Joystiq hands-on: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed duel mode (Wii)

At the Nintendo Media Summit, LucasArts showed off the Wii-only duel mode in its multi-platform game, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. These fights require two human players -- there's no AI option -- but otherwise feel almost like they could have shipped as a stand-alone game. I swung sabers against fellow writers and was impressed by the amount of depth in the matches.

Each player picks one of 27 characters -- including about 11 costume-variations on the single-player apprentice -- and the fights take place in nine Star Wars locations. The characters include a young Luke, Darth Maul, General Grievous, and others that don't related to The Force story. And their moves are all about the same as in the single-player game, so Luke uses the lightning strike alongside the "dark" characters.

The match locations impact the the fights, with players instantly losing a life if they fall into the sarlacc pit, Smash Bros.-style. Otherwise, Hoth, the Jedi temple, and other locations include objects to toss around at each other, giving each location subtle differences.

These setting, and deep attacks, counter-attacks, and blocks should add a lot of ways to play these match-ups. This variety makes me anticipate its September 16 release. Plus there's a whole other single-player story to beat.
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Each character has a handful of the same basic moves that build together. Flicks of the Wii Remote swing the lightsaber. (And yes, uber-nerds, the game sticks with a single lightsaber even though some of the characters normally have two, or a long, double-ended weapon.) But hold the trigger and rotate your wrist to block with the blade. Force-grab an enemy with a Nunchuk button. But add to that by throwing them with the analog stick. An even more complicated combo would be to grab, strike with lightning, then throw an opponent. With other twists such as a way to plunge the lightsaber straight down after a jump, LucasArts says the game has about 30 different combinations of attacks.

All of these moves come from the single-player campaign, although your character will unlock them over the story in that mode. With me trying to tame so many at once, I repeated a handful I initially figured out. But I got a sense that after hours of play, I'd move beyond button mashing into a cohesive string of flicks and flourishes.

Motion controls generally felt good, adding more variety to the game. When I struck lightsabers with an opponent at the same time, we launched into a brief mini-game, racing us to follow on-screen commands to twist the controllers. The speedier player wins those contests, striking the loser. And other motion controls -- like a force slam by swinging the controllers down -- felt like natural additions to the other moves.

The duel mode should be a rich addition to Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. For casual fighting-game and Star Wars fans, these matches could almost be published as their own game.
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This article was originally published on Joystiq.