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The Video Game Critic's
Star Wars Review Extravaganza
Part III: The Portables

Updated December 18, 2015

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Game Boy

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (Capcom,1992)
System: Game Boy
Grade: F
screenshotStar Wars: The Empire Strikes Back features well-proportioned characters, digitized images, and a rousing rendition of the Star Wars theme. You begin your journey as Luke riding a tauntaun on the ice planet of Hoth. It's cool how you can freely dismount to wander through icy caves below the surface. When a character communicates with you, the screen displays their digitized face above the dialog (with cantina music playing, oddly enough). "Luke, the lightsaber is the weapon of a Jedi". Thanks Ben, but I think we covered that in the first movie! Luke fires shots rapidly and can perform a useful "super jump" by holding down first. After blasting probe droids and wumpas, Luke eventually locates his lightsaber. The graphics are detailed but the animation is painfully slow and choppy. Luke actually falls slower than he runs. The music is well orchestrated but hearing that Star Wars theme looping over and over again will give you a Bantha-sized headache. Navigating the ice caves is a nightmare. The stages are full of regenerating enemies and the first boss took about 100 swats of my light sabre to kill. When I died I had to restart the game from the very beginning! Even using the force is a pain in the ass. Not only is it necessary to stock up on "force energy", but you need to collect "ability" icons to do anything. The game has no score and no password feature. I never even reached the AT-AT battle (*sad face*). Capcom didn't put much effort into Empire Strikes Back and neither should you.



Game Gear

Star Wars (LucasArts, 1993)
System: Game Gear
Grade: B-
screenshot I wasn't expecting much from this miniature version of Super Star Wars (SNES, 1992) but I was impressed by the title screen which resembles the original movie poster. And when I saw the ominous Star Destroyer fly into view in the opening cut-scene, I realized this was a quality title. In the first stage you play as Princess Leia running around on her ship, and it's nice to see her as a playable character for a change (armed with a blaster no less). It's easy to move between floors thanks to ubiquitous air vents that suck you right up, and they makes Leia look hilarious as she flails her arms and legs. The shoot button doubles as run when you hold it in, enabling death-defying leaps. As you progress you'll also be able to play as Luke and Han Solo, although the graphic style makes them all look like little kids scampering around. It's fun to blast jawas, stormtroopers, and sand people, and it's easier if you start shooting before they even enter the screen. Some of the scenery looks nearly digitized including the desert sands of Tatooine and the hangar bay of Mos Eisley. The cantina and Millennium Falcon look amazing. The music from the film sounds fine, but some of the other tunes sound really odd. Star Wars is remarkably playable and most of the stages are a lot of fun. The sandcrawler however is a real torture chamber, and I'm not even talking about the rapid conveyer belts, spikes, and crushing machines. I'm talking about circular paths that drop you back at the beginning after a missed jump. I'm talking about Jawas that drop right in front of you and require five shots to kill. And I find the concept of running up walls both silly and unnecessary. The Death Star stage is another prime offender, combing confusing elevator mayhem with blind leaps of faith. You get eight continues but there's no score or password. Did LucasArts expect people to complete this in one sitting? Exciting but inconsistent, Star Wars is still an enticing intergalactic adventure.



Star Wars Return of the Jedi (LucasArts, 1995)
System: Game Gear
Grade: A-
screenshot The force is strong in this one. Like its impressive SNES counterpart, Return of the Jedi delivers challenging platform action with top-notch graphics and amazing music. The stages loosely follow the storyline of the movie, including Leia rescuing Han from Jabba the Hutt, Han knocking out the shield generator on the moon of Endor, Luke defeating the Emperor, and finally, Lando destroying the new Death Star. If you've played any of the SNES Super Star Wars games, you know there's a lot of platform jumping involved, and it can border on tedious at times. Fortunately, Jedi has outstanding control that makes it easy to navigate even the narrowest ledges. You can choose between several characters for each mission, and there are even two vehicle missions to spice things up. You'll face some huge bosses including the Rancor, but some bosses take far too long to defeat. I really enjoyed Jedi until I reached the speeder bike chase sequence in the woods of Endor. Yikes - those pseudo 3D graphics look awful and you can't even tell what's going on! Other than that aberration, Return of the Jedi is pure gold for your Game Gear. A password feature is also included.



Game Boy Advance

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (THQ, 2002)
System: Game Boy Advance
Grade: F
screenshot It blows my mind how completely inept this game is! With Episode 2, it's as if all the lessons learned in 25 years of platform-game design had been tossed out the window. The graphics are nice - I'll give it that much. You'll see high quality stills from the film, and the large 2D character models look practically digitized. There are even 3D flight sequences that nicely convey the illusion of movement. The controls however are unresponsive, stiff, and poorly conceived. As a result, playing Attack of the Clones is about as satisfying as eating soup with chopsticks. Your Jedi (Anakin Skywalker) walks so slowly that completing each stage feels like an extended ordeal. You'll frantically search the manual for a dash move, but your efforts will have been in vain. Episode II's mechanics are downright bizarre. You actually need to be moving forward to swing with your lightsaber! Turning around is chore, and it can be frustratingly difficult to strike an object directly in front of you. Droids tend to hover just between your slashes and low-kicks, prompting some players to use profanity. Losing a life sends you all the way back to the beginning of each lengthy stage. The 3D stages prove just as frustrating, with heat-seeking missiles that are practically impossible to avoid. The best part of the game is how you can deflect laser bolts back to their source with your light saber. I enjoyed the movie, but this is awful.



Star Wars: The New Droid Army (LucasArts, 2002)
System: Game Boy Advance
Grade: F
screenshot This Star Wars game boasts sharp-looking scenery, motion-captured animation, digitized sound effects, fine-tuned controls, and an epic musical score. I say "you can keep all of it," because The New Droid Army is simply no fun to play. This is what happens when video games go "corporate". I'm sure every aspect of this game was planned out in meticulous detail and a competent team of developers programmed it exactly as specified. If only someone would have had the courage to ask, "Is this thing any fun?" Then again, they probably wouldn't have liked the answer. Despite its lofty production values, New Droid Army is an absolute chore to play. In a storyline that immediately follows Episode 2 (Attack of the Clones), you guide Anakin Skywalker around expansive areas on the planets Tatooine, Coruscant, and Metalorn. As you move from one area to the next, characters send you off on various errands to search for people and objects. Along the way you'll fend off endless Womp rats, Sand People, and Imperial Droids. It's button-mashing hell, although I do like how you can deflect laser bolts. The game might have been respectable had the locations not been so damn huge. Stumbling across the Tatooine desert takes an eternity, especially when you have to stop every few feet to slice up a gang of attacking Womp rats. Every stage plays exactly the same, and the repetition will dull your senses. You'd think the "speed" force power might remedy the situation, but it's only available in five-second spurts! It's easy to cycle through your force powers, but they are almost totally defensive in nature. You'd have to be a very loyal Star Wars fan (perhaps stranded on a desert island) to derive any enjoyment from this by-the-numbers time-waster.



Star Wars: Flight of the Falcon (THQ, 2003)
System: Game Boy Advance
Grade: F
screenshot About ten years ago, the Star Wars name meant quality when it came to video games, but apparently those days are long gone. In fact, I can't remember the last time I enjoyed a game less than Flight of the Falcon. I was hoping this game would mark the return of those glorious 16-bit Star Wars days, but Falcon is poorly conceived and completely devoid of fun. First you have to sit through one of those slow, obligatory text crawls. Are these things really necessary for every Star Wars game? Each level involves either flying or driving, and you view the action from just behind your vehicle. Fortunately, the Falcon's shape is thin enough that it doesn't usually obstruct your vision. The 3D graphics aren't bad, and the mission locations are enough make any Star Wars fan salivate, including the Death Star Trench, the forest of Endor, the streets of Tatooine, and the cloud city of Bespin. Unfortunately, aiming is done using a tiny crosshair, and you have to be dead-on to hit anything. In the driving stages, the scenery blends together, making it hard to tell where you can and can't go. Making matters worse, the stages drag on for far too long. In the first stage you have to shoot about 100 tiny Tie fighters! And once you lose a ship, you'll have to start all over again! At least the audio is reasonable, with digitized music and trademark sound effects. But that's the only bright spot in a game I generally regard as a waste of time.



Star Wars Trilogy: Apprentice of the Force (Ubisoft, 2004)
System: Game Boy Advance
Grade: D
screenshot I figured Ubisoft had an easy job in creating a new 2D Star Wars game. After all, the Super Star Wars titles (SNES) perfected that style of gameplay over ten years ago. How could they possibly screw this up? The answer: In just about every way possible! First, we have the repetitive stage layouts and frequent shoot-out sequences that artificially lengthen the game. You can fire diagonally (using the shoulder buttons), but not straight up or down, and you can't shoot while climbing. When navigating platforms, you can grab onto them and pull yourself up, but sometimes your grabs don't register and you just fall right through. Of course, when you're trying to jump down, your character inadvertently grabs onto everything, which is annoying. There are lightsaber and space battle stages further into the game, but these are only a marginal improvement. The graphics are plain, and the characters are rendered with thick black outlines. Despite its shortcomings, Trilogy does cover a lot of ground, and it is Star Wars for Pete's sake. I kind of enjoyed the Time Pilot-inspired shooting sequences. But all in all, you have to admit this is pretty uninspired stuff.



Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (Ubisoft, 2005)
System: Game Boy Advance
Grade: B-
screenshot I didn't have high hopes for Episode 3, but I was pleasantly surprised. Episode 3 sports a bold new style that harkens back to the 16-bit side-scrollers, with cartoonish but nicely animated 2D characters. The ability to move your Jedi between the foreground and background brings to mind old favorites like Double Dragon and Streets of Rage. The fighting engine is pretty nifty too, letting you employ a variety of saber techniques to disassemble an army of droids. Your foes fall to pieces in a satisfying manner, and you can even attack from the front and back at once - eliminating the painful "sandwiching" deaths seen in similar games. There's some interaction with the scenery, and you can skillfully deflect laser bolts with your light saber. In one stage you must defeat a tank using deflections alone. Even the one-on-one light saber battles are well executed, requiring a series of well timed blocks and counters. Your Jedi gradually earns new skills and attributes, and you can play as Obi Wan or Anakin in storylines that diverge before fatefully merging near the end. With its fresh graphics, tight controls, and clever concepts, I started thinking "finally they got it right." But sadly, the fun does fade as you progress through the game. Hacking up droids is mindless fun at first, but eventually you'll face tougher droids that require you to pound the heck out of them ad nauseum. Worst yet, the stages are tend to be long and boring with endless corridors. When the game throws the same set of five droids at you again and again (in the same room no less), enough is enough! Apparently the developers were attempting to artificially lengthen the game, but it really backfired. Even with its flaws however, Episode 3 does represent a big step up from previous Star Wars titles on the Gameboy Advance.



Nintendo DS

Star Wars: Lethal Alliance (Ubisoft, 2006)
System: Nintendo DS
Grade: D-
screenshot Lethal Alliance is an uninspired third-person platform shooter starring mercenary Rianna Saren. This chick might look pretty hot if not for those two humongous tentacles growing out of her head. When it comes to women, tentacles have always been a personal turn-off for me - that and tattoos. Anyway, the action takes place in a futuristic metropolis rendered in less-than-spectacular PS1-quality graphics. Jumping and shooting is performed via the directional pad and buttons, with the stylus limited to occasional puzzles. A few minutes into the game Rianna meets up with a cute little flying robot called Zeeo (okay everybody, cue the eye rolling - now!). That's right, Rianna and Zeeo form the so-called "Lethal Alliance". The game emphasizes cooperative attacks, but there's little satisfaction to be derived from this teamwork aspect. An auto-aim mechanism makes it easy to target enemies, but it's hard to make out the special attacks on the small screen. Rianna can "ride" Zeeo along walls, but the sight of her squatting on what appears to be a Roomba moving up the wall looks absolutely absurd. Zeeo's less-than-thrilling solo missions include traversing ventilation shafts or accessing computer networks - not my idea of a good time! Lethal Alliance is playable, but its boring, repetitive environments wreak havoc on the fun factor. I thought one neon-lit area was pretty cool, but in general the game is a maze of confined industrial locations. The last straw occurred when I couldn't determine if I was forging ahead or backtracking! This Lethal Alliance may be a force to be reckoned with, but they were no match for the VGC's attention span.



Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (Ubisoft, 2005)
System: Nintendo DS
Grade: B+
screenshot I enjoyed the Gameboy Advance version of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, and this DS edition is even more impressive. At its core, it's the same side-scrolling hack-n-slash Jedi fighter, but an improved presentation and additional gameplay elements elevate the overall experience. The touch screen is used to execute one of four "fury" moves (the GBA version only had one), and the game also incorporates several 3D space battle stages. I wasn't expecting much from these battles, but these proved to be a pleasant surprise. With rich visuals and fly-anywhere controls, they reminded me of Star Wars: Rogue Squadron (Nintendo 64, 1998). Another improvement over the Gameboy Advance is the epic, digitized soundtrack. These memorable melodies are lifted straight from the films and add a new dimension as the story unfolds. The bulk of the game still involves slicing endless droids with your light saber, but there are plenty of attack options including deflecting shots back towards enemies and using the Force to "push" enemies to the ground. Granted, Revenge of the Sith is still a button-masher at heart and it will wear on your thumb after extended play. Robots require more and more strikes to destroy as you progress, and that gets annoying. You can assume the roles of Anakin or Obi-Wan, each with his own branching storyline. With a nod to the old school, Star Wars Episode III is a worthy upgrade to the Gameboy Advance edition.



PSP

Star Wars Battlefront: Renegade Squadron (LucasArts, 2007)
System: PSP
Grade: D
screenshot Renegade Squadron suffers from the same malady that plagues so many other PSP games - it feels like a scaled down, half-hearted version of a console game. In this case, that game would be Star Wars: Battlefront 2 (Xbox, 2005) - a game that never really set the world on fire in the first place. As a result, I found it really hard to get excited about Renegade Squadron. Like previous Battlefronts, the main idea of this third-person shooter is to battle armies of the Empire in order to secure all of the "outposts" in the game. A nifty new targeting system lets you home in on an enemy by keeping him near your reticule and holding the R button. Throughout various missions you'll run around on foot, ride vehicles, and even fly starships between locations. Realizing that landing in hangar bays might be too tricky, the developers included an "auto land" option, which almost makes it too easy to fly from ship to ship. The single-player Campaign mode features a number of familiar Star Wars characters including Han Solo, Boba Fett, and IG-88, but the cut-scenes are just a series of illustrations, making it hard to connect with the story. The Campaign mode is pretty ho-hum, and I felt as if the storyline was driving me, and not vice versa. Occasionally you'll have the opportunity to play the role of a "main character" like Luke or Darth Vader, but their appearances seem very arbitrary, as if the game was desperately trying to inject some artificial excitement. The new Galactic Conquest mode tries to incorporate an additional layer of strategy by letting you shuffle troops between planets on a galactic map before engaging in combat. It's about as fun as it sounds. Renegade Squadron's graphics are good by PSP standards but not exceptional. As you would expect from a Star Wars title, the musical score and audio effects are beyond reproach. Multiplayer on-lines modes are also available, but Battlefront's formula is getting stale. There are endless customization options, but what's the point? If you've played the previous Battlefronts, Renegade doesn't even feel like more of the same - it feels like much less.



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