You can tell when a developer thinks he's onto something, because he uses a 'TM' to protect it. In the case of the three mobile versions of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, somebody's clearly very pleased to have come up with CellWeaver – excuse me: CellWeaver™ – an input method that attempts to make the best of the mobile's uncooperative controls, thereby providing something new and unique.
In gameplay terms, that is. The story of The Force Unleashed is about as un-unique as it's possible to be, unleashing itself as it has on almost every gaming platform like a blast of deadly Force Shock & Awe, trying to stun the world into thinking it's a big event.
The story puts you in the shoes of Darth Vader's secret apprentice, and thus on the dark side of the Force. Out of respect for those who like to get their plot points from the source, I'll leave the exposition there, although it probably won't surprise anyone to learn that there are space ships, rebels, guns that fire sluggish shards of light, and swords made of the same stuff. Oh, and wookies.
But what about CellWeaver™? Is it new and unique? Yes and no. I've never seen anything quite like it, but I've seen a lot of things that are, well, quite like it. The gameplay works like this: you have no direct control over the Secret Apprentice, and each part of the game takes place on a beautifully-rendered fixed screen, the only moving parts being you, your enemies, and the weedy fireworks that fill the space between.
Using your phone's key-pad or D-pad, you have to tap out shapes made of crackling blue light strung between the points on a grid at the top of the screen. A triangle, for instance, might be '4', '6', '2', followed by B (on an N81) to execute the force power this shape represents.
It plays like the more famous offspring of whack-a-mole and lightgun lovely Time Crisis. There's a range of shapes you can make, and each of them corresponds to a force power of some kind. For example,'4'+'2'+'8' makes a sort of barb-shaped symbol called Force Grip, which suspends the victim by his neck. Tapping in the same symbol on its side ('2'+'4'+'6') tosses him away like a doll.
There are eight force powers in all, five of them offensive and three defensive. You start with a basic set, but between chapters you add to your repertoire by training with three of those shock-spitting disco balls that tormented Luke Skywalker in A New Hope, much to Han Solo's delight, and my own.
In combat, you can choose which of your offensive powers to deploy by holding down either '2', '4', '6', '8', or '5'. If you hold down '6', for instance, the squiggle denoting Force Lightning appears above the heads of each of the enemies in range, and when you execute it they all get a taste.
The defensive force powers are different. You can execute them whenever you like, and it's necessary to memorise them, although you can look them up in the menu screen whenever you like so it's not a feat to be wary of.
You can even choose not to use force powers at all. If you want to preserve your perishable – though constantly replenishing – supply of Force, you can simply bat enemy projectiles back towards them and into their brains by holding down B and pressing in the direction corresponding with a red triangle above their heads.
When you first start playing, you assume that The Force Unleashed is going to be a fairly shallow experience, but the developer has used a degree of ingenuity in spinning a lot from basic elements. Enemies can be out of range of certain powers, forcing you to choose appropriately, and certain larger foes – great looming carnivorous plants and walkers – take some lateral thinking to defeat.
There aren't quite enough puzzles for me to be able to tell you how one works without spoiling a goodly proportion of the game, but I can tell you this: at best the puzzles are satisfying, and at worst they're arbitrary, requiring trial and error rather than reason. You learn that you have to push this, pull that, and so on, but not because doing so is self-evidently the right thing to do.
Similarly, while the fact that some enemies can be out of range of certain force powers sometimes represents variety and depth, it can also amount to restrictiveness, channelling you along particular offensive routes by removing all alternatives.
Which isn't to say The Force Unleashed is bad, at all; only that it's not quite as good as it could have been. Nonetheless, it has to be commended. This isn't the usual blockbuster boilerplate. It's not a bog-standard platformer or a lazy shoot-'em-up. No, it's a clever, well-presented, innovative game that largely outshines its mainstream sibling, and thus gives a rare victory to mobile gaming.