For Star Wars game fans, recent years have been good to us. The Force Unleashed showed that the mythology is capable of delivering great properties, and the upcoming sequel looks to add to that. So when the Beta was announced for Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures, developed and published by Sony Online Entertainment, fans were frothing at the mouth.
The Clone Wars series has attracted a decent fan following, even though its geared towards a younger audience, meaning jedi-lovers of all ages can have fun with the game tie-in. If you don't believe me, the beta has already surprised more than a few people.
First things first: this is not a Massively Multiplayer Online game. And in all honesty, that's probably a good thing. There are various reasons why a game designed for younger audiences would probably be best served with limited interaction between players (the reason Nintendo closely guards their Wii online services). If gamers who are familiar with another MMO played this game, the shortcomings would stand out immediately.
The game begins by selecting the race, gender, and appearance of your character. Choices are limited, so facial appearance is not going to be what distinguishes you. Unfortunately, once your character is created, you're dropped into the game world without any instructions on where you are, or what you're supposed to do. There may be a tutorial system to walk you through it when the full game launches (which would be a useful tool).
The second aspect that stands out is that the graphics are not on par with most player's expectations. Nothing that would turn your stomach, but definitely rougher than many will expect. There is an option to upgrade the quality of graphics being displayed, but my modest computer couldn't handle much, so I accepted the lack of refinement and moved on.
Without spending much time, it's obvious that Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures is basically a collection of mini games, and Star Wars versions of familiar Flash games. Completing games earns you space credits, which can then be used to purchase clothing, droids, speeders, spaceships, and furniture for your living quarters. With attempts at coaxing a deal out of merchants with vigorous waving (one of several animations available) were refused, I had no choice but to turn to these mini-games to earn credits.
While some of the games are not particularly memorable, there are a few gems here. We're all familiar with the popular flash game of launching a projectile (person, animal, politician) as far as you can, attempting to hit or avoid objects in the process. Well, Clone Wars Adventures gives the fans what they want by making the launched object in question none other than Jar Jar Binks. Another flash game conversion is a bejewelled-styled diamond matching game with a twist, requiring you to convert all diamonds to the same color with a limited number of moves. Seems easy, but with the ability to increase difficulty for every game, there is far more of a challenge here than is apparent at first.
Aside from bite-sized mini games, Adventures also features a few more time-consuming games, with "Starfighter" and "Republic Defender" being two of the best. Nowadays, some people tend to scoff at an on-rails fighter plane shooter as too old-fashioned, but it worked for Starfox. The starfighter game is by no means a good example of a challenging shooter, but its gameplay is basic enough to appeal to a large group of players. Again, giving younger gamers a fun experience that lasts a few minutes, with the ability to ramp up the difficulty, the shooter sections offer a good bit of fun. That said, seasoned gamers may find the simple up/down, left/right, spin controls a little too simplistic. Fans of the TV show are likely to love it, since it puts you alongside Anakin and Obi-Wan in battles from the actual series.
But the real addiction of the game was discovered soon after leaving the starfighting behind. "Republic Defender" is your typical tower defense game, earning credits by destroying enemies, which can then be used to build and upgrade more turrets, cannons, etc. This game alone was worth my experience with the Adventures beta. I don't know many people who wouldn't enjoy a good tower defense game, and defending a Republic city from battle droids is just plain cool for a hardcore Star Wars fan. No over-the-top gameplay mechanics here, but there's no reason to re-invent the wheel. A few hours of playing, and many gamers will likely be writing letters to LucasArts demanding a XBLA Star Wars tower defense title.
My experience with these modes says a lot about how most gamers will feel about this title; enjoying the individual mini games for what they are - with the main motivation coming from upgrading your character's look. During the beta there was no online multiplayer available - but the feature will be available in the final release, in the predictably "ok" speeder bike racing, and the button-mashing lightsaber dueling. Since both of these games were not the most impressive, it's a shame their isn't much multiplayer in this "massively multiplayer game."
The games reward you with good amounts of credits, so you do get a sense that you're accomplishing something with every game. Sadly, after customizing your player and lightsaber, there's little motivation to keep playing. And while you could argue that the game's lack of any larger goal is to blame, the fact remains: this game isn't designed for my entertainment. This game is designed for the same audience as the show, an age group roughly spanning from ages 6-13. I enjoy the show, and I like the game, but the target demographics for the title is likely to love it.
The thought that kept popping into my head every time I logged onto this game? "Where was this game when I was in grade school?" Nothing would have made me happier in Grade 2-5 then to come home after school, boot up my computer, and play a game that offered more than just one gaming experience. Add in the ability to race my friends in upgrading my character, or take them on head-to-head? That's a gaming experience that would have rocked my world.
It's easy to predict that younger kids will enjoy Adventures, especially since their parents would be happy to see them playing a game that doesn't involve blood, sex, or drugs, but whose to say that it's just a kid's game? We already know how addictive casual games can be (my mother spends an average of 2 hours a night playing flash games), Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures is at its core a collection of mini games spanning a dozen different genres - so it's possible the game will appeal to casual players and Star Wars fans alike.
The game is currently free-to-play, with extra game modes, difficulties, and other extras available for $5.99 a month. If the normal upgrades aren't enough for gamers, they can buy points which will allow the purchase of extra clothing and items. The free-to-play, with micro-transaction, model has taken over for MMOs - but the fact that a lot of items are available exclusively through purchase is a bit of a disappointment.
Lastly, this game is definitely not going to be a substitute for The Old Republic, and most of the gaming community over the age of 16 will probably be too busy with Halo: Reach for the next few months. But it's nice to see that younger audiences are still valued enough to produce a game exclusively for them. And that point should be made abundantly clear: this game is for young players. But hey, so are LEGO and Play-Doh. Do people over the age of 13 regularly play with either of them? Very rarely. Does that change the fact that they are great toys for kids at a certain point in their life? Of course not.
The game may not be mentally stimulating, or teach kids the difference between right and wrong, but kids deserve fun too. With Clone Wars Adventures, and the Move-supported Sorcery, it's nice to see that younger audiences aren't being overlooked in the rush to crank out the next blockbuster title.
Make no mistake, this game is not a multiplayer-focused social epic, so those expecting an extensive experience will be disappointed. But as a collection of fun, and addictive, PC games for the show's younger audience, it succeeds. So, for those of you with younger children, or mothers, or fathers who enjoy casual games, this is definitely worth checking out. And for fans of the show, the game is another chance to get your Star Wars fill for the time being. At the end of the day, the game is free - so hopefully it won't get lost in the rush of Q4 titles this year. If not, Adventures could end up clicking with a lot of casual gamers out there.
You can enlist in Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures for free by heading over to their site now.