tiistai 12. huhtikuuta 2011

REVIEW - Super Star Wars (1992)

GENRE(S): Action / Platform
RELEASED: June 1992
AVAILABLE ON: SNES, Wii Virtual Console
DEVELOPER(S): Sculptured Software, LucasArts
PUBLISHER(S): JVC (SNES), Nintendo (Wii)

The Star Wars series was off to such a bad curve on the NES, that LucasArts decided to ditch their concept of a quick Return of the Jedi game and instead, reboot the Star Wars franchise on the SNES. Although the development of the first game in the Super Star Wars series was rather fast, LucasArts and Sculptured Software managed to make a game that took full advantage of the platform's capabilities and was bound to please true Star Wars fans with its authenticity, and critics with its fluid gameplay. In turn, the game was both criticized and praised for its enormous level of difficulty, on par with some of the most difficult action-oriented platformers in history, including the much feared Ghosts 'n Goblins. How does Super Star Wars fare today? Well, it's not the best and most consistent game in the trilogy - and since it's primarily a remake of the NES game Star Wars, it isn't as faithful to the movie as its followers, but at the time of its release, it was a bombshell, a new standard for a good Star Wars video game - not to mention a good movie license in general.

We'll be destroyed for sure. This is madness.

Cruisin' Tatooine.
When an escape pod from outer space crashes on the desert planet of Tatooine, a young farmhand named Luke Skywalker sets out to investigate. He finds a lone protocol droid by the name of C-3PO, who tells him that the Jawas kidnapped his partner R2-D2. Luke rescues the puny droid and finds a message from a Princess Leia Organa to a man named Obi-Wan Kenobi. An old hermit known to Luke, named Ben, reveals himself to be Obi-Wan Kenobi, a once decorated Jedi knight. Luke joins Kenobi in his quest to save the Princess, and chooses to train as his apprentice in the ways of the Force.

As you can see, liberties were taken with the game's plot and some important threads such as Obi-Wan's connection to Luke's father are left out, shamelessly, but with a true agenda this time: to place less emphasis on drama, and make the game as diversely action-packed as possible. It's made quite clear early on that the purpose of the game is to serve a stripped, alternative plotline to Episode IV, with only the most important key points intact. They could've made a game that followed the movie's plot for a while, then took a whole new turn to something completely awkward, and then abruptly returned to the movie again, making the game look like an incoherent mess; this "alternative plotline" might be daring, it might turn some fans off as an idea, including me, but believe me, the atmosphere is still just right - this is Star Wars, baby. From the graphical design to music, to sound effects, to every audiovisual seam, it's Star Wars in its purest imaginable 16-bit form... and HARDEST.

The game's being a bitch from the very start.
The graphics could be better, but instead of focusing on making the game look good in the good old sense, the developers focused on making it look alive and diverse, and they nailed that job quite proficiently. Parallax scrolling and Mode 7 effects are there from the very beginning, from the famous 3D title card narrative fading into outer space, to landspeeder and X-Wing stages. The cutscenes look good, although like it's been noted by many, Luke Skywalker has an exceptionally ugly mug, especially in the title screen, in which he looks more like a piss-drunk Mark Hamill in 2011 than a strapping Jedi apprentice in 1977. The soundscape of the game is simply excellent. Paul Webb's soundtrack consists of well-fitted adaptations of John Williams' original score and a whole truck full of actual Star Wars sound effects are utilized - from the different noises the lightsaber emits, to the voices of the Jawas, even the blaster sounds real! On top of it all: full stereo sound, baby. Plug in a set of headphones, grab that controller and... may the Force be with you. You're certainly going to need it.

The journey begins... finally.
Let me guess: you're thinking "hey, this one's a remake of Star Wars and it has awesome controls, I'm so going to conquer Death Star this time". Eh heh, think again, bucko; only with perfect dedication and a great, big stroke of luck, will you get past Tatooine. Contra, Contra III: The Alien Wars, Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse, Ghosts 'n Goblins, Ghouls 'n Ghosts, Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts, Journey to Silius, Mega Man 3, Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom, and of course, Star Wars. These ten games were the first to come to mind when I started reflecting on ten action platformers which have given me the most hell in my life. After listing them, I began to pick them apart: what made them difficult? I can assure you, every single point I made is referenced in Super Star Wars.

Insane, should I say, diabolically precise jumps, slides and platform sequences. Rare power-ups. One hit kills. Corrupting platforms above nothingness. Flying bastards. Enemies coming from all sides. Ultra-fast tempo. My favourite: spikes. Oh yes, and a time limit, but that's only for keeping score, thank heavens. Environmental hazards looming everywhere, and multiple ones at the same time. Debris from destroyed robots damages you. These are all very notable parts of the Super Star Wars experience. There's more, though: ultra-hard Mode 7 sequences in the wheel of Luke's landspeeder and the X-Wing. Downright unfair traps feasting on the art of trial and error. One checkpoint per long stage. No save feature. Like I said, you deserve a round of applause if you make it past Tatooine. Super Star Wars is an extremely difficult, frustrating game. But it is also fun. Why? Because there's virtually nothing wrong with the gameplay. It's a game you want to beat, or die trying.

I don't remember seeing a lightsaber do that to
folk, but... FORE!
You play as Luke Skywalker and for the longest time, you don't have a choice. Even if a lot of the events before Luke's arrival in Mos Eisley are left out, there's plenty to do before that. First off, you need to whip a Sarlacc's ass on a desert to make your way to the crashed escape pod. Then, you need to deal with a pack of rampant Jawas using your landspeeder and enter the first true shrine of unholiness called the Jawa sandcrawler. Then, you need to travel to the land of the sandpeople to find Obi-Wan Kenobi. The man offers you the Jedi lightsaber and has you train on some more sandpeople and their bantha pets. Then, you need to deal with another pack of Jawas, a much larger and more hostile one. Then, you'll finally be at Mos Eisley, where you need to pass through a hangar where casual players come to die. You have to beat a difficult sub-boss just before it, there are enemies and falling debris everywhere, and as if that wasn't enough, there's a metal grabber just waiting to clutch your character and squeeze the life out of him. At this time, you get to choose between Luke, Han Solo and *drum roll* Chewbacca! Everyone's favourite wookiee is in the video game business at long last! Grrrrrauuuuuuurrr!!!

A wookiee's good to have on your side in a
bar fight.
The differences between the characters aren't that severe. Han's the best shot, Chewie has splash firepower, and Luke, well, he's an all-around guy with some dastardly Jedi AOE moves, which have good range but leave him vulnerable to many attacks. Of course these moves are not available until you get the lightsaber, 'til then Luke carries a blaster as well, and you can switch back to it at any time. As a matter of fact, usually it's the better choice when dealing with packs of regular enemies. You can also ricochet blaster shots off walls, which is neat and useful. The power-ups include shields, Darth Vader helmets which grant you a score multiplier, lightsabers which increase your maximum health and blaster upgrades, which make the blaster an even more essential weapon - there are no upgrades for the saber. Every once in a while, you might find a thermal detonator, which destroys everything on the screen once it's used. It's only useable for a limited time, so you're lucky if you can make it to a boss with it - it does heavy damage on them as well.

That's one tough pick...
The tempo of the game is simply furious. Half of the time, you'll find yourself just pushing forward by shooting everything in sight or jumping around using Luke's Jedi somersault and praying to the god of your choice that you'll make it out alive. You simply don't have time to stop, there's danger everywhere. From the very beginning, the game takes no prisoners and it only gets worse towards the end. If you make it to the Death Star, give yourself a nice, long pat on your shoulder. If you're still willing to go on, you're a stronger man than I am. There's so much actual physical pain involved in the difficulty level of Super Star Wars (heartburn's a bitch), and such overwhelming frustration due to only three continues and the lack of a save feature, that even after 19 years, I must postpone any thought of even attempting to beat this game.

...But of course I'll go with Han.
The traps are not fun - like a seemingly ordinary lift sending you straight down into a set of spikes - and sure, I must say the difficulty level of the game is more than a bit exaggerated from time to time. The thing that bothers me most, though, is that the stages repeat themselves to eternity. In many stages, like the first one, the land of the banthas, and both parts of Mos Eisley, you're playing the same few screens over and over again. It really feels like there's a wrap puzzle straight out of Super Mario Bros., Final Fantasy or The Legend of Zelda, in which you needed to find a correct route to make progress, but there's not, the stages are just that repetitive and lengthy - it's not like there would be a choice of route anyway.

It's diabolical, but it's good - so good that it blew every preceding video game in the media franchise right off the map, and paved the way for a bunch of different, better ones. It remains to be seen if I ever beat this one, it's a project I would not provoke my worst enemy to take on - a save feature would've been a very nice way to increase the product's lifespan in casual use! However, I can easily implore Star Wars fans to try the game out, even if just to see how the Star Wars game was truly born. I personally think the next two games fared better in terms of presentation and some fashion of slack.

SOUND : 9.3


GameRankings: 88.25%

The game was received so well that a PC port was made by Brain Bug, but never released due to LucasArts' desire to draw a clear line between the PC and console games based on Star Wars.

A stage based on the trash compactor scene on the Death Star was made, but deleted due to to memory constraints.

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