YES, IT'S BETTER than the first one. But not because Traveller's Tales have taken the gameplay in a different direction. The reason LEGO Star Wars II is better than its precursor is simply because A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi are far better movies than those other ones George Lucas made.
Princess Leia is hotter than Patty or Panda or whatever her name was. Luke Skywalker is way cooler than Anakin 'Nooooooooo' Skywalker. And I won't insult you by comparing Chewbacca and Jar Jar Binks - that's like comparing peppermint ice cream and some sort of poisonous version of the same thing. This doesn't need pointing out, but the trilogy of movies this game is based on gives this game a very big triptych of reasons to gloat over its sibling.
Lucas rants aside (for now), if you haven't played LEGO Star Wars, this game will appear intimidating in its childlike innocence. The snap-together combination of a very rich Dane's plastic bricks and a very rich American's space opera, it's what a more traditional journalist might call a nerdgasm (that's a nerd's orgasm).
LEGO Star Wars is so appealing because it never takes either of its foundations seriously. It's a parody of Lucas and it's a parody of knobbly bits of plastic, sometimes both at the same time. It's just brilliant, and that's where the game's charm lies. Whether it's in a plastic Princess Leia's attempts to jam a disc into R2-D2 where the slot would normally be, before just opening his head and chucking it in, or Obi-Wan Kenobi using the Force to disassemble an Imperial blast door and arbitrarily reassemble it as a TIE fighter in order to proceed, LEGO Star Wars' charisma is evident throughout.
In fact, it's what carries the game through three episodes. The gameplay itself is quite basic, and without the deliciously subtle (and entirely mute) humour, the game just wouldn't have any impetus.
The on-foot sections, for example, are essentially the same as in the previous game. You take command of a tiny brick edition of a Star Wars character, playing through the biggest scenes of each of the classic movies. The attack on the Death Star, the bit with the massive party everybody had with pointless CG fireworks, it's all in here. Using blasters and lightsabers you plough through hordes of Stormtroopers, Imperials and a revelatory father figure, who now presents a choking hazard in more ways than one.
Levels contain all sorts of LEGO-centric platform puzzles - by holding down a button next to a pile of bricks, characters can build pre-determined objects. Rubble next to a door might become a bomb, rubble next to a blockade might become a blaster cannon, rubble from a closet might become a piece of a disco dancefloor, which when combined with the other pieces using the Force, might become a LEGO disco in which plastic, angular Gamorreans can boogie with all four of their joints. You'll want to build every disassembled pile of LEGO you find, either for the puzzle progression or for the quirky joke.
Then, once you team up with the effeminate C-3PO or his R2 buddy, a puzzle mechanic becomes apparent. Certain doors and switches can only be activated by droids, and by switching between the characters in your party (which can now hold more characters than before), you must work out how to get the more robotically-inclined members of your party to their appropriate switches.
The same can be said for Force-wielding comrades, who often open paths for their
less mobile friends by building bridges and platforms out of whatever bits of LEGO happen to be about. The entire game is co-op-enabled too, meaning a second player can jump in and drop out at any time on any level. If it hasn't been implied already, this game really needs to be played with a gamepad of some sort, and co-op mode is ideally played with two of the things - but get the set-up right and co-op adds a whole new level of enjoyment to an already superb single-player game.