r2 yoda

The Video Game Critic's
Star Wars Review Extravaganza
Part I

Updated December 18, 2015



Atari 2600

Star Wars: The Arcade Game (Parker Bros,1984)
System: Atari 2600
Grade: B
screenshotIt's remarkable that Parker Bros was able to squeeze this multi-stage, vector-graphics game into an Atari 2600 cartridge. Although simplified, the visuals are still impressive. I love how you can see the nose of your ship on the bottom of the screen, along with two guns in the lower corners (none are shown on top). In the first stage, you fire at Tie Fighters zooming across the screen, but the clumsy crosshair control proves a liability.

Not particularly responsive, the cursor has some kind of delay mechanism that's really annoying. The Tie fighters are nicely rendered; however, their missiles look more like big fuzz balls. You'll need to neutralize these, but that's less fun than targeting Ties. Eventually the ominous purple (?) Death Star moves into view. Next, you find yourself flying over the surface of the Death Star, trying to shoot the tops of pillars without running into them (what movie was that from?) Your crosshair not only aims, but also guides your ship - which is somewhat awkward.

The final stage places you in the Death Star trench, avoiding barriers and incoming missiles long enough to blast the exhaust port. It looks surprisingly good, with wire-frame 3D visuals that convey both depth and speed in a convincing fashion. Once you shoot the port, you're treated to a rather unspectacular explosion, before starting over on a harder level. Star Wars: The Arcade Game has two levels of difficulty. Casual gamers may not be impressed, but Star Wars aficionados will certainly appreciate this ambitious cartridge.

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (Parker Bros, 1982)
System: Atari 2600
Grade: B+
screenshot This fast-action shooter recreates the battle of Hoth from the popular Star Wars film. Any game based on Empire Strikes Back qualifies as a bonafide "winter" title by definition. There's an exhilarating sense of speed as you glide a little snowspeeder over the icy tundra. Although blocky in appearance, the advancing Imperial walkers are nicely rendered with animated heads and legs. Your goal is to keep them at bay for as long as possible.

Your scanner indicates their position and should one of these hulking behemoths reach the right edge, the Rebel Alliance is toast. Fighting a walker is a high-tech game of cat-and-mouse. They can be destroyed by shooting one 48 times. That's right, I said 48 times. The walker's color reflects its level of damage, and the use of yellow and fuschia tends to undermine the sense of realism.

Every now and then a flashing pixel indicates a weak point, making it possible to destroy the walker with one well-placed shot. Unfortunately the spot only appears momentarily and is hard as [expletive] to hit. Walkers unleash laser blasts that are really hard to avoid. Fortunately you can land to repair your ship (twice per ship).

Should you manage to keep a ship intact for two minutes the rousing Star Wars theme kicks in and you're awarded with 20 seconds of invincibility (yeee-ha!). The game offers expert variations like "solid walkers" where you can't fly through the AT-ATs (although you can fly through their legs). The "smart bomb" variations cause AT-AT missiles to chase you around and it will drive you nuts.

I'll stick with the default variation which is hard enough, thank you. What I like best about Empire Strikes Back is how it conveys the tension and suspense of a real invasion. I actually got a blister playing this game. It seems shallow on the surface but Empire delivers satisfying twitch gameplay and relentless challenge.

Star Wars: Jedi Arena (Parker Bros, 1983)
System: Atari 2600
Grade: D
screenshot Who's bright idea was it to put two Jedi knights into a game, arm them with powerful lightsabers, and then keep them separated for the entire frickin' game?! Jedi Arena is so bogus that it's not even funny. It's very loosely based on a brief scene from the first Star Wars film. You may recall when Luke was practicing his saber skills on a floating metal orb inside the Millennium Falcon.

In Arena, this orb shoots electrical charges and floats between these so-called Jedi. Actually, these competitors look like more two fat guys cooped up in boxes, protected by a four-layer shield. Using a paddle controller, you swing your saber from side to side - too bad it doesn't stick out far enough to touch anything!

Jedi Arena's control scheme is counterintuitive (to say the least). You use your saber to block the orb's charges, and press the fire button to initiate charges toward your opponent. Blocking is easy enough, but aiming your shots is awkward - I could never get a feel for it. Every now and then the orb goes nuts and starts shooting charges in all directions. It's a big, confusing mess. Jedi Arena is a real dud and a complete waste of the Star Wars license.

Star Wars: Death Star Battle (Parker Bros, 1983)
System: Atari 2600
Grade: D
screenshot Man, this is so lame! An instantly forgettable shooter, Death Star Battle puts you in control of a tiny Millennium Falcon. Inexplicably, you're confined to a cramped area on the lower half of the screen! A partially completed Death Star is visible at the top, behind a rainbow-colored shield. If you don't remember this from the movies, that's because it wasn't in the movies.

You can blast passing Imperial vessels, but it's hard enough to avoid colliding with them because they appear from out of nowhere. If you're looking for a cheap way to inflate your score, just wait for Vader's shuttle to cruise by - it's worth a cool 3,000 points (compared to a paltry 100 points for the others). Periodically a "hole" appears in the shield, a temporary gateway to the second (and final) stage. Here, the Death Star is presented as an ugly, gray, blocky monstrosity -- with a red dot in the center.

Avoiding a roving laser, you must wear down the outside of the Death Star to expose its core. It's Star Wars meets Breakout, and it's not a pretty sight. After shooting the core, you must dodge a series of fireballs before the Death Star finally explodes. The explosion isn't bad (by Atari 2600 standards) but then it's back to the beginning for another uneventful round. Playing Death Star Battle is a shallow experience, lacking any sense of strategy or fun.

Star Wars: Ewok Adventure (Parker Bros, 1983)
System: Atari 2600
Grade: C-
screenshot When I see the word "prototype" I don't expect a fully-realized game complete with four variations and difficulty settings, but that's Star Wars: Ewok Adventure. You could make a case that this is far more impressive than the two Return of the Jedi games that actually were released: Star Wars: Jedi Arena (Parker Bros, 1983) and Star Wars: Death Star Battle (Parker Bros, 1983). In this game you play as an Ewok on a glider, but frankly it looks more like a yellow snowspeeder.

The moon of Endor is a set of contiguous vertically-scrolling screens, and a bunker is located at the top of one of them. Enemies like AT-ST walkers, stormtroopers, and speeder bikes move down each screen. The stomping sounds of the walkers and whizzing sounds of the speeder bikes are amazing. Your only means of attack is to toss rocks. It's kind of lame, but still satisfying when enemies go up in flames.

Your rock supply is limited to nine but can be replenished by hovering over rock piles. That's easier said than done because controlling your glider is a source of endless frustration. It's hard to gain altitude when you're too low and hard to lose altitude when you're too high. The thing just seems to have a mind of its own.

One remarkable aspect of the game is your ability to commandeer walkers and speedbikes - usually by accident. The bikes tend to veer all over the place (as in the movie), but it's always fun to use an AT-ST to take out other walkers. When an alarm sounds that means you can fly into the bunker to blow it up and complete the stage. I can understand why Ewok Adventure was never released, but if someone could have devised a decent control scheme this would have been one heck of a game.


Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (Parker Bros, 1983)
System: Intellivision
Grade: D+
screenshot It took a few years for the Atari 2600 version of Empire Strike Back to win me over, so I was hoping this version might also grow on me. No such luck! Upon turning it on, you're treated to a rendition of the Star Wars theme that's almost on key. Hey, it's the Intellivision - we'll take what we can get! The object of this side-scrolling shooter is to keep a parade of advancing Imperial Walkers at bay on the ice planet of Hoth. This game might have been a lot of fun if not for the choppy animation and imprecise controls.

Your Snowspeeder and the approaching Walkers are slightly more detailed than on the Atari, and I love the mechanical sound effects that accompany the stomps of the huge Walkers. Holding down the side buttons engages rapid-fire, allowing you to unleash a steady barrage of missiles. Unfortunately, keeping the Walker in your sights is frustratingly difficult thanks to the clumsy, unresponsive controls. You can't maneuver very well at all, and once Walkers begin unleashing their heat-seeking missiles, your Rebel ass is toast. These Walkers only require 30 hits to take down (compared to 48 on the Atari), but trying to nail their "weak spot" is nearly impossible.

The scrolling effects of the hills and valleys are rough, making it difficult to land on a level area to initiate repairs. And why did the programmer paint the sky that putrid shade of yellow? Intellivision owners clearly got the short end of the stick with this one. For the record, my friend Jonathan holds the record for lowest score in Empire Strike Back for the Intellivision, netting a paltry 12 points in his very first game. Needless to say, I derived more enjoyment from mocking him than playing this game.

Atari 5200

Star Wars: The Arcade Game (Parker Bros, 1983)
System: Atari 5200
Grade: F
screenshot Despite impressive graphics (on par with the arcade version) Star Wars: The Arcade Game is not particularly enjoyable. In the first stage, you aim crosshairs and shoot down Tie fighters flying in and out of view. As large as they are, they should be easy to hit, but the awful collision detection makes this stage a frustrating experience.

Destroyed Ties are rendered as small red fireballs - far less impressive than the shattering explosions of the Colecovision edition. Even worse is the second stage, where you shoot towers on the surface of the Death Star. Like the first stage, many perfectly good shots simply fail to register. Making matters worse, this stage tends to run far too long.

The one decent stage is the climactic trench scene, which requires little in the way of precision to dodge barriers and incoming missiles. After blasting the vent, brace yourself for the sight of the Death Star getting blown into - hold onto your hat -- six pieces! It looks like a broken egg, and it's pathetic. Old Ben must be rolling over in his grave.

Star Wars: Death Star Battle (Parker Bros, 1983)
System: Atari 5200
Grade: F
screenshot Death Star Battle for the 5200 is almost a carbon copy of the lousy 2600 version -- minus the control. You guide a tiny Millennium Falcon, restricted to a small area on the bottom of the screen. The Death Star is visible up top, separated from you by a rainbow-colored shield (what the?). The first stage consists of shooting (or avoiding) passing imperial vessels. It's hard to do in such a limited space, and the imprecise Atari 5200 controller doesn't help matters.

Holes periodically appear in the shield, and flying through one transports you to the second stage. This stage looks very similar, except the Death Star is larger and has a blinking "core". As you blast away from below, you knock out individual "bricks" until you reach its core. Considering all the ideas inspired by the Star Wars movies, you have to wonder why Parker Bros went with such an unimaginative concept.

The only real difference between this and the 2600 version is an unspectacular "hyperspace" sequence which occurs as you fly through the rainbow shield. Death Star Battle is a poor concept, exacerbated by uninspired graphics and awful control. I doubt that George Lucas would have approved of this steaming pile of dung.


Star Wars: The Arcade Game (Parker Bros, 1984)
System: Colecovision
Grade: C+
screenshot This first-person Star Wars shooter looks almost exactly like the arcade version, complete with the four guns of your X-Wing on the edges of the screen. The first stage lets you blast Tie fighters to bits, and they look fantastic when they blow up. Normal ties explode into several pieces, and Vader's spins off the screen just as it does in the movie. Too bad most of your energy will be spent neutralizing their incoming fireballs.

The second stage involves shooting towers on the surface of the Death Star - a scene which I don't recall from the films. Not particularly fun, it's hard to shoot the towers and also avoid running into them. Still, it's nice how the tower tops "shatter" when blasted. The climactic trench stage is well done, but frankly not much better looking than the Atari 2600 version. Oh well, at least you can hear the Star Wars theme and R2 beeping in the background.

Upon blowing up the Death Star, you just see a quick flash and a lame message announcing, "The Death Star is destroyed". The game's main issue is the control; the cursor is slippery and difficult to aim with precision. Visually however, this game is a dead ringer for the arcade, and probably the best home version I've played.


Star Wars (Lucasfilm, 1991)
System: NES
Grade: F
screenshot Remember the scene in Star Wars where Luke was exploring a cave, got hit with some dripping green stuff, and was vaporized when he jumped on a spike? I don't either, and that's what I hate about this game. Instead of being inspired by the Star Wars universe, it feels like a generic platformer! You play the role of Luke Skywalker, but look more like a little kid. In fact, all of the characters have been given the "kiddie" treatment, and they look awful.

I like how you can travel between areas in your Landspeeder (via a nifty overhead view), but the poorly-designed stages are appalling. All of the "worst practices" of video game design are at work here. There are creatures you can't see until you make a blind leap. Endless spike-laden pits spell instant death. Falling even modest distances inflicts serious damage, and you're constantly being knocked off of narrow ledges.

The first few stages take place in bland cave environments, with generic enemies that have nothing to do with Star Wars. The Sandcrawler and Cantina stages are more interesting visually but just as frustrating to play. A few well-done cut scenes attempt to convey the film's storyline, but the music is awfully generic. There's no score, but there are plenty of continues to extend the agony. Star Wars for the NES is widely detested by most fans of the films, and deservedly so.

Empire Strikes Back (Lucasfilm, 1991)
System: NES
Grade: C+
screenshot Compared to the first Star Wars game for the NES, Empire Strikes Back represents a huge step forward. At the very least, Empire makes an effort to capture the spirit of the saga, with graphics and music that are faithful to the film. Stages range from the snowy terrain of Hoth, to the green swamps of Dagobah, to the modern building architecture of Cloud City. The first stage places Luke on a Taun-Taun (a creature resembling a kangaroo) as he investigates a mysterious transmission on the ice planet Hoth. Hoth's snowy scenery is featured prominently, and it looks terrific.

Upon entering some icy caverns, Luke can dismount from his Taun-Taun and explore the more narrow caves on foot. Here, Luke locates his lightsaber and begins acquiring his Force powers. There's some tedious jumping (including the ubiquitous "floating" platforms), but the controls tend to be forgiving. What stinks is how the game sends you all the way back to the beginning of each stage when you die - even when you've reached the boss!

Although small, the characters are realistically proportioned and nicely animated. One particularly useful new move is the "power jump", which is charged by holding back on the directional pad. Most of the action in Empire is standard platform fare, but there are two exceptional shooting stages, including a battle against the AT-AT Walkers on Hoth which looks fantastic.

Reminiscent of the original first Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (Atari 2600, 1982) game, you fire at Walkers with your snowspeeder, and can even employ tow cables to trip them! It looks awesome when they collapse, and you can even go back and "finish" them! I love the way the snowspeeder is animated as it "loops around" for another run. Upon getting shot down, Luke can still run around the planet surface on foot, blasting incoming Snow Troopers.

A second cool shooting stage takes place outside of Cloud City where you must blast a certain number of enemy aircraft. While both stages certainly look impressive, their gameplay is slightly compromised by the fact that the objects are so large you can't easily see what's coming. Despite the flaws, LucasFilm was clearly headed in the right direction, as the SNES versions would ultimately prove. Note: Although it was once under development, Return of the Jedi was never released for the NES.

Sega Genesis

Believe it or not, no Star Wars games were released for the Genesis. *Sad face*

Super Nintendo

Super Star Wars (LucasArts, 1992)
System: Super Nintendo
Grade: B-
screenshot Both me and my friend Tuan received Super Star Wars for Christmas in 1992, and I can still remember him calling me up and proudly proclaiming this to be the "best video game ever!" For Star Wars fans, this was indeed a thrill. Not only did the game's storyline follow the movie (more or less), but the graphics and sound were state of the art.

Although most stages follow the standard platform jumping/shooting formula, a few innovative 3D stages let you drive vehicles, including a sand speeder on Tatooine and an X-Wing in the Death Star's trench! The 3D animation looks a little rough now, but it was amazing back in the day.

The outstanding visuals portray every character, monster, and location you can remember from the film - and then some! The adrenaline-pumping Star Wars theme sounds crystal clear, as do the digitized sound effects and voice bits. Depending on the stage, you might control Luke, Han, or Chewbacca. The controls are tight, but I must admit you're too often asked to make "leaps of faith". Some of the platform jumping can be downright tedious, with the hellacious Java sandcrawler stage serving as a prime example.

The stage difficulty is uneven, and cheap hits are also a problem. The only way I've managed to finish the game is to locate the "secret cave" containing 99 extra lives. Since there's no save or password feature, you may find yourself playing into the wee hours of the morning, and by then the jumping and shooting will have gotten pretty old. A better option is to obtain the cheat code, which lets you select your stage. It's not perfect, but Super Star Wars is a quality title, and it's the main reason at least one of my friends purchased their SNES system.

Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (LucasArts, 1993)
System: Super Nintendo
Grade: B+
screenshot Back in the day my friend Eric and I were so stoked about this game we took off the day it came out so we could head straight to the mall to pick it up. The clerk at EB Games asked his manager (who was shrink wrapping games in plain sight) if we could have a free strategy guide. The response was, "Nah - save 'em for later." What a jerk! That clerk did end up giving us one to share, which was the least he could do considering we paid $75 each! We swung by McDonald's on the ride home and when we arrived back at my room Super Empire Strikes Back did not disappoint.

We gazed wide-eyed at the beautiful snow-covered scenery while chomping on our Big Macs. There's something about snow in video games that looks so pure and appealing. Riding a Tauntaun through blizzard conditions was fun, but unlike the barren ice planet in the movie, this Hoth is teeming with life.

You're relentlessly bum-rushed by warthogs, dive-bombed by birds, and stalked by probe droids. Porcupines shoot needles and plants release poisonous spores. Ice shards sprout beneath your feet and electric eels leap out of the water to get you. Everything wants you dead in the worst way, and it takes several whacks of your lightsaber to kill anything. Meanwhile you're sliding on narrow icy platforms over spike-lined pits! The designers threw in everything but the kitchen sink, so the rampant slowdown should come as no surprise.

Still, Empire manages to be a lot of fun thanks to Luke's awesome spinning attack and a generous number of health/power-up icons. Unlike the first game, Luke has the power to block with his lightsaber and employ force powers. The controls are responsive but expect cheap hits, regenerating foes, and blind leaps of faith.

The graphics are first-rate and you have to love subtle details like Luke's hair blowing in the wind. The sweeping orchestrated score adds gravitas, as do the crystal-clear voice samples (particularly Darth Vader's "Impressive!"). The entire first half of the game is set on Hoth, and the 3D stage where you take down AT-AT walkers with tow cables truly pushes the limits of 16-bit power. Later you explore the swampy jungles of Dagobah and the cloud city of Bespin with its gorgeous pastel-red skyline.

Encounters with Boba Fett will thrill Star Wars fans, and the climactic battle between Luke and Vader will have your heart racing! The six-letter password system is easy to use and a top-10 rankings screen makes it fun to play for high score. Super Empire Strike Back is clearly over the top at times, but you can't deny the greatness of this epic title.

Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (LucasArts, 1994)
System: Super Nintendo
Grade: A
screenshot As the final chapter of the Super Star Wars trilogy, LucasArts seemed to get everything right in Super Return of the Jedi. The gameplay hasn't changed much since Super Star Wars, but Jedi is the most forgiving of the three games. In fact, it's almost easy compared to Empire. The action begins in Jabba the Hutt's palace before moving to the forest moon of Endor (home of the beloved Ewoks), and culminating at the new Death Star.

You can select from several characters for most stages, including a bikini-clad Princess Leia (now we're talking). Jedi's graphics and attention to detail are stunning. As an example, Jabba's gamorrean guards actually have saliva dripping from their mouths! The stage backdrops, particularly those set in the lush forests of Endor, look gorgeous.

One major gameplay innovation is a new defensive move for Luke: the lightsaber block. This plays an instrumental role in defeating Vader, and ultimately the Emperor. Another new element, floating icons, will earn you a bonus life should you collect 100 of them. These add a fun, Super Mario Bros. flavor to the game.

The 3D speeder bike stage isn't as impressive as I remember, but it's not so bad. The Millennium Falcon shooting stage is probably the weakest part of the game. Jedi does a nice job of following the storyline of the film, skillfully building to the exciting finale. With the same action-packed gameplay as its predecessors but lacking the frustration factor, Super Return of the Jedi is a fitting conclusion to an excellent series.

Sega CD

Star Wars: Rebel Assault (LucasArts, 1993)
System: Sega CD
Grade: F
screenshot I wish I had played this game before I played Rebel Assault II on my Playstation, because these low-quality graphics are almost too much to bear. Rebel Assault is one of those annoying games where you spend most of the time watching video. Many of the clips are taken directly from the Star Wars films, although they are severely pixilated (due to the Sega CD's limited color palette).

The new footage tends to be awful - almost comical. In some cases, they superimposed moving lips and eyes over stiff faces, and the effect is unconvincing at best; downright creepy at worst. At least the video segments extend across the full screen - a rarity for the Sega CD. Rebel Assault's audio really shocked me. The music is far from CD quality, and the digitized sound effects are rough.

The stages include Tie fighter shooting, navigating an asteroid field, mounting an attack run on a Star Destroyer, and taking down an Imperial Walker. There are also a few crude stormtrooper shootout stages, but your character looks like a woman for some reason. The space shooting stages are best (easiest to tolerate), where you aim at obvious targets and have very limited range of movement.

You have no control over your general direction, and waiting for your ship to turn around (for another run) takes forever. The worst stages are those where you must navigate a ship through confined areas (like a desert canyon). The steering controls are extremely unresponsive, and determining your position from the pixelated graphics is difficult. Rebel Assault could have gotten by on graphics alone in 1993, but it hasn't aged well. I didn't enjoy playing this at all.

Star Wars Chess (LucasArts, 1994)
System: Sega CD
Grade: C-
screenshot I'm not a big chess fan, but I gravitate towards anything Star Wars. In Star Wars Chess, the pieces are represented by your favorite characters from the films; including Yoda, Luke, Leia, Darth Vader, the Emperor, Chewbacca, C3PO, R2D2, and Boba Fett. The characters are easily recognizable, but being hand-drawn, they look cheesy.

The game is played exactly like chess, except when a piece is captured a non-interactive animated sequence shows one character overtaking the other. These "battle" sequences tend to be clever, funny, and entertaining to watch - the first time. Unfortunately, you'll see certain animations with annoying frequency. Still, when you consider all the combinations of characters, it's quite a bit of animation. The chess aspect itself is pretty good.

There are loads of options, including helpful hints and the ever-popular "switch sides" option (comes in handy for me). The CPU player is intelligent and doesn't require an inordinate amount of time to execute a move. Although the default view is a bit cluttered (making it hard to see the empty spaces), an overhead view (with traditional chess pieces) is also available. Star Wars Chess is mainly a novelty item, but even if you don't like chess, you can always sit back and watch the computer play itself.

Sega 32X

Star Wars Arcade (LucasArts, 1994)
System: Sega 32X
Grade: B
screenshot As one of the three original 32X launch games, Star Wars Arcade does not disappoint! Not to be confused with the 1983 vector graphics coin-op, this is a showcase of the 32X polygonal graphic capabilities. The arcade mode offers four unique missions and the 32X mode expands that to eight.

The sense of scale is grand as you dogfight tie fighters in airfields patrolled by Star Destroyers. Those massive ships aren't just window dressing either! You can actually buzz them at your own peril! There's a button to toggle between a first and third-person view, but I much prefer being in the pilot seat.

Most missions boil down to neutralizing a certain number of tie fighters, typically 20 or 30. It helps that there's a nice visual counter in the center of the screen tracking your progress. I love that distinctive sound of tie fighters zooming by, and it's cool how their panels fly off when you blast them. In addition to your cannon, you can also unleash heat-seeking torpedoes once an enemy is locked in.

Technical problems do encroach on the fun, particularly when you attempt to venture inside of a Super Star Destroyer. The erratic frame rate makes it hard to spot and avoid hazards. Worse yet, the controls feel laggy, causing you to ping-pong between trench walls while trying to stay on course. Playing co-op mode helps, effectively doubling your firepower while allowing the pilot to focus on navigation.

But it's the details that make Star Wars Arcade such a treat. A digitized Admiral Akbar briefs you on each mission. When your shield takes a hit, Artoo unleashes that distinctive electronic "scream". And of course there's the inspiring Star Wars musical score. This game really captures the spirit of the original film, at least when the hardware is keeping up.


Star Wars: Dark Forces (LucasArts, 1995)
System: Playstation
Grade: F
screenshot This may have been great on the PC, but Dark Forces on the Playstation gives me a massive headache. It's a remarkably sloppy first-person shooter, and its only redeeming feature is the fact that it's set in the Star Wars universe.

You assume the role of a generic rebel named Kyle Katarn who is attempting to thwart the activation of the Empire's latest weapon. I found the game practically unplayable, mainly due to the pitiful framerate. The action is so choppy that it's difficult to navigate or aim with any degree of precision. There's only one strafe button, and using a shoulder button to aim up or down is a real drag.

Dark Forces doesn't even look good, suffering from ugly textures and poorly-designed stages. In one particularly atrocious stage, you're forced to crawl around in a sewer for what seems like an eternity. The stormtroopers and Imperial Officers appear short and squat, but I do like how they fall back as you mow them down.

Dark Forces is strong on the audio tip. The musical score is intense, and its familiar sound effects are lifted straight from the films. But that's a small consolation. Technically deficient and devoid of fun, I can't even recommend Dark Forces to Star Wars fans.

Star Wars: Rebel Assault II (LucasArts, 1995)
System: Playstation
Grade: C-
screenshot This game is a bastard child of the full-motion video (FMV) craze of the mid-90's. Long on graphics but short on gameplay, Rebel Assault II is a collection of target-shooting and ship navigation stages loosely held together by less-than-captivating live-action cut-scenes. Filmed against fake-looking matte paintings, the actors used props left over from the three original movies. The acting performances are abysmal - and thank God - because otherwise these scenes would have been completely forgettable.

Rebel Assault's 15 stages include space battles, stormtrooper shootouts, tunnel navigating, and even a speeder bike chase in the woods. The first stage has you simply shooting at Tie Fighters, and this rekindled fond memories of Star Wars: The Arcade Game (1983). Rebel Assault's visuals are great, but its controls leave much to be desired. The shooting crosshairs don't feel responsive and the collision detection is lacking. For example, shooting a stormtrooper in the head doesn't seem to register - but a body shot will.

The stages where you navigate through tunnels or canyons can be a nightmare, and memorization is usually more critical than skill. The stormtrooper stages would be ideal for a lightgun, but sadly my gun couldn't reach the edge of the screen. One aspect that really saves the game is its tremendous audio. The rousing musical score (taken directly from the films) is inspirational and occasionally exhilarating. Rebel Assault features a slick stage select screen, and it even saves your high scores. It may be a bit shallow, but based on looks alone, Rebel Assault II should attract Star Wars fans.

Star Wars: Masters of Teras Kasi (LucasArts, 1997)
System: Playstation
Grade: F
screenshot An ill-advised title if I ever saw one, Teras Kasi was a clumsy attempt to cram the Star Wars universe into a 3D fighting game. You may recall that 3D fighters were at the height of their popularity in 1997, and LucasArts simply couldn't resist jumping on the bandwagon. On paper, Masters of Teras Kasi doesn't seem half bad. Trust me, it's bad.

The all-star lineup includes Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Leia, Chewbacca, a Tusken Raider, and everybody's favorite bounty hunter, Boba Fett. There's also a chick named Arden Lyn who's never even appeared in any of the movies. I suspect she was included to boost the number of female fighters (to two). While each character has his own unique combat skills, none lend themselves particularly well to hand-to-hand combat. Example: the Tusken Raider has a frickin' stick for a weapon. How can he be expected to compete against Boba Fett, armed with a blaster and rocket?

It doesn't take much of an imagination to think of even more lopsided match-ups. The entire premise is ludicrous, which becomes painfully obvious when you actually try to play the thing. The special moves are very hard to execute, and get this - shooting your blaster is considered a special move! That's right - you actually need to execute a complicated sequence of button presses simply to pull the trigger! You'll be playing as Han Solo, and Leia will be beating the living [expletive] out of you as you try in vain to get off a single shot! Heck, with controls this bad a Jawa could kick Han's ass.

In terms of graphics, the quality is uneven. The fighter selection scenes feature awesome rotating holographs, but in combat the fighters look far less impressive, with chunky bodies and faces that border on hilarious. Incidentally, LucasArts put a lot of effort into the lighting effects. Talk about misplaced priorities! They're hardly spectacular, and the background scenery is incredibly dull! Masters of Teras Kasi is what happens when a substandard concept is poorly executed. Did anything good come out of this game? Yes, a newfound appreciation for Tekken.

Star Wars: Episode One The Phantom Menace (LucasArts, 1999)
System: Playstation
Grade: D+
screenshot Phantom Menace is a great-looking game that loosely recreates the film's storyline. All of the diverse movie environments are rendered in colorful 3D, and superb cut-scenes effectively glue the stages together. The voice acting is also commendable, despite not having been done by all the original actors. That brings us to the gameplay. How come whenever a game allows you to save at any point, it overcompensates by being incredibly difficult and frustrating?

You will need the patience of a Jedi to make it all the way through this perilous adventure. The analog control is sufficient for walking around, but leaping across narrow columns (a common task) is frustrating as hell! Another problem is the limited overhead view some stages offer. It's reasonable when your direction is clear, but in expansive areas like Mos Eisley you're forced to "feel" your way around the edges. The lightsaber controls allow you to skillfully deflect laser bolts, but there are so many frickin' enemies that you're often overwhelmed.

Phantom Menace has some action sequences but too much of its gameplay revolves around tedious puzzle solving. In the end, the frustration outweighs the fun. A music video is included as a bonus, but it looks terribly grainy. Phantom Menace should attract a lot of Star Wars fans, but only die-hards will be able to see it through to the end.

Star Wars: Jedi Power Battles (LucasArts, 2000)
System: Playstation
Grade: B-
screenshot Consider this the antedote to Star Wars: Episode One The Phantom Menace (LucasArts, 1999). Power Battles won't waste your time with tedious puzzles and inconsequential dialog. Its non-stop action is more along the lines of the SNES Super Star Wars titles, except rendered in glorious 3D!

Assuming the role of Jedi Knights, you and a friend slash your way through locations inspired from the film like the desert of Tatooine, the metropolis of Coruscant, and the swamps of Naboo. Five playable characters include Obi Wan, Qui Gon Jinn, Mace Windu, Adi Gallia, and some oddball named Plo Koon.

Power Battles begins with Obi Wan and Qui Gon arriving on the Trade Federation ship. I loved this part of the film, but this game stretches it (along with every other scene) to exhausting lengths!

It's fun to slice through battle droids using wide-ranging side slashes or powerful overhead strikes. Sometimes you can trick them into shooting each other. A well-timed block will deflect a laser blast directly back at the source, and it's the coolest move in the game by far. Unfortunately enemies become increasingly resistant to your lightsaber slashes to the point where you wonder if you'd be better off trading your lightsaber for an [expletive] baseball bat.

The analog controls could be better. It seems like you can never approach anything without taking a roundabout path. There's nothing more frustrating than struggling to face a battle droid that's standing next to you! In swamps of Naboo these droids tend to gang up on you. You try to keep your distance but there's always one that runs up and starts kicking you in the crotch repeatedly. That's just disrespectful.

The game expects you to perform a lot of perilous jumps, and trying to orchestrate these with two players seems nearly impossible. While dialing the difficulty down might make fighting easier, it won't protect you from plunging to your death, which is how you'll exhaust most of your lives.

You'll face a lot of familiar villains including Sandpeople, Greedos, and Darth Maul. But the highlight of the game may be John Williams' epic soundtrack, which makes every stage feel positively momentous. Likewise its crisp digitized audio effects are lifted directly from the film. These really elevate Jedi Power Battles to a new level, making you feel as if you're in a real Star Wars movie.

Nintendo 64

Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire (LucasArts, 1996)
System: Nintendo 64
Grade: B
screenshot As one of the original "launch" titles for the Nintendo 64 console, Shadows of the Empire follows the storyline of the popular novel while incorporating a wide variety of playing styles. The background story is conveyed through a series of illustrations and text. The action begins with a Snowspeeder battle on Hoth, which frankly is the best stage of the game.

The excellent graphics and tight control place you into the heat of battle, blasting probe droids and tripping up Imperial Walkers. Later stages include a very original (and fun) train-jumping sequence, a "swoop bike" race, and some dogfighting in space. Most stages, however, play like a third-person shooter, where you view your character from behind. As you might expect, he can get in the way at times.

Shadows looks impressive but has its share of control problems. First, the touchy analog stick makes it difficult to navigate narrow ledges without sliding off. Also, the aiming controls for firing upward are not good. If you can deal with these issues however, Shadows provides a very satisfying and original Star Wars adventure.

Star Wars: Rogue Squadron (LucasArts, 1998)
System: Nintendo 64
Grade: B+
screenshot The best stages in Shadows of the Empire were the ones that let you fly ships, so LucasArts made Rogue Squadron nothing but dogfighting action all the way though. Set chronologically between A New Hope and Empire Strike Back, you play the part of Luke Skywalker, embarking on a series of missions to protect the Rebels and keep the Empire at bay.

As you would expect, the production values are top notch. The background story, characters, voice acting, sound effects, music, vehicle specifications, and locations are all faithful to the Star Wars mythology. The planet surfaces are plain but rendered in high resolution and appear silky smooth. Vehicles are detailed up close, but it can be tough to distinguish Tie fighters from Rebel allies in the distance. Your radar display is handy for guiding you to your mission objective, but less helpful during the hectic dogfights.

The air-to-air combat is fun and challenging, and the explosions are a joy to behold. Sometimes you'll nick a Tie on the wing, sending him into a downward spiral - sweet. Rogue Squadron's single graphic shortcoming has to be the wimpy explosion of your ship when you crash - it's about the size of a firecracker! The game offers five aircraft to choose from, each with its own unique look and feel. A huge hit, Rogue Squadron kicked off a popular series that would continue on the Gamecube.

Star Wars: Episode One Racer (LucasArts, 1999)
System: Nintendo 64
Grade: A
screenshot This masterpiece is a dream come true for Star Wars fans! Episode One Racer faithfully recreates (and expands upon) the exciting pod-racing scene from the Phantom Menace. The game offers 23 different vehicles available and 25 unique courses.

The graphics (with the help of the memory expansion pack) are magnificent and the illusion of speed is exhilarating. You can win and collect other vehicles which can be upgraded by buying parts from Watto (who has many funny lines in this game). The racing aspect is the best I've experienced on the N64, with controls that are more forgiving than most racers (you have to hit a wall really hard to crash). The frame rate does struggle to keep up in the later stages, where things get really crazy.

The tracks themselves are all fascinating and surprisingly long. Some require a few minutes just to complete a single lap! As you would expect, the digitized sound effects and orchestrated musical score are beyond reproach. Episode One Racer also features a fine two-player split-screen mode. LucasArts obviously went all-out with the game, and the quality shows.

Star Wars: Battle For Naboo (LucasArts, 2000)
System: Nintendo 64
Grade: A
screenshot If you enjoyed Rogue Squadron, you'll flip over this Episode One-inspired title, set on the planet of Naboo. In addition to excellent dog-fighting action, many stages feature ground-based combat between floating vehicles. Battle For Naboo's graphics feature beautiful cities and scenic landscapes inspired by Episode One, and the explosions are among the best I've seen on the N64. The voice acting is sometimes hard to understand, but I like how your commander always specifies what your next objective is.

As in Rogue Squadron, there's a helpful radar display that not only identifies friends and foes, but keeps you headed in the right direction. You'll pilot seven vehicles from STAPs to starfighters, and the controls are responsive. Your performance determines which metal you earn (bronze, silver, or gold) in each of the 15 missions, adding replay value. The stages are ideal in length, and if you bite the dust, you pick up right where you left off. Battle of Naboo is a first-class shooter that should thrill Star Wars fans. I could find no serious flaws with this one.

Proceed to Part Two

Skip to Part Three

Graphics courtesy of Free Icons Web