For most people Nintendo's defining moments came in 1985 when Super Mario Bros. arrived and changed the landscape for video games forever. During that time, my cousins, friends and almost everyone I knew would have a Nintendo Entertainment System or later a Super Nintendo to call their own. Everyone except this guy. Even back then I was a rebel, a staunch Sega supporter. Really though back then, it wasn't because I hated Nintendo because I did have fun with it, I just was drawn to other games like Shinobi, Golden Axe, Altered Beast, Wonderboy, Alex Kidd & Miracle World and not to forget multiconsole stuff like Double Dragon which at one point had it been only on a Nintendo console might have swayed me to Nintendo's side. However it wasn't meant to be and ironically I'd miss out on the beginnings of a great partnership that would last through several console iterations. That partnership you ask? Nintendo & Star Wars. A winning combination that would lead to some of the best Star Wars games ever put to a video game console. However I'm here to talk about the one that would change my perception not only action/adventure games but Star Wars games in general. It's one of my favourite games of all time and it's name is Shadows Of The Empire.
In September of 1996, Nintendo had finally released the Nintendo 64 console, which to most Nintendo fans had taken a brutally long time to hit stores having been teased about it's existence for almost a year. Now it was finally here, in homes dazzling fans of the next generation of gaming with it's superior graphical power, making it's new competitor the Sony PlayStation look downright bad in comparison when only a year ago we'd all 'oohh'ed' and 'ahhh'ed' over it's leap over the last generation of gaming. So it was with this generation's latest consoles that I ventured into the beginnings of my High School years and would make new friends. Two friend's in particular stood out as my best at the time, both would ironically represent either side of the arguement. One friend, Lukas who represented Sony at the time, would invite us over for games of NHL '98 on his brand spanking new Sony PlayStation with which sterilization was key to enjoyment as before sitting down on his proper bed in his neat and clean home would make guests clean their hands before taking to the ice. This coupled with games like Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil, Twisted Metal and Die Hard Trilogy had me sold on Sony's machine pretty early on. However there was another side to the story and that would come from my friend Richard (if you've played with us on Xbox Live he's "Delta Rico 9er") who championed the Nintendo 64 in all it's glory. Originally it was Mario 64, International Superstar Soccer 64, Goldeneye 64 and the like that he touted as the reasons to own a N64, but it wasn't until around the time that I started to see advertisements for the new Star Wars game that I became interested in what the N64 had to offer.
In 1996 coincidentally LucasArts were creating a multimedia project surrounding the Expanded Universe novel"Shadows Of The Empire" by Steve Perry. The multimedia project included an actual score composed for the book by Joel McNeely, an action figure line featuring the mainstays of the cast plus the new characters and a video game for the Nintendo 64 console. But what was the game based upon? The novel told of the events that took place between The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi as our familiar cast in Luke, Leia, Chewie & Lando searched out for information on Boba Fett, the bounty hunter tasked with the delivery of Han Solo, frozen in carbonite, to Jabba The Hutt. During the course of the book they meet some new players in the Star Wars Universe that were meant to disappear after their appearance considering the obvious reasons that they were not in the Original Trilogy. One such character was Dash Rendar a smuggler like Han Solo but more in line with how Han was at the beginning of 'Star Wars' a scoundrel to the end. Another Prince Xizor, a Coruscant gangster acted as the new antagonist for the story in which a power struggle between him and Vader for The Emperor's favour took place.
So with that basic premise a game was made, with the player taking control of Dash Rendar. Shadows looked amazing, like nothing else out on the market at the time. Most amazing of course was the greater detail in 3-D. Even though for a long time now we'd seen some great visual treatments for Star Wars stuff on the PC in the guise of Tie Fighter and X-Wing but now we were getting fully rendered 3-D graphics of places I'd only dream about playing. Unlike most other Star Wars games which would opt for more top down viewpoints we saw Dash from behind in those 3-D environments, we saw them stretch out for miles as he begun his journey.
The summer months of '98 seemed to melt away as I became more and more engrossed with Shadows It had in my mind become a must buy if I were to ever get a Nintendo 64. I have fond memories of being in that sweat box of a room that Richard had, mastering the game. Playing on different difficulties to see the "true ending". Scouring the sewers of Xizor's palace, trying to avoid as best I could the Dianoga's in lieu of the big boss fight at the end. Having it out with IG-88 in the scrapyard's of Ord Mantell, fighting off a Swoop Gang hell bent on reaching and assassinating Luke Skywaler, traversing the one of the cliffs on foot and via jetpack in the jagged mountainscapes of Gall Spaceport, one of my favourite and one of the longest level's I've ever played in a video game. Going back and locating each and every Challenge Point, even the one that was hidden behind a wall...you know who you are! Parts of Joel McNeely's score for the book were featured in game as well. I remember playing the final level of the game, piloting Dash's Outrider in a giant space battle as ships whizzed by to McNeely's score, which for me made the game even more special as certain game levels had music written specifically for the multimedia project itself...a rare thing for Star Wars as they usually recycle the movie music. By extension it made the game even more epic and once I bought my own N64 based upon my love of the game alone, I'd sit there playing the CD as I traversed through Dash's adventure time and time again. For others maybe the standout game was Rogue Squadron but for me anyways, Shadow's is a classic that blew me away at a time where both the graphical power of consoles and the best stories for the Star Wars Universe were yet to be told or seen.
The beginning of this video features music composed for Shadows specifically by Joel McNeely, later though we find out what happened to Dash Rendar. Watch if ye doesn't mind spoilers
Originally I was going to write about my experiences with later consoles but thinking about it nothing quite affected me like the first time I played Shadows. However I will give note to Star Wars and Nintendo's continuing partnership in the following generation. During the Gamecube's heyday, I wanted the system for Rebel Strike: Rogue Squadron III because not only did it feature flying and ground combat but several of the levels featured events from the films. I can't tell you how ecstatic I was once I got to play as Han Solo pretending to be a Stormtrooper heading to cellblock 1138 to rescue Princess Leia, flying around and taking AT-AT's on the ground at the Battle Of Hoth as Luke Skywalker to the infamous skiff battle at the beginning Return Of The Jedi and zipping around the forest moon of Endor on swoop bikes. Rebel Strike not only looking amazing, as it literally was the best looking game on the Cube in my opinion. It also had alot of replay value based upon the whole medal system which meant improving performance to unlock levels as well as Rogue Squadron II in it's entirety as a Co-Op experience. It's almost bittersweet though, considering it was the ending of a partnership that had been strong since the SNES days of Super Star Wars and it's sequels. Now the focus has shifted from putting out quality titles on Nintendo but to bring the experience to a wider audience in the Xbox 360 and PS3 consoles. Sadly Star Wars titles haven't been nearly as quality as those but atleast we'll always have our fond memories to look back on.