So you daydream about a 'proper' lightsaber fighting game on Wii? Is this the void you're looking for? Yeah, you and everyone else in the Milky Way, buddy. Perhaps once the MotionPlus beds in LucasArts will indulge us properly, but until then, Clone Wars: Lightsaber Duels is the closest thing we've got. But sadly, this isn't the lightsaber game of anyone's dreams. Not even those of people who dream about boring things like going back to school to learn Pascal's triangle.
What we've got here is a straightforward one-on-one fighting game based around the events of the recent Clone Wars movie (or at least the movie's lightsaber fighting bits). This means that the game is subject to the cartoonish stylisation and uninspired character roster of its source material (which takes place between Episodes II and III), although to Krome Studio's credit, the atmospheric, busy backdrops manage to restore a degree of the trademark Star Wars Epicness.
Clone Wars' fighting system is simple yet effective. You can swoooosh your saber in four different directions by making the appropriate swipes with the controller, or you can thrust it into your sparring partner's 'breadbasket' by stabbing the remote forwards.
Strikes can be parried with consummate ease if anticipated, so repetitive waggling is out of the question, but on the plus side, even blocked shots help to build up your Force Meter, which can either be depleted in return for more powerful strikes, or used in more creative ways - perhaps by unleashing a force blast to create some breathing space, or hypothetically levitating nearby objects into your opponent's face at high speed by thrusting the nunchuk in their direction. We say 'hypothetically', because by the time you've initiated this slow, fiddly move, you'll likely find that your opponent has crammed their saber down your lungs.
Each character has a set of special attacks that can be initiated by chaining together strikes in a specific order. Since the game's motion-sensing capabilities are spot-on, these can be performed on demand with a little practice, but most players will rarely bother because the moves are so visually forgettable. We appreciate that we can't have things like sonic booms coming out of Anakin's armpits, but it wouldn't have hurt to have presented the special attacks with a bit more flourish - even a two-second cutaway would have done. Since there's no glamour to be found in performing these moves, it's hard to motivate yourself to learn them, particularly when a simple force-powered slash will prove equally as effective.
You can't work around this issue by simply learning one character's moveset, as the Campaign mode shunts your control between three different people, meaning you never truly get a feel for any one character. At any rate, Campaign mode, the only single-player mode of any substance, is a disaster. It's embarrassingly short (if it takes you over 45 minutes to complete it on the normal setting, we'd consider seeing a doctor) and utterly bereft of variety or verve. At the beginning, as one example of many, you fight the same opponent five times in a row.
Repetition isn't a problem if the game offers plenty of cool things to try and do, but all the characters feel largely the same, regardless of whether they're wielding one, two or umpteen sabers. Worse still, all the cool stuff happens in cutscenes, all the time. You can hack someone to within an inch of their life, but you never get the satisfaction of killing them. It's only when your character is freed from your command that he decides to open a can of cool juice, ending the fight with mystifying moves that look like they'd be fun to try but were never in your arsenal. You just get to do the boring bits.
Indeed, this problem hits epidemic levels during post-match exposition bits, where you see your characters zipping around the universe in a number of thrillingly perilous situations, before depositing you like a dog turd into the middle of another interminable saber duel. It's like you're receiving postcards from a better game.
On a technical level Clone Wars works well enough, but the ruinous truth is that the presentation is so threadbare and the front end so unwelcoming that you'll struggle to squeeze much value out of it. If you and a friend are willing to put the hours in, learning the parry/combo system, you might get your money's worth from it, and maybe a bit more. But our overwhelming memory of our time playing Clone Wars is constantly feeling like we were going to have a really, really fun time, any second now. But due to the slipshod craftsmanship, that second never comes.
The coolest of all cool ideas, pieced together in a profoundly uncool way. Wait for MotionPlus to throw up something more substantial.