Ah, Star Wars back in the good old days. Before George Lucas pissed all over his franchise while yes-man Rick McCallum cheered him on in the background. Practically everyone over the age of five is familiar with this film series, and if you're not... welcome to our planet. Lucas took his inspiration from many sources: a touch here from E.E. Smith's Lensman series and other pulp science fiction stories, a tad from old Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers movie serials, a little bit from Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress, a little bit more from ancient mythology... and cobbled it all together into one of the most popular and successful film franchises of all time. Today you're getting a three-in-one Licensed Games That Don't Entirely Suck from the 16-bit era: Super Star Wars, Super The Empire Strikes Back, and Super Return of the Jedi.
Star Wars licensed games go all the way back to 1982's The Empire Strikes Back for Atari 2600, followed a year later by the vector-based Star Wars arcade game (notable as my first gaming memory). Many, many, MANY
more would continue to come out over the years. Not all of them were stellar, but a lot of them were quite good (even excellent in some cases). This definitely won't be the last LGTDES post to feature a Star Wars title. The NES received kinda-decent treatments of the original two movies, but it wasn't until the SNES that players would get to experience the entire trilogy on one system.
Developed by Sculptured Software and published by JVC, each of the three Super Star Wars games are at their core essentially the same. Most stages are action platformer/shooters often concluding with a boss battle, with quasi-3D Mode 7 vehicle levels thrown in every now and then. These Mode 7 stages were the most obvious reason this series stayed exclusive to the SNES and never got ported to the Genesis/Mega Drive (although a PC port of the first game was nearly complete before LucasArts had it canned). Between the levels you'd be treated to a cinema style cut-scene advancing the film's plot. Digitized sound effects and MIDI versions of John Williams's score (nicely pumped out by Sony's SPC700 sound chip) helped recreate the movies' atmosphere. Each title featured multiple characters you could select at certain points, with their own unique gameplay quirks. The default weapon for most characters is usually a blaster, which you can upgrade several levels through pickups. Thermal Detonators acted as a "kill every enemy on the screen" item. While the games improved graphically as the series went on, many elements stayed the same in each instalment (such as the item pickups, sound effects, life bars, and scoring system), adding a nice continuity throughout.
The first game in the series, Super Star Wars, was released in 1992. Featuring Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Chewbacca as the playable characters, you fought your way through the events of Episode IV: A New Hope. The plot differs from the film in some spots for the sake of gameplay; I suppose Luke wanted to save some cash, because instead of buying the droids from the Jawas he stages an one-man assault on their sandcrawler. A few levels into the game, Luke meets up with Ben Kenobi and gets access to his whiny emo bitch of a father's lightsaber. Han and Chewbacca make up for the lack of an awesome laser sword by their increased default blaster firepower. The Mode 7 stages in this game include slaughtering more Jawas in your landspeeder, and taking out TIE Fighters and laser turrets across the surface of the Death Star. The last level of the game is a cockpit-view trench run, in which you try to survive long enough to knock Vader's TIE Advanced goofy, reach the thermal exhaust port, and fire your proton torpedoes. Note to Death Star engineers: Next time, you might want to put a grate over that hole or something.
Super The Empire Strikes Back came out one year later in 1993. You still played as the same three characters, but this time they changed them up a bit to make them more unique. Another difference from the other two games is you don't have the option to select your character in certain stages, who you play as is predetermined. Luke still has his blaster and lightsaber, but half-way through the game he'll get access to several Force powers (Yoda's training apparently involved searching the swamps of Dagobah for hidden collectibles). Luke also has the added ability to deflect blaster fire with the lightsaber. Han keeps his powered-up blaster and can now toss some bad ass grenades. Chewie has his normal wookie bowcaster along with a Zangief-style spinning clothesline attack. The vehicle stages include the Battle of Hoth (taking down AT-STs and AT-ATs in your snowspeeder never gets old to me), the Millennium Falcon's fight through the asteroid belt, and blowing up Cloud Cars over Bespin in Luke's X-Wing. The final boss of course is a saber duel against Darth Vader in the depths of Cloud City. Super Empire is easily my favorite of the three titles in the Super Star Wars series.
Fans were forced to wait until 1995 for the last instalment, Super Return of the Jedi. Joining Luke (who ditches his blaster entirely this time around), Han, and Chewie as playable characters were Leia and *shudder*
Wicket the Ewok. Wicket had a bow and arrow he used to defend his tree-top village of savage teddy bears, and Leia cosplayed as Boushh the bounty hunter, ZOMG HOT slave girl, or Rebel trooper depending on the stage (each outfit gave her different attacks). Mode 7 stages include taking Luke's new pimped-out landspeeder to Jabba's palace, fighting stormtroopers on Endor's moon with a speederbike, blowing away a bunch of TIES with the Millennium Falcon, and finally flying the Falcon into the fully armed and operational second Death Star to make it go boom (and escaping the resulting explosion). Before you blew up the battle station however, you'd have to play as Luke facing his papa for the last time, followed by a showdown against Emperor Palpatine and his nasty Force Lightning. While Super Return of the Jedi is a great game and a nice close to the series, much like it's film counterpart I felt it was a bit of a letdown after the awesomeness that was Super Empire. Of course, I could just be projecting my opinions of the movies onto the games.
The largest complaint that can be made about these games is that they're extremely difficult compared to the average licensed title. Getting to the end of any of the Super Star Wars titles likely involved a lot of thrown controllers, natural gaming abilities on par with Jimmy Woods, or the help of a Game Genie (guess which method I ultimately went with). If you're a retro gamer Star Wars fan who enjoys a good challenge, you can't go wrong with these. Track them down on eBay or a local game shop that still sells used SNES titles but DEFINITELY DO NOT EMULATE THESE BECAUSE THAT WOULD BE WRONG.
Knowing how quick Lucas is to whore out his number one franchise, I'm frankly shocked these games haven't found their way to the Virtual Console or shown up even earlier as GBA remakes. Maybe he's holding out for the seventh re-release of the original trilogy on DVD. Whatever the reason, here's hoping we'll someday get a chance to play through the good Star Wars movies once again in all their 16-bit glory.
Licensed Games That Don't Entirely Suck - #1: DuckTales
Licensed Games That Don't Entirely Suck - #2: Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers
Licensed Games That Don't Entirely Suck - #3: Super Star Wars Trilogy
Licensed Games That Don't Entirely Suck - #4: MYSTERY ARCADE GAME