Jedi, rebel, droid, and so on--you'll get different behaviors and actions. Most characters--rebels, pre-Jedi Luke, and the like, have a blaster that can be used to dispatch enemies, and we've found this to be the most effective weapon. Jedi knights, like Luke and Ben, wield a lightsaber that's quite fun to use, but less efficient than the blaster. Fortunately, Jedi make up for the weakness of the saber with useful Jedi skills that help you life and move objects around. Droids are needed to open certain doors and, of course, R2 can fly a bit.

What makes LEGO Star Wars II fun is the perfect blend of puzzles and action sequences. You spend a lot of time fighting enemies, of course, but to get past certain rooms, traps, and other obstacles, you'll need to solve a series of LEGO building tasks and puzzles to get a door open or whatever. As the game progresses and gets harder, you'll be attacked by waves of enemies during this process and will need to switch between various characters (In a typical level, there will be four good characters onscreen, and you and your co-player can control any two of them, switching as needed). Some puzzle pieces require droids, bounty hunters, or stormtroopers, the latter two of which can be tricked by handy bounty hunter and stormtrooper helmet dispensers.

And in case you're worried about violence, remember we're talking about LEGOs here. No one ever dies in this game; instead, if any good character reaches the end of their life force--as denoted by four hearts--they'll explode in a shower of LEGO bits and come right back to life. At best, "death" is simply a minor and very temporary inconvenience.

The sequences in which you're flying a ship instead of controlling a freestanding character offer a welcome change. Besides, they're great fun, whether you're downing a massive Imperial Walker with your snowspeeder's tow cable or jetting through the forests of Endor at high speed. Here, having two people is crucial: In the Imperial Walker battles, for example, one player can trip up the walkers with a tow cable while the other finishes it offer with a well-placed grenade.

One last point about co-op play: This game lets the second player drop in and out at any time, which can be hugely advantageous. For example, this Saturday morning, I woke up to find my son stuck on a particular level in Episode IV. I activated the second controller, dropped into the game, and helped him figure out where to find Princess Leia's cell. Then I dropped out and ate breakfast. When I finished with that, I helped him destroy the Death Star. Good stuff.

Graphics and sound

The graphics in LEGO Star Wars II are cartoonish at best and certainly don't do anything to tax the heady capabilities of the Xbox 360 or a typical Windows-based gaming PC. But that's not the point: In LEGO Star Wars II, the graphics are cartoonish for a reason, and they're used to great effect. If you're a fan of Star Wars at all, you'll love the game's LEGO-ized renditions of the movies. It's just really well done.

The sounds--including the sound effects and music--are all first rate. They should be, since they're all straight out of the original Star Wars movies. Every bit of music, every blaster and ship sound, even the Wookie's roar, are all straight from Star Wars. It makes the game even immersive than it would be otherwise. The sound is simply top-notch.

Conclusions

LEGO Star Wars II is the one of the best video games I've played all year and if you're looking for a family-friendly title that won't come back to haunt you with unexpected violence, sexuality, or other adult content, this is it. But don't be put off by the kid-friendly graphics and game content. LEGO Star Wars II is great fun for all ages. I'm usually drawn more towards violent first person shooters like Call of Duty 2 (see my review) or Quake IV (see my review) than other game types. But I'll be returning to LEGO Star Wars II again and again, and its something I can enjoy with my 8-year-old son without any regrets. Highly recommended.