Star Wars Arcade Opening scene replication
Screenshot by Destructoid

Star Wars Arcade for Sega 32X has got it where it counts, kid

Lock S-Foils in attack position.

Ah, Star Wars Arcade. No, not that Star Wars Arcade game. Not that one, either. I’m talking about the 1993 Star Wars Arcade created by Sega. Except I’m not. I’m talking about the 1994 port for the Sega 32X.

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Ah, the Sega 32X. I own more games for that growth of a console than anyone should. One of the easiest to find, and one that I’ve owned since I picked up the console, is Star Wars Arcade, which is an expanded home port of the, well, arcade version. 

One thing to know is that the 32X was nowhere near as powerful when it came to 3D as the Sega Model 1. However, one of the things I kept hearing about Star Wars Arcade was that playing it out in the wild was very expensive. They may have been thinking of Star Wars Trilogy Arcade, but regardless, any home port is usually better than no home port at all. And since the 32X port is the only port of Star Wars Arcade, it could have been worse.

Star Wars Arcade Death Star Surface
Screenshot by Destructoid

Save your quarters for laundry

The 32X is a fun piece of kit. At the time, Sega of America thought that rather than transition into the Sega Saturn like Japan was doing that year, they’d extend the lifespan of the Sega Genesis with an add-on that would end up being the 32X. It was a huge blunder that split developers and may have torpedoed the Saturn’s chances in North America. Sega of Japan also reportedly followed the advice of Sega of America because the Sega Genesis did so much better in North America than the Mega Drive did in Japan.

The 32X, despite being an obvious stopgap, isn’t a bad console. It has a really great port of NBA Jam: Tournament Edition, and that counts for a lot. However, beyond that, there weren’t very many games that were released in it. But why would you? Developers in North America knew that the Sega Saturn was coming down the pipe, so why develop for something that was going to be obsolete in a year? As a result, there were close to 40 games released for the expansion system, which is sad for anyone who bought one.

Like with most of my personal problems, I blame the parents. Making the Genesis more powerful sounds groovy to me, but it was mistimed and strategically mismanaged.

There were a few good games on the console, and Star Wars Arcade was one of them. It’s not the best game on the console, and it’s not even that great, but if I had played this when I was a kid, I would have been over the moon. 

Star Wars Arcade Super Star Destroyer Tunnel
Screenshot by Destructoid

That’s no moon…

Star Wars Arcade puts you behind the joystick of an Incom T-65B X-Wing Starfighter, or if you’re playing with a friend, a Koensayr BTL-Series Y-Wing. It kind of follows the movies by sort of depicting the Battle of Endor (Death Star II), but also kind of, sort of mixes it with the Battle of Yavin (Vanilla Death Star). You start off fighting TIE Fighters. Then, once you’ve exploded enough of them, you move on.

The console version gives you the option for Arcade or 32X mode. Arcade gives you the four stages of the, er, arcade version, while 32X mode is significantly extended. Arcade mode is Tie Fighters, Super Star Destroyer, Death Star Surface, and Reactor Run. 32X is TIE Fighters, more TIE Fighters, more TIE Fighters, Death Star Surface, Trench Run, more TIE Fighters, Super Star Destroyer, more TIE Fighters, Death Star Surface, Reactor Run.

It’s a reasonable take on the space battles of the movies. The Death Star surface is particularly impressive, with turbolaser towers filling the skies with their beams. The level reminds me of the first stage in Star Wars: Rogue Squadron 2: Rogue Leader. Obviously, the scale and visuals are different, but the fact that it was pulled off reasonably well on the 32X is sort of impressive.

Star Wars Arcade X-Wing Butt
Screenshot by Destructoid

More TIE Fighters

What isn’t impressive is the combat. TIE Fighters kind of just appear on your tail, and your job is to get them in front of you. Rarely do you see them just wandering the area in little groups. They’re almost always just right behind you.

You can’t do a loop or even roll, so evading them is mostly just speeding up and slowing down, and it doesn’t really seem to matter which you choose to do. If you’ve got the pedal down, they’ll still sometimes pass you, and if you slam on the brakes, they seem to be able to do so just as quickly. For many of the early levels, my best strategy was to just fly in a straight line and continually vary my speed until someone got in front of me.

You have your lasers and your proton torpedoes. The torpedoes replenish over time, so whenever you hear the lock-on sound, you may as well just fire and forget.

The missions where you need to fly through weird spaceship tunnels are more interesting. It’s here where you mostly see the graphical difference between the arcade and 32X versions, but it’s honestly not that bad. While everything is flat-shaded and textureless, the level geometry feels pretty close. It’s more impressive than 1993’s Star Fox on SNES, but the framerate does drop quite heavily in some areas.

Star Wars Arcade TIE Fighter Butt

Hook hand

But while it’s impressive Star Wars Arcade has some pretty hard-to-ignore deficiencies. The hit detection is questionable, for one thing. It’s very hard to see lasers or tell when a big ball of energy is going to hit you. TIE Fighters can also seemingly fly through walls, which makes the star hole segments feel kind of janky. It’s definitely playable, but when you can’t tell what is hitting you from where, it loses some of its effectiveness.

My biggest issue, however, is with the controls. Decelerate and Accelerate are A and B, respectively, while the C button is to fire your lasers. If you’re on a three-button controller, B and C together fires a proton torpedo, but that isn’t part of my issue. The problem is that accelerate and decelerate need to be held to maintain your speed, so if you want to fly slowly and fire your lasers at the same time – which you often do – you’re in for some finger gymnastics.

The proper way to play might be to set the right side of the controller on your thigh and work the buttons using your fingers. However, I’d often just use my thumb for A and B and my index finger for C, hook hand style. It got painful, especially since the edge of the buttons began aggravating my thumb.

I’m not sure why X wasn’t used to fire lasers on a 6-button controller, since you could then use the end of your thumb to fire and the middle of it to maintain speed. Let the inferior 3-button people suffer.

Star Wars Arcade Death Star Approach
Screenshot by Destructoid

Don’t fail me again

Star Wars Arcade was a launch title for the 32X, which was a good decision, even if it didn’t overcome the bad decisions around the console. It showed the add-on’s 3D capabilities, which were decent at the time but would quickly be superseded by the PS1 and Saturn when they arrived in North America the next year.

It’s one of the top-shelf games for the 32X but, as I’ve established, there isn’t a whole lot of competition. In fact, a similar 32X game, Shadow Squadron, might be even better, but my attention span has yet to hold out past the second level.

It’s also maybe worth noting that Star Wars Arcade came out the year after Star Fox and Star Wars: X-Wing. Both of which are a lot more robust. But that alone just underlines the problems with Star Wars Arcade. It was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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Zoey Handley
Staff Writer - Zoey is a gaming gadabout. She got her start blogging with the community in 2018 and hit the front page soon after. Normally found exploring indie experiments and retro libraries, she does her best to remain chronically uncool.