torstai 7. huhtikuuta 2011

REVIEW - Star Wars (1991)

GENRE(S): Action / Platform
RELEASED: November 1991
DEVELOPER(S): NMS Software (GB), Tiertex Design (GG, SMS), Beam Software (NES)
PUBLISHER(S): Capcom, Ubisoft, Nintendo (GB), U.S. Gold (GG, SMS), JVC, Lucasfilm Games (NES)

It's the biggest movie series ever... wait, it's more. It's everywhere. TV, literature, comic books, toys, video games, it's even the source of a worldwide religion. When George Lucas made Star Wars (now known as Star Wars - Episode IV) in 1977, he simply couldn't have predicted what kind of a cultural phenomenon it would become in a matter of years, how big of an impact his little sci-fi fairytale would have on the world. Even if you haven't watched one Star Wars movie in your life, you know who Luke Skywalker is. Or Darth Vader. Or Chewbacca. You know the trademark sounds of Star Wars - the Wilhelm scream, the sound of an unfolding lightsaber, Darth Vader's heavy breathing, Chewie's angry grunt. That goes to show how much Star Wars is referenced to in every other movie or TV show, it's so big. Video games on the subject were inevitable, ever since the concept of video games was born. The first home console game based on Star Wars was released in 1982 - The Empire Strikes Back on the Atari 2600 and Mattel Intellivision. Since then, Star Wars has spawned nearly 60 different games on multiple platforms: RPG's, shooters, platformers, video board games, racing games, one-on-one fighting games, you name it. There have been so many different sub-franchises, that there is no way to come up with a sensible order to reviewing Star Wars games. I'm going to do the best I possibly can, and I'll start with the first Star Wars game I ever played, Star Wars on the NES.

There will be no escape for the Princess this time

Where's his "off" switch in this game, anyway?
While cleaning and repairing a droid for his uncle, a young farmhand named Luke Skywalker finds a cryptic call of help from its databank, left by Princess Leia of Alderaan, to an old hermit known to Luke as Ben Kenobi. After a group of Imperial scouts destroys his home and slaughters the remnants of his family, Luke joins Kenobi in his quest to free Princess Leia from the clutches of the Galactic Empire and its dark lord, Darth Vader. At the same time, he becomes fascinated with Kenobi's stories of his long-dead father Anakin Skywalker, and decides to train himself as a Jedi knight in his footsteps.

Warning: a Star Wars geek here, at least to some extent. I've never really been interested in anything besides the six movies (or just five of them, actually...), so I've missed out on a lot of the critically acclaimed novels, comic books and since they didn't exist when I was a kid (God damn it!!!), the line of Star Wars Legos. I've missed out on a lot of important Star Wars video games too, most of them because, once again, I never was much of an avid PC player. However, I have grown to play and even like some PC games related to Star Wars, and at the same time, the amount of Star Wars games on THE LIST - even before it physically existed - has grown to such heights that I can no longer prolong a marathon, which has a subject of this much significance to me, and just about every other person on this planet. It was the first Star Wars game I ever played, it's based on the first movie which I have completely memorized from angle to angle, line to line, so there's not a more fitting kick-off for the marathon than Star Wars on the Nintendo Entertainment System. To make it absolutely clear at this point: this is the internationally available game, not the Namco game of the same name released on the Famicom in 1987. It's a whole other game, although similar in style... and nearly as frustrating. Far from awful, though.

The graphics of the game are good, should I say superb, even, on the NES scale. The cutscenes look great and really authentic, I guess Lucasfilm paid good bucks to Beam to make Alec Guinness look like Alec Guinness and capture every seam of C-3PO's body instead of just making him a golden matchstick man with bulging eyes. It's an 8-bit Nintendo game and not even from the most recent end of its library, got to hand it to 'em. The music's good, too. Some John Williams originals, some remixes, some original music which might be a bit repetitive, but quite decent and none too far from the atmosphere.

Ben Kenobi? Boy, am I glad to see you. Like
really, really glad.
I've reviewed a lot of games, that are based on movies I really like. The Addams Family, Gremlins 2: The New Batch, Indiana Jones' Greatest Adventures, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and of course since you're expecting me to say it, Home Alone. Some of these games have been quite decent, some of them have just simply sucked. When it comes to movies I like, the first three Star Wars movies have their very own V.I.P. slot in my all-time Top 5. When Star Wars, the game, came out, I had just recently watched Episode IV for the first time in my life. When I heard that a game had come out based on this amazing movie, and especially when I heard my friend's mom had bought it for him, I was just oozing with excitement, in lack of a better word. In this game, I can play as Luke Skywalker and have my own lightsaber. Ooooooh, I can play as Han Solo, too? THE Han Solo? THE singled-out best character in sci-fi ever? ...It didn't matter what the game was like. I would've played it anyway. And I did, for the longest while. Until it hit me: I was NEVER going to beat it. Here I am, 19 years later, searching for the core meaning of "never", once again.

It has been a habit of mine to nitpick whenever a game is based on a movie I like, but I must say it's quite unfair in the case of Star Wars. For an 8-bit game, it's surprisingly true to the movie. OK, just to get some stuff out of the way: I don't remember Luke invading the Jawa sandcrawler with his blaster blazing to save R2-D2. Save him from what, exactly? Are the Jawas such lousy, heinous businessmen they kidnap the robots they first sell for good money? I don't get it. What's the deal with the tall, two-legged cave monsters that look and act like Chozo in Metroid? Where's Obi-Wan's crib, why does he live on the bottom of a damn cave? The game raises a lot of questions, but a few gaps in the plot and atmosphere are not the problem. Cryptic ways to make progress and goofy gameplay are. Oh no, this ain't going to be an easy trip, not for the mind, the body or the spirit. You must learn much more than the ways of the Force to beat this bad motherfucker.

The moment you press Start, you see a pretty impressive cutscene of an Imperial ship shooting at Princess Leia's escort, and then, C-3PO and R2-D2's escape pod crashlanding on Tatooine. Awesome atmosphere, right from the start. We are told that Owen and Luke bought two droids from Jawas. Well, then C-3PO shows up on the screen and tells Luke not to deactivate him (sir), it wasn't his fault. R2-D2 is "faulty and malfunctioning", and disappeared, babbling on about his mission. Quite a fast tempo to all of this, but at least everything's going in accordance to the movie. Owen and Beru are never seen, nor do they get killed, though - it's a Nintendo game! Anyway, the game begins from the Tatooine desert and we're controlling Luke's landspeeder from a top-down view. Sorry, did I say controlling? We can't, it automatically moves into a cave. Welcome to the primary user interface: a 2D platformer. Luke looks like Jay in the European version of Journey to Silius, almost identical actually. Jumping isn't fun. Luke has minimal traction, and there are many small platforms, with spikes or sharp stalactites all around. If that isn't enough to convince you of the game's unfair ways, falling from heights also kills you or at least drains a humongous portion of your health. The health bar is there for nothing. There is absolutely nothing in this game that would only take one single tick away from your health bar; just a small drop of acid takes two or three. A head-on collision with some enemies such as Tuskens and those Metroid rip-offs I mentioned kills you instantly almost every time. Your objective here is simply to get to the end, and get a blaster with a faster firing rate. There's a sign on the cave wall that says "Exit" - pretty funny. What is this, some sort of torturous theme park?

Like I said: much more than that, I'm afraid.
Could we skip to the infinite patience of the
Jedi already?
When you get out of the cave, you simply have to... yeah. What? You're left with nothing, no clue to follow. You just have to navigate the desert yourself and whenever you find a cave you can enter, you should check it out. In the upper-left corner of the "map", there's a parked Jawa sandcrawler, and C-3PO says his scanners show R2-D2 to be inside the vehicle. Those low-down, cutthroat sons of bitches! This is where the platforming gets medium-nasty (believe me, you ain't seen nothing yet... just wait for the Death Star) - Jawas jump at you from everywhere and anytime, and then we've got these conveyor belts that shoot Luke straight into a set of spikes if you so much as blink, unpredictable falling platforms which I seriously think are impossible to survive fully unscathed, and wall panels that boost your jump to incredible heights in a place that is this unsafe. When you finally find R2-D2, he's a couple of strips of short conveyor belts away. Short, as in if you do one mistake while jumping over them, you'll fall. You'll probably lose health because of that, and you'll have to reroute to the start of the jumping sequence. Fall again, and you're dead. God. Oh well, when you get to him, C-3PO once again speaks - he never shuts up, that's authenticity for ya - and says R2-D2 claims to be the property of a General Kenobi. After that, you're once again out in the desert. Time to find Obi-Wan "Ben" Kenobi.

Oh, Chewie said that? Where is that oaf of fur,
by the way?
That's not easy, mind you. You still have no clue where to go, there are quite a few caves to be explored, and none of them matter except that one, which Obi-Wan... lives... in. There are some shields for the Millennium Falcon - explained later - to be found in the rest of the caves, but that's pretty much it. When you finally find the right one, it isn't made very clear that you're on the right track. "Exit" turns up first. What you need to do is go into the opposite direction, to the other end of the cave bottom, to finally find Obi-Wan Kenobi. So, if you have R2-D2 with you at this point, Obi-Wan leaves with you - if you don't, you'll have to get the droid and come back again. My Jedi instinct is telling me I should go to Mos Eisley to negotiate with Han and Chewie. But... eh? I'm once again in the desert, and I'm thinking that I've explored every corner there is. Oh, but I have Obi-Wan in my group now, perhaps I should select him. I'll do that. Cut to Kenobi's face. "The ways of the Force are very mysterious." Cut back to the game. THAT'S IT? Tell me what I'm supposed to do, old man! Aargh! This is like Daniel LaRusso trying to get a proper sentence out of Mr. Miyagi! Well, I didn't explore every corner, it seems. The bottom-right corner is a quite obvious gateway to Mos Eisley. I enter it, and after an hour and a half of gameplay - or should I say chasing a wild goose - already, I'm done with Tatooine, and the damn landspeeder, and all those enemies you can only randomly kill by using its turbo gauge. You guessed it, though, I'm heading into something worse.

Don't mess with me, I'm to be a Jedi.
Mos Eisley's cantina has enemies you can't kill with your blaster OR your lightsaber. That's: CAN'T KILL. As luck would have it, these very same enemies, on the other hand, have flamethrowers with incredible range, and they can easily burn half of your health bar to crisp with just one hit. From the other end of the cantina, you'll find Han Solo, and then you'll have to backtrack to the front door. But, you can do it by using Han or Luke, whichever you prefer. Han Solo would be an obvious choice, but he sucks. Luke has just gained the lightsaber, which is an excellent weapon, and Han still uses a blaster which has bigger bullets than Luke's, but it's just as weak. So, if you happen to die in the cantina, you simply have to talk to Han and try again. But, if you die OUTSIDE of the cantina, you'll have to re-enter the place, run to the other end, talk to Han and then, try again. Marvellous. This is the first of many points in the game I really wish it to be totally unplayable, and not a Star Wars game. I'm compelled to continue. Your objective is to get to the hangar where the Millennium Falcon is stored. The hangars are guarded by guys with jetpacks, who kind of look like Boba Fett. These guys are found in every NES game, Star Wars is finally a game they're in for a reason. Not in every NES game are they impossible to hit, though, and not in every NES game do they shower you with bullets that are impossible to dodge. Remember the health bar's non-usefulness? Well, guess what entered the fray once again. So, one of the guys was able to kill me. Big deal. Oh, I have to go back to the cantina and get Han Solo AGAIN?! And the hangar I'm supposed to get to is still a good rock throw away? Red rum, red rum, red rum.

"I've been looking forward to this for a long time."
"Yes, I bet you have." BANG! One of my
favourite scenes in Star Wars, vintage Harrison
Well, next up we have a "shooter" sequence. We're not shooting anything, though, we're simply dodging asteroids - or the remains of Alderaan, whatever - and the more shields you have gathered for the Falcon throughout the game work as your health. So yeah, if you haven't gathered any, it's OHK! Fair! And guess what? There's no going back; not even the continues will help you, you'll have to restart the game if the sequence turns out to be a trap for you! Upon conquering this sequence, we can engage in light-speed towards the Death Star, where we'll gain a new playable character in Princess Leia. And this, my friends, is where this review unceremoniously ends. I simply cannot get past Death Star. Every little thing that has been wrong about platforming controls, and the environment as of now, is ten fold worse on the Death Star. You might do fine up until the point you have to escape the station - this is when you'll have to face some just heinous obstacles like the longest jump of the century, and a room literally surrounded by spikes - and which has zero gravity. From what I've read, there are only three shooter sequences to go after that: the Falcon's escape from the Death Star, the X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter battle in space, and then the legendary final scene in which Luke uses the Force (and Han Solo's unexpected help) to destroy Death Star with one single shot. I'm so close, and yet so far. The game is simply merciless. There indeed will be no escape for the Princess this time!

Chewbacca is nowhere to be seen and Darth Vader (the greatest movie villain of all time - BAR NONE!) only appears in the Game Over screen, the game is frustratingly difficult and the controls really aren't even near perfect, but Star Wars still holds a fair deal of sentimental value to me, and even today, I can easily recognize it as relatively real, authentic Star Wars merchandise. Certainly not the worst movie license of the times out there, far from it. Even nice to return to, once in a while, to tear up a few excessive nerves.

SOUND : 8.7


Up until last year, I had no idea a version of Star Wars was also made for the Nintendo Game Boy. This one was developed by NMS Software, and published by Capcom in the U.S. and Ubisoft in Europe, exactly a year after the NES game. I was expecting a similar, but notably different ride, but what I got was a 100% faithful port of the previous game - and you wouldn't believe it, but it's better! A Game Boy port of an NES game, better! BOOM-SHAKA-LAKA!

The graphics are as much of exactly the same as they can possibly be on a small, black 'n' white screen. The sprites are bigger, the cutscenes have only tiny portraits of the characters' faces, and there's a capacity-related nuisance which affects gameplay to some degree - you can't see the direction of conveyor belts. It's all too detailed, as well; enemies have a violent tendency to mix with the background. The music's identical to that of the NES version. Still works, and I still think the cantina theme from the movie is better in the game than it was in the movie!

Would be nice to see where
I'm hurled to next.
Game Boy's rendition of Star Wars sports definitely better controls than its NES counterpart, which is another case of WTF; from the beginning of Game Boy's lifespan to its very end, its biggest problem was bad control. That, and invisible walls, which are definitely here. However, I haven't bumped into any horizontal ones, just vertical, and they aren't nearly as dangerous in this game as horizontal ones. It's considerably easier to perform running jumps, jump precision is more forgiving and enemies aren't quite as hard to kill. You can even kill the flamethrower bastards down at the cantina now, which is a big plus, but only with the lightsaber. On the downside, the lightsaber's range is really sucky. You have to time your hits perfectly, and get quite intimate with enemies to score a hit - and yep, accidental collisions with enemies spell just as much trouble as landing on spikes. The health bar doesn't stand for shit.

Still just as confusing and
cryptic. Good thing I had the
right path fresh in my
One weird thing about the game is that once you get Han Solo, your character sprite automatically changes to that of his, like in the NES game, but when you attack, Luke flashes in his place. You need to go to the character select screen and select Han Solo before you can actually use him. Hmm, curious. Quite an amusing glitch. What is NOT an amusing glitch is that if you die inside the cantina, Han's gone from your party and you CAN'T get him back before you exit and re-enter the cantina, and run all the way back to him.

Even that huge nuisance pushed aside, the Game Boy version of Star Wars is still better than the NES version. It's notably easier, also. You don't have to get one Falcon shield in this game, the asteroid stage is a piece of cake since you don't have to do anything else but steer the Falcon to either one of the bottom corners of the screen and remain there for its whole duration. It's amazing how much effect better controls have on the Death Star. So, I wouldn't go proclaiming this the Star Wars game of the ages, but considerable Game Boy entertainment.

SOUND : 8.5


GameRankings: 64.92% (GB)

2 kommenttia:

  1. I've heard that this game was difficult, but I didn't know it was "impossible to beat" difficult!

  2. Almost :D Even though I use emulators, I have chosen not to use any sort of save states. So yes, I would say it's nearly impossible.