tiistai 12. huhtikuuta 2011

REVIEW - Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1992)

GENRE(S): Action / Platform
RELEASED: March 1992
DEVELOPER(S): NMS Software (GB), Lucasfilm Games (NES)

Facebook's new poll system works quite well. I asked the simple question: "Best Star Wars movie?", and 17 of 25 voters answered "The Empire Strikes Back". I've got to say, I agree with them. The middle part of a trilogy's often my favourite anyway (Aliens, Saw II, The Two Towers, Dead Man's Chest etc.), but The Empire Strikes Back is special. It introduces a whole new cast of amazing supporting characters, and ends in a whole series of ultimate cliffhangers, which makes it even that more astounishing. It's an amazing movie, one of my all-time favourites. The Star Wars video game series on the NES came to a halt with The Empire Strikes Back; Nintendo decided to go for a reboot on the SNES, which turned out to be a very essential move. Game Boy, on the other hand, went on to get a port of the "Super" version of Return of the Jedi. Was the NES game really that bad and the Game Boy game that good? Yes to the first, no to the second. Or should I say, the NES game is completely useless, and although the Game Boy version is once again better, it's not that special either.

Control, control! You must learn control!

Darth Vader has become obsessed with the young Jedi apprentice Luke Skywalker, and finally locates him in a rebel base on the icy planet of Hoth. While investigating a fallen meteor, which turns out to be the Imperial surveillance droid sent after him, Luke finds himself trapped and has a vision of the late Obi-Wan Kenobi. The apparition tells Luke to travel to the Dagobah system and have the last remaining Jedi master, Yoda, carry out Obi-Wan's unfinished work as Luke's mentor. When the Empire manages to destroy the Hoth base despite strong resistance by the Rebel Alliance, Luke and R2-D2 flee to Dagobah, while Han Solo, Leia, C-3PO and Chewbacca seek asylum in Cloud City.

Yeah, so like I said before, The Empire Strikes Back is most definitely my favourite Star Wars movie. Took me a while to realize that, though - as a kid, I was more into Return of the Jedi, since I happened to be a fan of the Ewoks spin-off. In time, Empire grew on me. It's really rich when it comes to character development, cinematography, everything. Once again, it's just simply amazing. Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, which will be reviewed very soon, is one of the top movie licenses ever. As the case was with the Game Boy version of Star Wars, I had no idea there was also a game based on Empire on the NES and the Game Boy, up until last year when I started to do research on Star Wars games for this blog. Of course I was excited, since Star Wars wasn't half bad. Well, The Empire Strikes Back isn't half good.

That's a lot of ice. Too much ice to go with
these lacking controls.
To quote Leia and Han Solo's banter famous to us geeks, the game is scruffy-lookin'. The cutscenes and digitized portraits of the characters look like shit, the sprites are tiny and thin, and the environments are simply dull. What was it with some sequels on the NES? Why were they uglier than their predecessors? Did the developers really not care? Why did they bother? Once again, too much questions, no answers. Music? IS there music in this game? Well, the Star Wars theme song starts the thing off on a high note, but all we get during the game is a series of random few-second samples, playing on random intervals: some original one, Luke's theme and "The Imperial March". Most of the time, we only hear some really horrible sound effects and voice samples. Even a taun taun's breath emits a ghastly, aggressive sound effect.

Once again, when we start the game we could go all fanboy/girl on it. In the game, you willingly enter the wampa's cave and your actual objective is to fight it for no apparent reason. I won't do it, though - rant it to death I mean. The game is really not worth it. The ice cave is like a maze, and it has a lot of dead ends. You pretty much need to find your lightsaber first, as Obi-Wan oh, so disruptingly states in a sudden dialogue screen that just appears out of nowhere after your first few steps. Initially, you ride a taun taun, which you can dismount at any time. It's really weak. Apparently it takes damage from your lightsaber, dies from the first slip to cold water whereas you can afford three or four slips, and controlling it and blasting away at surveillance droids at the same time is hard. The taun taun has absolutely no use in the game besides the extra health meter. You might think only a large animal companion like the taun taun would allow you to jump higher, but that's not true either. You can actually jump much higher than a taun taun by using Luke's superjump ripped straight off Super Mario Bros. 2. An even more powerful superjump is your first Force upgrade in the game.

The gameplay's quite putrid, Star Wars was way more co-operative. There are invisible walls all over the place. You can shoot in any direction, but whenever you crouch, Luke pretty much decides on the direction himself, like in many NES games that have this sort of multi-directional feature. The lack of traction rears its ugly head one more time, and you can pretty much guess how much of a nuisance it is in a place that has tiny, moving, and moreover, ICY platforms with crazy droids flying over them and shooting at you.

Yeah, that wampa's definitely mooning you.
Hoth is a freaking nightmare! Perhaps not quite as nightmarish as the rest of the game, but enough of a rocky start to convince you that you're not dealing with a very good game here. First, you've got to find a lightsaber and the Force jump ability from the dead-end-laden ice maze, and then, climb up a vertical chasm of ice to reach a wampa and kill it. Once again, don't you go pointing out that Luke was trapped by the wampa and killed it in a desperate struggle for his life, and was then rescued by Han Solo and taken back to the rebel base. That would be a fanboy rant, and we don't want none here. So, you've got to kill the wampa, get out of the cave and then... go right back into the cave from the other side. What the obiwankenobi is going on here? Oh, so now we have to look for the droid, the "meteorite". Right. Where is it, then? We searched everywhere, right? No. There's a secret passage hidden in there we need to use to find a couple of more secret passages, and another wampa to kill, before we'll finally be able to find what we came here to find... and get killed by it. And forced to start this section of the first stage all over again. It might've already been an hour since we started playing, and we're still stuck in the first damn cave. Boring! The droid is unbelievably tough, but just like in the wampa's case, there's a lightsaber tactic that never fails.

Scruffy? Well, these are the best graphics
you'll get out of this game.
OK, so when you're finally done with the cave and its annoying bosses, you'll find yourself back at the base, piloting a small fighter and shooting at AT-AT Walkers. This stage looks relatively cool, but you guessed it, it isn't cool at all. Remember the harpoon Luke figured to use to tie the Walkers' legs together and knock them over in the movie? Well, that harpoon is in the game but it has no use. OK, sometimes you might hit the legs out of pure luck, but sometimes the harpoons just fly downright through the robot bastards! You only have five of them, and ten Walkers to destroy; the ones you can't harpoon (that's all of them, usually) you just simply circle 'round and shoot. If a Walker manages to destroy your ship... well, that's just tough luck! Luke has to get a new fighter from the field while hunted down by huge numbers of stormtroopers, and it's incredibly hard to enter a new ship. You have to time your jump to the cockpit just right or else Luke'll just jump around in place, as effortless cannon fodder to the troopers.

After the AT-AT massacre, it's time to evacuate the base in perhaps the longest stage of the game... which again, has two boss fights. Another Walker, and another Imperial probe droid. Wow. Imaginative. At this point, my final opinion on the game started to change a little. From the beginning, I had thought it was shit, but at this point, I was kind of getting used to its worst qualities, and just thought it was so boring that if I ever beat it, I will never so much as spit on it again. Your primary objective here, by the way, is to save Princess Leia from something. While you're doing it, Obi-Wan appears - a bit late, I'd say - and tells you to go to the Dagobah system. Well, that then becomes your primary objective. So to hell with Leia, I guess, we're off to find an ancient Jedi in a freakin' swamp. I'll speed this up a little, now, 'cause it's the end of the game I want to make a special note of.

Like AVGN said in his review, the Dagobah swamp is ridiculous. It's this game's Death Star; conquer it, and you've basically conquered the game. What I wanted to say - and this is not a fanboy rant, I assure you - is that it's clear this game was rushed, and perceived as no more than a quickie just for the fun of it by Lucasfilm Games. It was never meant to be good. You know why it's obvious? 'Cause the story ends here, in a totally different way from the trilogy. It's like they always knew they wouldn't make a Return of the Jedi for the NES, so they screwed the movie's plot altogether. There is no reason for this game's existence, not even for Lucasfilm. They weren't really expecting to make money, and they didn't, the game was a flop.

They decided to make up for his nearly complete
absence in the previous game by overutilizing
him. You'll see.
So, it's like this - the alternative 8-bit theatrical release of The Empire Strikes Back or something. Luke completes his training on Dagobah, then you have to take out 20 (!!!) Cloud cars and 32 (!!!) TIE Fighters in the same way you took out the 10 AT-AT Walkers, without the harpoons though. The purpose of this, of course, is to rescue Han Solo and to kill his captor, Boba Fett. For those of you who don't remember, both of these events actually took place in Return of the Jedi, on a whole different planet. Well... then it's Princess Leia's turn to be rescued, as she is kidnapped by the Sith Lord himself, Darth Vader. The boss fight against Darth Vader takes about three years. There are six phases in the fight, absolutely no notion of the greatest "holy shit" moment of the whole original trilogy - Vader's revelation of his true identity - and Vader pretty much dies in the end of this fight, or rather proclaims he'll be back just like any video game villain. In the movie, he won, and Luke was the one to take a rather nasty fall. Luke was also the one that came to Vader in the third movie, not the other way around. But again, it's clear that this game wasn't made to follow the rules.

The Empire Strikes Back is an occasionally near-playable, but useless, hapless and extremely boring game for the NES. It's moderately ugly, it sounds absolutely horrible, it's ultimately tedious to play no matter how you look at it, and as a canonical, official piece of cult Star Wars merchandise, it doesn't quite work since the story and atmosphere are both full of holes. I suggest you look into the better, and moreover, COMPLETE trilogy of games on the SNES before even testing this one out.

SOUND : 5.1


The Empire Strikes Back on the Game Boy looks a bit more sufficient, relatively speaking, than the NES version. It's once again a direct port, and nothing about it notably differs from the NES game. If there's something wrong with it, it's the brightness. The game looks extremely faded and old. Listening to this game, I kind of understand why they chose to not have constant background music in the NES version. Repetitive? At the very least!

The difference in control and comfort of gameplay is initially exactly the same as between the NES and Game Boy versions of Star Wars. The controls respond a bit better, traction's better, and what still amazes me, there are less invisible walls, which are usually Game Boy's biggest problem with any platformer, including its flagship Super Mario Land! However, this one's a bit too stiff. The lightsaber has crappy range, and collision detection altogether seems to be at a fatal low. Not only do crystal clear hits from the lightsaber ultimately miss according to the program, but shots from the blaster sometimes go straight through the enemies! Oh yeah, and guess what? Any boss takes a million hits to kill as it is.

Not this icy shithole again.
Seriously, if you don't have the upgrade that boosts the power of Luke's lightsaber, which you don't even get before the rebel base evacuation to my knowledge, you might find yourself beating a single, simple boss like the wampa down for five to ten minutes. You know the worst thing about this? This holds true to each and every AT-AT, AT-ST and TIE Fighter in this game. Still doesn't rattle your bones? Well, just imagine the stages which are based on destroying robots and starfighters. Yep, they take forever. The fact that your own vehicle doesn't really have breakneck speed - in fact I've seen beards grow faster - doesn't really help the situation. Well, at least the harpoons work this time, and there are less enemies to destroy in both shooting stages. I actually counted that if even if you use rapid fire on an AT-AT, it loses one whole tick of health in ten seconds, and it has something like nine ticks, altogether. So it takes at least a minute and a half to down one of those bastards without a harpoon, which incapacitates them immediately. Of course, you lose the same amount of health from every smallest hit - a lot. But you can't really die in the AT-AT battle... if you manage to stay awake throughout the ordeal.

The ST's not exactly the most
agile mount.
It's slow, it's boring and it has most of the quirks that the NES version has, but at least it's fun and comfortable to play to some extent in comparison, as long as there's no sound; it's all about brief samples of the best of Star Wars, on an endless, irritating loop. Luckily Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back came along very soon and erased these two games from our memories quite efficiently.

SOUND : 5.0


GameRankings: 66.50% (GB)

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