The Games of Star Wars

Man, I love Star Wars. It's so quotable. Who can forget the immortal line from Sergeant Apone when the space marines emerge from suspended animation aboard the USS Sulaco? It's simply awesome:

"Alright sweethearts, what are you waiting for? Breakfast in bed? Another glorious day in the Corps! A day in the Marine Corps is like a day on the farm! Every meal's a banquet; every paycheck a fortune; every formation a parade...I love the Corps!"

It just encapsulates everything great about George Lucas's epic space drama. I wasn't that keen when they detached the Enterprises's saucer section from the star drive - those effects were a bit ropey - but when it turns out that the Event Horizon actually went to Hell itself...well, I was simply blown away. Vaporised, even. But then I found the microfilm so it all turned out well in the end.
Sgt. Apone started as a lowly Storm Trooper, too.
If you're still still reading, well done. If you're already looking for the comments section, then you've already lost, my friend. Joking aside, the entire world (well, those sectors with internet access) seems to be gripped with Star Wars fever at the moment, and who can blame them/us/me? The trailer for the next instalment of the Star Wars saga looks positively stunning, and I for one cannot wait to see what Mr Abrams does with the series George Lucas managed to drag backwards through a hedge over the course of two and half terrible prequels.

Let it be known at this point that I'm not a hardcore Star Wars fan. Yes, I've seen all the films and I've been stood less than a foot from David Prowse at least twice in the last month...but I'm probably what you'd call a casual fan. I know who Dr Evazan is, but my knowledge of the inner workings of an Imperial Star Destroyer is lacking.

With this in mind, my interactions with the myriad licensed video games is more favourable. I endured Shadows of the Empire and loved Rogue Squadron on the N64. I trudged through Jedi Knight and Dark Forces; I winced through Rebel Assault's grain-o-vision on the Mega CD and attempted to play Knights of the Old Republic on the Xbox. Later, I marvelled at Jedi Star Fighter and the Rogue Squadron games on the Gamecube and so I believe it's fair to say I have a good level of knowledge when it comes to the various games surrounding the franchise. What you may not know (but probably do) though, is that the Dreamcast played host to three different games based on the Star Wars universe, and even though we've briefly touched on each of them before here at the 'Yard, it seemed rude not to ride the gravy train get in on the action at this juncture.

Star Wars Demolition
In Star Wars Demolition the story is that Pod Racing has been outlawed, and in it's place that obese gangster Jabba the Hutt has devised a new way of bringing gambling to his cronies - Demolition. Using various freelancers and mercenaries, he puts on a death match of sorts so that people can bet on the outcome. Quite how he arranges to host a duel on the surface of the Death Star is never explained, but that's the least of this car crash's worries. Pun intended, by the way.
For me, the biggest talking point surrounding this particular game is just how much of a missed opportunity for awesomeness it represents. Developed by Luxoflux, the team behind the Vigilante 8 games, it's quite apparent from the off that it's a basic whoring of the same engine only with slightly tidied up vehicle models and some Hoth thrown in for good measure. Basically, you choose to play as one of several slightly obscure (apart from Boba Fett) characters, jump into one of the piss-poor vehicles and then careen uncontrollably around various Star Wars themed enclosed arenas, trying to shoot other characters who are whizzing about in equally Star Wars-y rides.
Like I said, it's basically Vigilante 8 with Star Wars tacked on, and the graphics are really quite nice...but it plays like a drowned mongrel. The vehicles float about with no real aim and the weapons on offer are totally uninspired - as are the majority of the levels. The aforementioned Hoth arena is quite cool, with AT-ATs plodding about and stuff, but it begs the question - why didn't they just make a proper shoot 'em up in the same vein as Shadows of the Empire or Rogue Squadron? Ultimately, this is pretty bad. Worth picking up if you're a completest, but you'll play it once and then wish it had taken the place of Alderaan in the first Death Star's targeting reticule.

Star Wars Episode 1: Jedi Power Battles
Ah, Jedi Power Battles. The (sort of) game of the movie that everyone loves to hate. I remember playing this back in the early days of the Junkyard and up until now I always thought it was utter tripe to be totally honest. In my memory, it played like a side-scrolling beat 'em up but with none of the finesse of Streets of Rage et al. But in the process of writing this article I have fired it up again with a more learned head on my shoulders...and I actually kind of like it.
The authenticity of the musical score, the menus and the general 'feel' of the game's aesthetics is spot on, and even though it is based on the weakest movie in the whole series, Jedi Power Battles just has something. You start the game by choosing to play as Obi Wan, Qui Gon, Samuel L Jackson or some woman with dreadlocks and then you follow the plot of Episode 1 (of a fashion) by marauding through levels from a side-on perspective, destroying droids and the like with your lightsabre. It has all the usual hallmarks of a game of this type - double jumping, power ups, and various special 'force' abilities, but the best bit is the way you can hold in the left trigger to repel incoming laser fire - right back at the source. This is so insignificant in the grand scheme of the game's design, but yet it looks so damn cool. Yes, I'm shallow.
Power Battles was pretty much destroyed by the gaming press when it launched because it is, in all truth, a fairly formulaic movie tie-in but playing it today, it seems like a fairly interesting little beat/laser 'em up. The license clearly adds something as locations from the movie are all present and correct, as are actor likenesses and the musical score. It's does have some graphical issues (it's a PS1 port, after all), but on the whole Power Battles in an entertaining romp through the plot of the first movie. Recommended if you can find it cheap.

Star Wars Episode 1: Racer
This is the best Star Wars game on the Dreamcast. It's that simple. It's also one of the best racers the system has to offer. Sure, it's a port of a game that was already available on the N64 (also a great game, by the way) but the Dreamcast version of Racer is superior in many ways. Initially, I was disappointed upon first learning about the port - I was expecting a home version of the arcade game from Sega - but once I'd gotten over the fact that it is just a higher resolution version of a game I had already loved and lost on the Nintendo format, my affection for it was reignited.
The sheer number of racetracks is amazing, as are the myriad locations in which they are set. This variety in the circuits' locales is probably the main selling point of this game as a lot of the major destinations from the movies are represented. It goes further than that though, as even (to me anyway) without the Star Wars license this would have stood on it's own two feet. You have multiple lengthy championship modes, a whole cast of characters with upgradable vehicles. and a brilliant 'junkyard' replete with (Jewish stereotype) owner who will reluctantly sell you shoddy upgrades and new parts alike at premium prices whilst muttering sarcastically under his breath.
Racer also plays fantastically well. The Dreamcast never got a port of WipEout (although it was apparently in the early stages of development before being cancelled, according to sources) but Racer is a decent stand in, in every way as the anti-gravity craft all handle very well and the 'turbo boost' function of the vehicles is less about whether you happen to drift over a boost pad and more about whether you have the dexterity to pull if off. Some of the tracks in this game are truly jaw-dropping in scope, and throw all types of obstacles at you. Zero gravity sections, asteroids, pits of lava and rotating doorways will all try to hinder your chances of becoming the Galactic Podrace Champion.  The presentation is also right on point - from the Mos Eisley cantina hub, to the sound samples and cut scenes.
Frankly, this game has it all - stirring soundtrack, great visuals, all the characters from the movie and bags upon bags of challenge. Other than Goldeneye on the N64, there really isn't another movie tie-in from the same era that comes close to Episode 1: Racer; and while the section of the movie it is based on barely lasts 10 minutes, this will last you years if you decide it's for you.
Maybe in a galaxy far, far away and at some time in the distant future an alien will stumble upon this transmission of ones and zeros and decode into something decipherable. And if they do, they'll know that Episode 1: Racer is the best Star Wars game on the Dreamcast. It doesn't feature any lasers, X-Wings or Jedi (unless you count young Anakin), but what it does feature is everything a great video game should.

Probably buy them all if you don't own them (they're cheap enough), but if you had to choose one to use as a Storm Trooper shield it would undoubtedly be Demolition. Likewise, if one had to take the place of Han Solo's medal at the end of Return of the Jedi, then it has to be Racer. And while we're using these comparisons, Power Battles would be some half-digested matter falling onto Luke's face as he tries to keep warm inside the cadaver of a Tauntaun.
Live long, and prosper.


DCGX said...

To answer your question as to why Demolition wasn't a proper game like Rogue Squadron or Shadows of the Empire, it's because it was a cash grab. Which is disappointing though, because it still could have been a good cash grab. But the problems with physics etc. in Demolition were also present in Vigilante 8: Second Offense on Dreamcast too. If the game the reskin is based on has issue, so shall the reskin.

I enjoy Jedi Power Battles. There's an insane amount of characters to unlock and play as, even though they all play the same. But yeah, the levels are sparse and the platforming can be a nightmare. The later levels are to difficult too, since the enemies become really cheap.

I need to get Episode 1: Racer again. That is hands down one of the best racing games of all time.

Tom Charnock said...

Hey man, thanks for reading and commenting. Racer really is an outstanding game, well worth picking up if you find it at a reasonable price!

Unknown said...

Ride the gravy train...right to the bank! I keep hearing about Pod Racer and how good it is. I'll probably pick it up next time I see it. Power Battles was enjoyable..maybe because it was different for the time, they weren't making too many games like it during that era.

antech said...

I just watched star wars 4 again, i can now die with no regrets

Unknown said...

tom when you said a port of wipeout was in the works for the dreamcast do you mean a port of the original wipeout from 1995 or wipeout 3 from 1999. Although the idea of a graphically updated version of wipeout on the dreamcast would be nice I can't imagine the developers wanted to do that when wipeout was already released on the saturn.