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LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review – Especially the Younglings

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To call Traveler’s Tales’ LEGO series ubiquitous would be an understatement. I know that a lot of flak gets thrown at Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed for having a new entry in the series rolled out every year, but since the original LEGO Star Wars launched back in 2005, TT has churned out, on average, two new LEGO games annually ever since. So, it’s kind of interesting that ten years on, with LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens, TT still hasn’t quite found the bottom of the barrel.

Despite focusing on a single movie instead of an entire trilogy as in the previous LEGO games, it pulls off an interesting first for the long-running series; rather than merely being a parody like previous entries, it actually adds to the canon of the series–possibly because with only one movie to draw from, they needed some way to pad it out. These additional sections (unlocked by collecting gold bricks) include Poe Damerson saving admiral Ackbar and taking part in the mission that preceded the X-Wings coming to the rescue of Finn, Rae, Han and Chewie on Takodana.

Most impressive of all is the fact that original recorded lines exist for these sections, making them feel like genuine additions to the plot and universe rather than being conspicuously mute for the duration, or feeling like the new interactions had been sandwiched together with a bit soundboard magic and a very limited vocabulary.

It’s clear that LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens is more than a simple retelling of the movie, even from the game’s opening, which doesn’t start with the first order attacking Jakku, but instead opts to place the events of the film in the context of the entire Star Wars Saga by recreating the climax of Return of The Jedi.

Players start off as Han, Chewie, Leia, and Wicket as they attempt to bring down the shield generator protecting the second Death Star on the Forest Moon of Endor. It’s a great opening, and is used as an effective means of introducing changes to gameplay. The main LEGO-based improvement is the ability to make multiple objects out of the same pile of bouncing bricks by directing them to different glowing outlines in the environment. Then, once you have used whatever ladder, switch, or laser cannon you built, you can destroy your creation and rebuild one of the other potential structures. It’s a small change, but a welcome one, and one I’m surprised didn’t come sooner. At this point, it feels almost obligatory.

The biggest changes to LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens, interestingly, have very little to do with LEGO. TT have changed the usual style of action-based gameplay, making it feel more like a more traditional action title than just another LEGO game. The vehicle sections feel like an on-rails version of Rogue Squadron, starting with Lando destroying the second Death Star in the Millennium Falcon. There are also cover shooting sections now (that may as well be baby’s first Gears of War), where your characters duck behind chest-high LEGO walls, trading fire with storm troopers and rarely missing, thanks to the game’s incredibly forgiving auto-targeting that instantly locks you on.

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You’re also told when you’re about to get shot, via flashing yellow exclamation marks that appear above a foes head once they’ve got a bead on you. There’s almost zero challenge to these sections, but I am crushingly aware that as a 30-year-old man, I may not exactly be the target audience. Other man-children take note: it might be a little on the pitifully easy side. Good for kids though, if you’re training them up to deal with Gears of War 9 in a few years’ time.

However easy, it does make the game feel that little bit more cinematic. Everything feels more action-packed, with a sense of immediacy that’s missing from previous entries in the series. Gameplay seamlessly shifts from cover shooter to vehicle section, and then back to the traditional character-based puzzles; it’s just a damned shame it couldn’t be more challenging.

Like previous entries, each character in LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens has abilities which allow them to interact with parts of the environment in ways that other characters can’t: Wicket can order other characters to help him pull blocks; Rey can run along walls and scale the environment to reach areas others can’t; and BB-8 can hack terminals, access computers, and electrocute foes, but having no opposable thumbs (or claws I guess), he can’t build anything. Force-adept characters like Vader and Luke can use their powers to tear up parts of the scenery and do battle with their lightsabers. In all, there are 205 characters to unlock, and though this does include many variants, the cast is still pretty damn huge. There’s also the now-obligatory new vehicles to unlock and red and gold bricks to find, as well as the usual stud collectathon in order to be crowned a “True Jedi.”

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The puzzles in LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens have been refined compared to those found in previous iterations. The breadth of powers and abilities available, as well as the fact that you generally have a large party of characters to play, helps this along. Usually players help each other, with one player using their powers and then the other, with no one left hanging around for too long.

Ten years after the first LEGO Star Wars kicked off the whole series, it’s fitting that it took TT to return to the Star Wars universe to shake up the series. While these additions are mostly welcome in a series that has been in danger of stagnation for a while, the wide-eyed innocence of the target audience round them off into minigames that, while fun, don’t offer much in the way of challenge, which will certainly put off older players. It’s certainly one for the younglings.

LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens was reviewed on PS4 with a copy provided by the publisher.

Developer: TT Games | Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive |  Genre: Action, Adventure | Platform: PC, PS3, PS4, PS Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One, WiiU, 3Ds | PEGI/ESRB: 7+/E | Release Date: June 28, 2016

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Review

Etherborn Review — A Brief, Beautiful Defiance of Gravity

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Etherborn

Indie developers in 2019 truly have the freedom to create the games they want. When Fig-funded game Etherborn reached its funding target, developer Altered Matter set out to craft a gravity-shifting puzzle platformer. Players sold on this concept have a lot to look forward to as Altered Matter has delivered on its promise. The mind-bending mechanics of Etherborn force players to approach the world from a new perspective amidst some stunning visual landscapes. 

In Etherborn, the player takes control of a voiceless, newly-born being who follows a bodiless voice in search of meaning. Such a philosophical premise promises an experience that will answer key questions regarding self-identity and the quest for meaning. The answer plays into the age old cliche that we are born to create our own destiny. The game’s narrative discussions around these topics are disappointing, though they do demonstrate that the narrative is less important than the themes behind them. 

Etherborn

One of the biggest frustrations with the story is that the language used complicated the simple message the developer was trying to tell. The soothing yet commanding tone of the omniscient voice would have been enough to carry along a more refined script that served the themes with clarity. Instead, Altered Matter opted to write something poetic by using lots of really big words that sound like they have lots of meaning, which instead detract from the actual meaning. 

Etherborn has a linear structure that takes place across five distinct levels. The levels are completed by solving gravity-defying puzzles to collect light orbs that open the pathway forward. Once all levels are completed, a new game+ mode is unlocked, creating replayability through the additional challenge of new, well-hidden light orb locations. Including this game mode offers players a chance to enjoy a more difficult experience without an additional learning curve. 

What sets Etherborn apart is the unique mechanic that underpins the gameplay. To traverse the landscape, players must jump and use ramps to change their perspective, turning walls into floors to move through the level. The opening level does an exceptional job of introducing the player to how this concept will be manipulated throughout the game. Controls in Etherborn are simple and intuitive, allowing for an experience that focuses the challenge purely within the design. Despite being able to run, the movement speed of the character seems sluggish for the most part, yet can be too fast for easy maneuverability in levels that require finesse to execute. 

Etherborn is deeply beautiful. The soft hues and subtle colour palette create a truly ethereal experience that carries through until the final level where the tone shifts into something somewhat dark, yet utterly breathtaking. Skeletal bodies, frozen in time, dwarf the character to create a visual masterpiece that captivates the viewer. Accompanying the divine art direction is killer sound design that makes the world feel complete. The ambient music creates an atmosphere that indulges in the landscape it calls home in a way that elevates the experience. 

The short length of Etherborn leaves players wanting more. In OnlySP’s preview of the game in 2018, the Alpha build contained the same five levels that are seen in the final game. Having spent so much time on these levels has meant the final product is highly polished yet disappointingly short. The gravity bending puzzles at play are so clever, well designed, and satisfying to complete that a lack of experimentation through more level designs to satiate the player’s hunger for more is disappointing.  

The challenging gameplay, gorgeous sound design, and stunning aesthetics all make Etherborn a worthwhile experience, even for those not fond of puzzle-platformers. Every level demonstrates a craftsmanship that encourages the curiosity to think and engage with the world. Completing puzzles is satisfying, even if the length of the game is not. Some minor issues may crop up along the way, but Etherborn is still a clever, fun game that challenges players and their perspective of the world. 

OnlySP Review Score 3 Credit

Reviewed on Nintendo Switch. Also available on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

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