Perhaps it’s just the fact that almost every single one of my elementary schools was absolutely obsessed with the franchise, but I seem to remember playing this week’s game(s) time forgot at least once a year during my formative years. Many was the time I’d spend an afternoon at my friend Mark’s house, only to waste away the hours on one of the three Super Star Wars games for the Super Nintendo.
Super Star Wars, Super Empire Strikes Back, and Super Return of the Jedi subsequently showed up rather frequently on the Burch family Blockbuster account — and I know I can’t be the only one who fell victim to the addictive, harder-than-it-oughtta-be-considering-the-target-audience gameplay offered by LucasArts’ interactive adaptation of one of the best film trilogies of all time.
The Super Star Wars trilogy not only included a solid mix of platforming, combat, and mode 7 racing levels (things “normal” gamers could appreciate), but also allowed players to take control of Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Chewbacca, and Leia in both Boushh and Bikini outfits (things I was interested in).
And people say all licensed games suck.
Firstly, I’d like to apologize for the following embedded YouTube videos. I dunno why the dude who edited them together thought it was necessary to cut back to the title screen every thirty seconds, but the videos nonetheless showcase a hefty amount of gameplay from each entry in the series.
Each Super Star Wars game follows the basic structure of its respective film, but with roughly eight hundred times more unnecessary violence. Instead of simply walking into the desert and getting his droids back as he did in A New Hope, Luke now has to jump around the outsides and insides of a Sandcrawler, blasting Tusken Raiders and Jawas and Krayt Dragons all the way. Rather than just driving directly back to the moisture farm on his landspeeder, Super Star Wars Luke deems it necessary to blast roughly two-dozen Jawas on his way home.
This degree of creative license with the films’ original plots is hardly surprising — given the choice between playing through a mundane, financially accurate Jawa bartering minigame and a twitch-reflex platforming stage where you blow away no fewer than thirty sand midgets for no reason, which would you pick — but it’s still kind of amusing to see the Star Wars saga’s calmer moments turned into excuses for pulse-pounding action levels.
Other than the obvious action-centric changes made to the plot, the games remain more or less faithful to the general tone of the films: small cutscenes move the plot along in between stages, the graphics look as realistic as they need to, and the music is great. John Williams’ score was digitally recreated for all three films an,d even now, has a definite low-tech charm while still channeling the basic attitude of the films’ orchestral soundtracks.
Each Super Star Wars game is made up of roughly 90% side-scrolling platform/shootemup stages, and 10% vehicle stages (powered by Mode 7, of course).
The player can choose one of three characters to play through each side-scrolling with, and the cast differs depending on which game you’re playing and your location in the story. Super Star Wars and Empire only allowed for Han, Luke, and Chewie, but Return of the Jedi added Leia and, for God knows what reason, Wicket the Ewok. Each character had different weapons and statistics, of course, but I never knew — for me it was Han Solo, or nothing at all. I make no apology for this.
The platforming levels are notable for being unforgivably hard; even with a fully upgraded blaster and extra lives a-plenty, the constant flood of enemies and painfully difficult jumps can be enough to make even the most hardened old-school gamer cringe in anger and irritation. Even when using NOT save state on a NOT emulated version of Return of the Jedi, it’s almost hilariously difficult to beat the final boss (Emperor Palpatine) without dying roughly eighty times in the process.
Even if you can’t actually get all the way to the end credits of the final game, though, you’ll still have a really good time. As one would hope from an absurdly challenging 2D action platformer, the controls are extremely tight; same goes for the level design. Writing about it now, I actually find it rather difficult to point out just a few exceptional things about the platforming levels, simply by virtue of the fact that they’re so universally well-done.
The Mode 7 spaceship levels, while not quite as tight, are still fun. Whether you’re piloting the Milennium Falcon in ROTJ or blowing up AT-ATs on Hoth in Empire, the ship levels do more or less what they have to: they break up the action between platforming levels, and give the player the opportunity to (more or less) experience some of the series’ most epic moments. The controls are nowhere near as responsive as they oughtta be — to this day, I cannot beat the final spaceship level of ROTJ without getting an anger-induced headache — but they serve their purpose well enough.
Why you’re probably not playing it:
Given its illogical attitude toward story-driven action, arcadey sensibilities and varied modes of play, one might initially be tempted to label Super Star Wars a relic of the past — retro, classic, what have you. Most all of the subsequent Star Wars games chose a much more serious, atmospheric attitude for the franchise (Knights of the Old Republic didn’t have a high score table, after all), and Super Star Wars could be said to represent that brief time in the series’ history when it prioritized balls-out fun over storytelling or immersion.
That said, however, I don’t think the sensibilities which gave birth to the Super Star Wars trilogy immediately disappeared after the release of Super ROTJ. When I think of Shadows of the Empire, the next SW game I got really hooked on following the completion of the Super trilogy, it actually shares a lot of the same ideas and structure. In Shadows, you blow through a level full of Stormtroopers and/or Wampas and are rewarded with a brief, slideshow-style cut scene before playing a brief spaceship mission — same as Super Star Wars, just in 3D.
Similarly, if you’ve ever played Star Wars Trilogy Arcade, that essentially replicates the structure and tone of the Super Star Wars games save for an emphasis on first-person shooting and joystickery. On one hand, you’ve got Star Wars Galaxies and Knights of the Old Republic, which focus on completely immersing the player in the SW universe. On the other, you’ve got games like Star Wars Trilogy Arcade or the Super trilogy. To that end, it feels like the Super Star Wars series wasn’t outright forgotten, per se, just separated into a sub-genre of a sub-genre.