I’m playing through Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga, a name which has aged poorly, but the game itself has aged pretty well, provided that you go into it with the mindset that this is a charming game intended for ages 6 and up and is not going to be very challenging.
Despite that preamble, my thesis here is that Lego Star Wars’ combat could nevertheless have been better. The thing that keeps the game accessible for kids is first and foremost the True Jedi mechanic, wherein each level has a certain quota of studs (Lego currency) you must gather in order to achieve “True Jedi,” and the penalty for death is that your studs go flying and you may or may not be able to regather them all before they disappear. Coming back from one or two deaths is still pretty easy, but if you’re dying left and right, it’s usually impossible to regather enough of your studs in time to hit True Jedi.
So we have room to make combat more interesting without hurting the game’s accessibility, especially since that is a very low bar to clear. Lego Star Wars has fun platforming, but its combat is easily the least fun part of the game. The game is fun in inverse proportion to how much combat is in it, because the combat boils down to “press the fight button until you win.” As a melee character, the combat button both deflects blaster bolts and attacks the enemy. As a ranged character, it both dodges incoming shots and fires your blaster. The closest thing to a challenge is when you need to fight a melee character, and there the secret is just to use the groundpound attack over and over, because it can’t be countered and melee enemies never think to use it themselves.
You can see how we can make this system more complex without locking out six year olds, particularly when placed alongside the True Jedi system that makes it nearly impossible to actually lose, and instead the actual skill challenge is purely in an optional objective.
The three commands I propose for Force using characters are strike with the combat button, dodge with the jump button, and using the Force with the interact button. When fighting another Jedi/Sith, your strikes will bounce off of each other, both of you dodging will just jump around the level, and if you both use the Force, you’ll have a Force clash that stuns both of you briefly (or maybe doesn’t, if that turns out to happen often enough to be annoying in practice), which leaves you both vulnerable to other characters but does no damage. However, if you strike someone who dodges, they’ll do a little Jedi flip over you and slash you with their lightsaber on the way over. If you try to dodge over someone who’s using the Force, they’ll catch you in mid-air and (as a Jedi) shove you and stun you giving them a chance to hit you, or (as a Sith) directly damage you with Force lightning or a Force choke. If you try to use the Force on someone who’s striking you, their strike will interrupt your Force use before the effect triggers.
Ranged characters fire their blasters with the combat button, dodge with the jump button, and charge up a spray by pressing and holding the combat button. If two ranged characters blast each other, they both get hit for damage. If they both dodge, they both jump around to no effect. If they both fire a spray, they both get hit for more damage. If you blast someone who’s dodging, they’ll dodge the blaster bolt with a little spin move and hit you with a countershot (importantly, this countershot only happens if the dodge is timed to correctly dodge a blaster bolt – otherwise you just jump). If you dodge someone who’s spraying, then they’ll finish charging the spray while you’re dodging and their spray will do more damage than your shot. If you charge a spray at someone who’s blasting you, the bolt will hit you while you’re still charging and that’ll interrupt the animation.
When a Force user fights a ranged character, their strikes deflect blaster bolts automatically, will still deal damage if in melee range, and can deflect the blaster bolt back at the ranged character if timed correctly. The ranged character can dodge and counter these redirected blaster bolts, but then the melee character can reflect the countershot. Overall, probably no one’s getting anywhere. Dodging still results in just hopping around. Exchanging a Force attack and a spray is probably going to end up dealing about the same amount of damage to both sides. Force users are at a slight advantage because strike vs. bolt goes their way if they’re in melee, but overall you still want to use the right attack at the right time. Ranged characters can dodge and countershot a melee strike, take advantage of a dodge to charge a spray that fires right as they finish dodging, and blast them before they can finish their Force use animation. Force users can dodge a blaster bolt which will either allow them to hit an enemy while jumping over their head or, if too far away for that, at least get closer, use the Force against a dodge, and in melee can strike to interrupt a spray or at range can take advantage of the charge time to advance and then use a strike to deflect (or reflect, with the right timing) the attack.
Non-Force using melee characters like General Grievous or his bodyguards instead pull out a blaster and spray like they were ranged characters.
Bounty hunters throw thermal detonators triggered with the interact button in addition to blaster sprays triggered by holding the combat button down to charge the spray. Much like how Sith Force attacks are basically just better than Jedi attacks, a thermal detonator is basically just better than a spray, although only a little. It hits a wide radius, so you can use it for crowd clearing, and if you use it against a Jedi at the same time as they’re using the Force and reduce them to 0 HP with it, they won’t be able to exploit your stun because they’ll be busy being dead. The wide radius will hit someone who’s trying to dodge, although if it’s a melee character, you will blow yourself up in the process. The animation time for pulling out and arming the thermal detonator means it can be interrupted with blaster shots or melee strikes.
In the game as released, characters with walkie talkies cause droids to be temporarily disabled. Instead, I propose characters with walkie talkies summon reinforcements just like NPCs using the same animation. They can have a maximum of four one-HP mooks following them around, and whenever they use the walkie talkie, it summons up however many mooks as are necessary to get back to four.
If two walkie talkie characters with a total of eight NPC mooks is too much, you can make it impossible to have more than four NPCs total, no matter how many walkie talkie characters there are. If your buddy has three mooks following them around already when you use your walkie talkie, only one extra mook shows up. And that’s assuming that having a total of eight mooks following you around would even be a problem, which it might not be.
In any case, the walkie talkie animation should be timed to last as long as a blaster spray, thermal detonator, or Force use. You can use it while an enemy is dodging, and while it won’t damage them directly, it will restock your expendable mooks.
I’d propose expanding the walkie talkie power to retain the battle droid commander (summoning battle droids) and Imperial spy (summoning stormtroopers) and expand it to include Commander Cody (summons clone troopers), Captain Antilles (summons rebel troopers), the Imperial officer (summons stormtroopers), and possibly Princess Leia (Hoth) and Princess Leia (Endor) (summoning rebel troopers (Hoth) and regular rebel troopers). There should also be a roughly 1-in-10 chance when summoning stormtroopers that you get a beach trooper instead.