When the first Star War video games hit arcades and home consoles in the early 1980s, they kicked off what would become one of the longest lived and most fruitful series of licensed entertainment software the game industry has ever known. The decades since those earliest releases have seen the release of countless titles bearing the famous franchise’s name. With a recent spate of Star Wars reviews behind us, The Escapist’s Good Old Review crew thought it’d be fun to take a closer look at some our own personal favorite Star Wars. Mind you, these aren’t necessarily the best games the franchise has to offer, These are just the titles that have left the strongest impression with us over the years.
Star Wars: Republic Commando
Original Release: 2005, Platforms: Windows, Xbox
Star Wars has always been a franchise that can get a little bogged down in its Jedi vs Sith battles; not so with Republic Commando. This was one of the few games to barely feature the Force at all, offering only a glimpse of Yoda at the very end of the game. Instead, the player is put in command of an elite squad of Clone Troopers, taking on the priority targets and general grunt work that the Jedi themselves can’t always be involved in.
The game goes to great lengths to paint Star Wars battles in a new light. Remember those droids from the prequel trilogy that seemed like they’d fall apart if Obi-Wan nudged them gently? They’re a lot more imposing from the perspective of a soldier, coming at you in swarms that require quick tactical thinking to overcome. And then there’s the super battle droids, towering two feet about you like a walking tank that absorbs a lot of damage before going down. But the most terrifying change has to be the Wookies. Forget Chewbacca’s powerful, yet comforting presence, these Wookies are immensely threatening thanks to broad shoulders and thick muscles that practically filled the screen. Thankfully, they’re on your side.
While the game was short and was practically begging for a co-op mode, its squad-based approach remained engaging all the same. Campaigns took you from Genosis, to an occupied Star Destroyer, the a mission on Kashyyyk just before Revenge of the Sith, positioning teammates and using their unique abilities to progress through the single-player campaign. It’s a gameplay style I’d love to see Star Wars take on again, even if it jumps ahead to the original trilogy or JJ Abrams timelines.
Original Release: 1992, Platform: NES, Game Boy
In 1997 I saw all three of the Star Wars Special Edition films in theaters. And while I today count myself among the many fans who think the changes made by the Special Editions are practically blasphemous, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy them at the time. I was only ten at the time, after all, and while I had seen the Star Wars movies prior to that, it was still amazing to watch them (besmirched as they were) on the big screen. That experience, perhaps more than anything else, solidified me as a lifelong fan of the franchise.
So when my Dad gave me a crisp 100 dollar bill for my birthday that year, there was no question as to what I was going to do with it. I bought a VHS copy of A New Hope, an X-Wing toy and a copy of Star Wars for Game Boy. In retrospect, Star Wars is not a fantastic game. It’s not terrible by any means, but it’s made frustrating by level design that occasionally borders on the maze-like. No matter how many times I played through the game, I don’t think I ever completed the rescue mission on the Death Star without first spending an hour wandering around trying to figure out where everything is.
It was always worth it when I reached the end though, and got to play through the Battle of Yavin. I’ve always been a sucker for space battles and while the Game Boy game’s rendition might not be as epic or accurate as other versions, it was the greatest thing in the world for a kid like me with no other options and dreams of flying an X-Wing.
Super Star Wars Trilogy
Original Release: 1992, 1993, 1994, Platforms: SNES
Ah, the 16-Bit gaming era; when platformers dominated the console landscape and movie-to-video game adaptations were insanely easy to produce. Sure, many of these adaptations were easy cash-ins, but the Super Star Wars series was among the best. This franchise turned each of the original films into 2D side-scrollers that were rapidly embraced by young Star Wars fans. And while the action gameplay meant every scene was basically a shootout, since this was Star Wars it actually kind of worked.
That young novice, Luke Skywalker, was incredibly good with a blaster, single-handedly fighting off a Sarlaac and leading an explosive one-man assault against the Jawa. He only got more powerful after his Jedi training too, flinging and recalling his lightsaber at will to devastate his enemies. Leia, meanwhile, kills Jabba in her slave outfit and annihilated bounty hunters and goons blocking her way with nothing but a chain. The non-platforming sequences were more accurate by comparison, but no less fun. Taking out speederbikes on Endor, flying through an asteroid field, or blowing up the Death Star(s) from the cockpit of a ship felt just as thrilling as the movies, assuming you didn’t mind the 16-bit style.
But perhaps my favorite memories of Super Star Wars were playing around with cheat codes. You haven’t truly enjoyed Star Wars to its fullest depths until you play as Wicket the Ewok and take out Vader and Palpatine using infinite thermal grenades. Thankfully, these games are still available on the Wii Virtual Console, giving everyone the chance to experience that pleasure again and again.
Star Wars: Rogue Squadron
Original Release: 1998, Platforms: Nintendo 64, Windows
There are two things in my life that I’ve always wanted to do: beat the original Ninja Gaiden and get a gold medal in the Escape from Fest stage in Star Wars: Rogue Squadron. The former is one that I’ve pretty much given up on. My condo is simply too small to accommodate the controller throwing that the final stages of Ninja Gaiden inspire in me. The latter meanwhile, is one that I still happily pursue (despite how frustrating it is), if only because it gives me an excuse to dig out Rogue Squadron and throw a few more hours into the already overflowing pool of time I’ve spent on it.
It’s funny because it’s not like Rogue Squadron is some unsurpassable classic. There are elements of it that haven’t aged well at all. Its excessive of fog and the N64’s controller (assuming you didn’t play it on PC) are both hard to go back to, especially after you’ve played its superior GameCube sequel Rogue Leader. Likewise, after playing X-Wing I can totally understand why some PC gamers scoffed at Rogue Squadron‘s comparative simplicity.
All of that said, it’s still a contender for my favorite Star Wars title, if only because of how obsessed I was with it back in its heyday. When Rogue Squadron first released, I played it to the point of muscle memory. I probably spent more time in the late 90s playing and replaying this game than I did anything else in my library. Entire weekends would pass with me barely stepping away from the TV because I was so caught up with trying to get a gold medal in the game. I simply can’t think of another game in my life that’s grabbed me in quite the same way.
Star Wars Episode I: Racer
Original Release: 1999, Platforms: Nintendo 64, Dreamcast, Windows
Say what you will about The Phantom Menace, but that pod race was amazing. I’d even say it was the best scene in the entire film, setting Anakin up as an underdog and pacing the action across three tensely nerve-wracking laps that felt truly exciting to watch. Of course, that prompted the creation of one of the more successful Episode I video games: Star Wars Episode I: Racer. And while it only got one sequel off the ground, it remains the top-selling sci-fi racing game of all time, outselling even the classic F-Zero.
Starting from the Boonta course on Tatooine, Racer took players across 25 tracks on 8 different worlds. Winning races allowed players to unlock tracks, but also new racers and pods. You can also upgrade pods using your in-game winnings, increasing your abilities as a professional pod racer across each tournament. I, for one, would immensely enjoy a re-release, assuming future installments aren’t currently in the cards.
Star Wars Trilogy Arcade
Original Release: 1998, Platforms: Arcade
There’s this kid’s fun center about twenty minutes away from where I live. We don’t go there very often anymore, but back a few years ago it was a semi-regular dinner stop for my family. They’d go for he pizza and I, being eternally locked in the mindset of an eight year old, loved playing the games. Especially Star Wars Trilogy Arcade.
Trilogy Arcade is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. You pop in some quarters and get to play through a series of levels based on famous sequences from the original Star Wars movies. These play out primarily as on rails shooting games where you’e move you forward automatically and use a provided joystick to blast Tie Fighters and Stormtroopers. There’s also some nifty bonus rounds where you get to duke it out with the likes of Boba Fett and Darth Vader through a series of quick-time events.
Back when I first encountered it though it was probably one of the best looking games I’d ever seen and, simple as it was, it was still fun and challenging. I never passed up an opportunity to play it and beating the whole game sincerely became one of my life goals. Sadly though, it’s one that I fear I’ll never complete.One day when my family went to lunch, the fun center had replaced Trilogy Arcade with a Deal or No Deal game. It’s been four years and I’ve never seen it since.
A bit of advice: if there’s an arcade machine you want to beat, just do it. Don’t be cheap about it or insist there will be another day for it. Get yourself a big bag of quarters and get it done before it disappears and you’re left feeling empty every time you drive past Pizza Putt.
Star Wars: Battlefront 2
Original Release: 2005, Platforms: PS2, PSP, XBox, Windows
Well, yeah. Of course Battlefront 2.
There’s a reason why the fans kept begging for a new sequel to this series. Battlefront was one of the few games that came anywhere close to replicating the massive scope of Star Wars conflicts, throwing dozens of units against each other in a struggle to claim the map for your team. And sure, it’s basically just classic Battlefield gameplay with a Star Wars re-skin, but it made great use of the space opera setting.
First of all, you had a wide array of character classes each based around elements of Star Wars lore, such as droid builds in the Separatist army or Stormtrooper troop types. The level designs looked and felt the same way they appeared in the movies. Most levels had vehicles that, when used correctly, could completely alter the playing field. You could even activate playable hero characters for either the light or dark side, each of which could wipe the floor with infantry units until someone finally put them down.
But the best addition, hands-down, was the space combat. Oh man, the space combat. Jump into a waiting fighter? Launch yourself from the docking bay? Dogfight enemy fighters? Disable your opponent’s cruiser? Everything came together for a top notch gameplay experience. Daring players could even load themselves onto a troop transport and attempt an assault on the docking bay, occupying the ship from within. Later handheld versions expanded this with surface-to-space combat, where players fighting on the ground could fly into space to take on enemy capital ships. But it never felt quite as fresh and exciting as when introduced for the first time in Battlefront 2.
The only thing that personally disappointed me about this game was that a few maps from Battlefront 1 never made the transition, but that’s a very minor point against an overwhelmingly solid experience. Here’s hoping the reboot fully lives up to everyone’s expectations.
Star Wars: Battle for Naboo
Original Release: 2000, Platforms: Nintendo 64, Windows
One of the sad things about the Star Wars prequels being such visual manure is that their suckage has sadly tainted some of their finer video game spin-offs. Take Battle for Naboo as an example. It wasn’t a perfect game, but it was still a lot of fun and even outdid its Factor 5 developed predecessor Rogue Squadron in some regards.
One of the things that always bugged me about Rogue Squadron for instance, was the fact that weren’t any levels that truly took place in outer space. Every stage in the game was firmly anchored to the ground and you never really got that feeling of being in a chaotic battle where death could come from any direction. Battle for Naboo has two stages based fully in outer space and they were insanely fun. Sincerely, as goofy as it was to have Jake Lloyd taking down the Droid Control Ship at the end of The Phantom Menace, it feels legitimately bad-ass when you’re taking part in it yourself.
Despite its prequel roots, Battle for Naboo also had a halfway decent story. Rather than focusing on the dry politics surrounding the Trade Federation’s blockade of Naboo, the game followed the struggle of the planet’s shattered security forces to regroup and strike back at the occupying droid armies. Was it deep? No. But it was entertaining and made sense, which is more than you can say for the movie it was on.
LEGO Star Wars
Original Release: 2005, Platforms: Windows, PS2, Xbox, GameCube, GBA
Back in 2005, if you told me that LEGO video game adaptations would be so popular, I would’ve laughed. But then a friend and I sat down to play LEGO Star Wars for GameCube… and didn’t stop until we’d finished the entire game.
LEGO Star Wars was a fantastic game that was family-friendly, established a tone for future installments, and was hilarious to boot. It’s also incredibly accessible, making it easy for anyone to jump in (or start playing with a partner) without punishing them while they get the hang of things. In fact, trying to “break” the game is a huge part of the fun; rushing around each level smashing everything that isn’t locked down, including your fellow players and NPCs.
But best of all, it managed to do this without sacrificing the epic Star Wars tone, keeping the appeal of alien worlds, space battles, and fighting robots with lightsabers. While it’s a giant parody, it approaches its source material in a loving way. For me, that went a long way towards making the prequel trilogy more engaging. The game even managed to use some clever twists to turn the co-op mechanics on its head, including a level where Obi-Wan and Darth Vader have to work together to survive explosions on Mustafar before they can actually fight each other.
And while we’re talking about it: LEGO Star Wars‘ Episode 3 ending beat the holy hell out of Darth Vader’s “Nooooooooo” moment, hands down.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Original Release: 2003, Platforms: Xbox, PC, Mac, iOS
I don’t love Knights of the Old Republic because it’s a good game. Don’t get me wrong, it is. I’d go as far as saying that it’s probably one of the best RPGs I’ve ever played. I love KOTOR most primarily because of the game changer it was for my relationship with my wife. When we first met, she actively disliked Star Wars and, for that matter, most fantasy and science fiction. I, on the other hand, have pretty much been a total geek for that sort of stuff since I was a little kid. We connected with each other on a ton of other levels (hence the marriage, mortgage and child), but that was one area where we were of two different minds.
Then I played Dragon Age: Origins. She spent much of my playthrough watching and, unexpectedly, fell in love with the game, its characters and BioWare. She followed up my game with 15 or so of her own, after which she did the same with Mass Effect and Jade Empire. Sensing an opportunity, I bought her a copy of KOTOR which she agreed to try and wound up really enjoying. She started asking me questions about the Star Wars universe, something that eventually culminated in us watching the movies together. Did she love them like I did? No. But she was able to appreciate them in a way that she hadn’t before.
So while I definitely enjoy playing Knights of the Old Republic, it holds a permanent place in my heart because of the way it was able to serve as a bridge between myself and the woman whose company I most adore. We’re able to share more of our lives together because of it and the value of that goes well beyond gameplay.