It’s Star Wars, and it’s a “Million Seller” – how bad can it be?
I am a fan of Star Wars. I’m a big fan of the original trilogy of movies, I don’t completely hate the prequel films, and even got some level of enjoyment (as a kid, anyway) out of the 2 “Ewok Adventure” films, and the short-lived Droids cartoon. Though I didn’t get to go see it right away, I did go see Star Wars: The Force Awakens and enjoyed it very much. I plan to go see it again, if I have the opportunity before it’s out of theaters, and will be purchasing the BluRay once it’s available. I own at least 3 Star Wars-themed t-shirts and a zipper hoodie, and as of this writing, I own 2-dozen video games set within the Star Wars universe. I have the final VHS release of the original trilogy (before George Lucas began changing subsequent releases with his revisionist history), I own the “special” edition DVD set, and at some point, I hope to own the original trilogy on LaserDisc. I’m holding out for a BluRay release, hoping that, at some point, Disney will decide it’s worth putting out something equivalent to the original theatrical release (or at least the final VHS/LaserDisc version), though that could be a sticky Wicket (see what I did there?), if Lucas made that a stipulation of his $4 billion sale of Lucasfilm to the Disney corporation. After all, those of us “in the know” won’t settle for a cut of the original film where Han Solo didn’t shoot Greedo first, right? Needless to say, I’m a big fan of the Star Wars universe, characters, and mythos.
At least they got this part mostly right…
Shifting gears to the topic at hand, it’s no secret that video games based on the Star Wars property have had a rough history. The original Star Wars arcade title, and it’s subsequent sequel, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, were well received and good games, as was the Atari VCS/2600 game based on the 2nd film, but the arcade take on Star Wars: Return of the Jedi was kind of a goofy isometric game that hasn’t aged well, and the other Atari games have shared its fate. As home consoles became more powerful, the promise of a good Star Wars game started to become more of a reality, but during the 8 and 16-bit eras, unfortunately, that promise was left largely unfulfilled. The Game Boy port of the NES game leaves much to be desired, and when I popped this into my Game Boy to check out, my mind recalled that all-too-famous quote from the original trilogy: “I have a bad feeling about this.”
As with most movie-licensed games, some license is taken (pun intended) with the story, and while the game pulls bits from the movie plot, nearly verbatim, the actual scenarios play out totally unlike the film. For example, Luke’s landspeeder is in the film a few times, but this game starts out with a whole section of speeding around the Jundland Wastes, trying to avoid randomly placed blaster cannons, laser-firing probe droids, and some sort of large animals, perhaps Krayt Dragons. However, within the first 2 seconds, you immediately get thrust into a cave where you jump around, as Luke Skywalker, from platform to platform, for some unknown reason. You’re equipped with a blaster, but it’s a pea-shooter, and takes multiple shots to down most enemies. After you get through the first cave, you find that you can travel around a section of Tatooine in the landspeeder to find R2-D2, as well as, inexplicably, find shielding upgrades for the Millennium Falcon, which you haven’t encountered as of yet, throughout the various caves. Once you reach the Jawa sand crawler, you can go inside and find R2, and then you can find the “exit” point on the map that will take you to the wretched hive of scum and villainy, erm, Mos Eisley.
Once you’ve reached Mos Eisley, you have to locate Han Solo, and can search for additional shield upgrades. You’ll find the Cantina to be a treacherous place indeed, as you’ll find Greedo (or several aliens like him) roaming around, as well as an alien that shoots a very powerful, short-range laser out of its blaster. With your blaster being so weak, it’s best to just jump over most enemies, though if you located Luke’s light saber beforehand, you’ll be able to slice through enemies like a Tauntaun. You’ll have to navigate through a number of areas to reach none other than docking bay 94, where the Millennium Falcon is located. Once you’re out in the spaceport, you’ll be facing primarily Stormtroopers. If you’re not careful, you’ll find they have better aim than those in the movie.
Once you reach the Falcon and take off, the view switches to a first person, and you navigate an asteroid field for several minutes. If you picked up the shield upgrades, you probably won’t have much trouble, though if not, I suspect it may be a bit harder to wade through. Then you go into the Death Star, and run around looking for the tractor beam station to blow it up. Again, it’s not Obi Wan doing it this time, but either Luke or Han, depending on which character you chose to do that. It makes sense from a gameplay perspective, but it feels a little off. This is handled in the same side-scrolling platform style as the cave levels, Cantina, and Mos Eisley locations on Tatooine. You then locate Princess Leia, and once you’ve liberated the Falcon, you’re treated to another 1st person view mission, this time to ward off the Tie Fighters. I seem to recall only 3 in the film, but it seems like well over a dozen you fight here. Then it’s off to Yavin IV to scramble the X-Wings and do a top down, shoot-em-up style level for the Death Star trench approach. Oddly, the thermal exhaust port is MUCH larger in the game than in the movie. It’s more like Luke is going to bullseye a Bantha, versus a Womp Rat. But then, they had to make the final task in the game easy enough so that you don’t have to fly the trench 12 times to get it done, right?
Graphically, the game is comparable to its NES counterpart, sans color. However, everything is zoomed in, as is often the case with NES to Game Boy ports, and as a result, everything looks somewhat larger and closer than it ought to be. But the main character sprites are decently drawn, and reasonably well animated, given the layout. Some of the backgrounds are also fairly detailed, and the set pieces generally resemble the film locations as much as one might expect on the platform. Stormtroopers look like Stormtroopers, and though some elements look a bit different (blaster shots are super wide, for example), anyone familiar with the film will see the similarities where they exist. The animation is also fairly smooth, which is good, because the game moves at a decent clip. Graphically, there’s not much to complain about, because it all looks relatively good.
In the sound department, it’s not half bad. There’s a decent rendition of the main theme, and a bouncy rendition of the original “Cantina Band” music, along with what you might call some “re imaginings” of some of John Williams’ other pieces throughout the movie. They had good source material, and it sounds okay here, but it’s a little basic. Given the iconic nature of the music, it probably would have been wise for the sound design team to do just a bit more with it. Sound effects are okay – explosions sound like they should, blaster fire is good, though, oddly, the sound they use when you drop proton charges in the X-Wing is exactly the same as the blaster sound. I guess they couldn’t be bothered to come up with anything new. Overall, the sound is fine, but nothing overly memorable, aside from the familiar themes. Thankfully, none of the sound effects made me want to pull a Wookie’s hair out.
When it comes to the gameplay, here’s where things really start to take a swan dive down the proverbial Sarlac Pit. I mentioned before that the graphics were “zoomed in” as compared to the NES game. They are, and that presents the first big problem during the platforming sections: blind jumps. Because everything is larger on screen, you can’t fit as much, so when there’s more room between platforms than is visible on screen, or the next platform over is actually below where you can see, you just have to take a literal leap of faith (Use the Force!) and go for it. The problem is, you don’t know if you’ll fall 3 levels and take damage, or fall directly onto a floor of spikes and die within 2 seconds. Problem number 2 presents as related to that: because you can’t see far in front of you, you’ll likely run into enemies when you first encounter them, and because Luke apparently has paper-thin skin, you take big damage and die very quickly. That’s like 2 problems in one, isn’t it? Next up, the overhead sections with the landspeeder suffer from the same issue, so be careful not to fly too fast, or you’ll go careening directly into a blaster or probe droid. Oh, and because the game employs a knock-back feature, but no temporary invincibility after the fact, prepare to get bumped/kicked by enemies once or twice until you die. Or in a couple spots, you can get stuck in between 2 enemies and get juggled back and forth between them until you die. Neat! There’s also the expectation that you make insane jumps from conveyor belts, and these weird “lift” deals, so that you can practically catapult yourself, martial arts movie style, into the air and hope you land on the right platform or floor. While playing this game, you better hope the Force is with you, otherwise, you’re going to die a lot, and you’re not always going to know why or when it’s your fault.
If only one or two of the above flaws were present, they might be a bit more forgivable, and something one can overlook. But all of the flaws combined make this game a hard sell, even to the most loyal Star Wars fan out there. The game controls well enough, though the jumping can get a little floaty, but the good graphics, decent sound, and decent control can’t save it from being a mediocre title, at best. At worst, it’s a lackluster “action/adventure” game that had ambitions and source material far greater than it could hope to live up to. With all the exploration you’ll be doing to find the right path in each of the platform levels, you’ll find yourself getting stuck and having to backtrack a number of times to find the right platform to jump on, the right blind jump to take, or the right “lift” to get you to an upper level that might have a door, elevator, or jump you need to reach. It can get frustrating quickly, especially when you practically have to memorize each enemy location exactly so you can either time a jump over them, or use your light saber (or later, Han’s blaster) to dispatch them. I realize that a lot of action games use this kind of strategy, but when touching an enemy twice can result in near instantaneous death due to the combination of knock-back and zero recovery time, you can lose a life before you literally knew what hit you.
Curiously, I did a little checking into the developer, NMS Software LTD, and was astonished to find out some of the other games they designed. That same year, they released Ivan ‘Ironman’ Stewart’s Off Road for the NES, a rather solid and playable port of the arcade hit. Just 2 years later, they developed 2 heavy hitters for the Sega Genesis: Cool Spot, and the major hit Disney’s Aladdin. They went on to do a small handful of PC games, a SNES Pinocchio, and a Sega Saturn game called Mass Destruction, that looks like a 32-bit tank combat game, like an updated version of the venerable Atari 2600 game, Combat. It’s interesting how many quality titles they have on their small resume, and yet this licensed game ended up being likely the worst of their output.
So what’s the bottom line? Does this game deserve your attention, or should it be banished to the spice mines on Kessel? If you’re a true Star Wars devotee like myself, it’s easy to be drawn in by the game, but don’t let that fool you. It’s not the worst action game you’ll play on the Game Boy, but the force is not with this one. I think I paid $8 for it, and that was too much. If you spend more than $5, consider yourself swindled by a Watto-like creature, but don’t come crying to me. I can’t, in good conscience, recommend this to anyone but die hard fans, collectors like myself, or those who have play every other good game out there, and now want to start tackling the bottom tier stuff. In that case, you can rest assured that this slimy piece of worm-ridden filth will fulfill that quota. Not recommended.