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Thursday, 17 December 2015

Star Wars - Replaying the movies in video games


So apparently there’s a new Star Wars film out?

With the Force busy awakening, everyone’s online chronicling their rewatch binges. Good, good, but perhaps you’ve seen them recently or can’t stomach the prequel dialogue more than once a decade. If you’re still after a preparatory blast of nostalgia, might I suggest you revisit the galaxy far, far away through a different medium?

Star Wars and video games have grown up together. As tech improved, the games got prettier, though as evidenced by the movies, improved tech doesn’t necessarily mean a better experience. The quality of the SW video game catalogue is patchy, but the sheer number of titles over the years means you can now navigate the poodoo and relive the entire series very well through game adaptations alone. I haven’t played EVERYTHING, but I’ve sampled a good enough percentage to present the following.

So, allow me to guide you through Episodes I-IV, VG-style:


The Phantom Menace

With regards to video game versions, the prequels suffer in two ways. Firstly, they’re much newer than the originals and thus haven’t had nearly forty years of adaptation and reinterpretation. Secondly, the originals are cultural cinematic icons. The prequels were critical disappointments. Regardless of the spectacle and the fandom, nobody’s clamouring for a new version of the Gungan Battle on Naboo. Likewise, Hoth and the Death Star Trench Run trump Geonosis every time. Therefore the number of depictions to draw from is smaller.

Fortunately Lego Star Wars has us covered. One of the first licenced Lego games, it came as a wonderful surprise with humour, simple puzzles and collecting mechanics. Being able to wield a lightsaber (and play as almost any character) while listening to John Williams’ score and playing cooperatively was instantly satisfying (before the Lego licenced titles soured through repetition). The player is taken through the main plot points of the entire prequel trilogy (the game’s sequel would cover the originals) and is invaluable when taking the video game route through the movies.

Several terrible tie-in games accompanied the returning franchise back in 1999. Star Wars Episode I: Racer for the N64 stood alone and proud amongst the dross. It’s a fluid, nuanced racing game in the F-Zero/Wipeout vein with loads of vehicles and upgrades that channels one of the strongest scenes in the movie. I still remember being in awe of how the Tatooine circuit matched the one on film. Try playing with a controller in each hand for that authentic pod-feel.

After winning the Boonta Eve Classic, head back to Lego Star Wars until the final space battle when you might want to check out Star Wars Episode I: Battle for Naboo, again for N64. This was Factor 5’s ‘spiritual’ sequel to Rogue Squadron with a new and improved engine that permitted ground vehicles and improved draw distances. While it suffered for not having the cache of the original trilogy, it’s still a solid game with tight controls.

Head back to Lego SW to polish off Darth Maul and we’re on to Episode II!



Attack of the Clones

To cover the weakest film we’ll be calling on Lego Star Wars for the most part. However, the Battlefront games did a great job of conveying the scale and mayhem of the larger Clone battles in Episodes II and III. It might be worth hitting that for the Battle of Geonosis with Mace Windu, but let’s face it - Geonosis is pretty drab. I’d stick to Lego if you’re after purple saber action. Onwards quickly past the crass dialogue before we too are haunted by the kiss she shouldn’t have given us!


Revenge of the Sith

…Ah. Right. We’re still running on fumes here. VG-wise, though the film itself was a giant leap in the right direction, there were some lacklustre tie-ins. Once again, Lego Star Wars is your best bet for Episode III (with some Wookiee support from Battlefront in the Battle on Kashyyyk). Galactic Battlegrounds might be good if you’re an RTS lover. Otherwise you should go about your business. Move along.

To be fair, while video game depictions of the movies were suffering around the time of the prequels, there were plenty of great non-canon games being released. Battlefront and Galactic Battleground were joined by Knights of the Old Republic and the Jedi Knight series, which gave players other opportunities to get their hands on a lightsaber. Still, the biggest thrills generally came when they echoed moments or revisited locations from the films, with most characters acting as shoddy clones of movie originals (I’m looking at you, Dash).


"Stay on target."

A New Hope

Now we’re talking. Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy will service the bulk of on-foot passages in this trilogy too, but now we’re joined by the Rogue Squadron games. Although the first on N64 laid out a great template, it’s Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader on GameCube that nails the look, sound and feel of the piloting and dogfighting in the originals films. It’s still a looker 15 years on. The bonus level ‘Death Star Escape’ gives a nice shooting range version of the TIE fighter attack on the Millennium Falcon (“Great, kid! Don’t get cocky.”) and it also has the best version of the Death Star Trench Run (far prettier than the N64’s attempt). There are multiple versions of the trench run available but it's best to put nostalgia aside here - trust me, Rebel Assault is just a mess. If you’re feeling old-school, you could check out the original 1983 arcade game Star Wars from Atari. It’s the original take and, some argue, still the best. Handily it can be found as an unlockable bonus on the otherwise dispensable Star Wars Rogue Leader III: Rebel Strike disc. Boom.


The Empire Strikes Back

The Battle of Hoth. The most depicted Star Wars scene in video games. Even rubbish games like Shadows of the Empire have a decent Hoth level. The new version in Battlefront (2015) looks pretty spectacular (especially with the Real Life mod). Battlefront II does a great job of giving the troops’ eye perspective, and Rogue Squadron II also has a great interpretation.



And it’s back to Lego again for the rest of the film. Rogue Squadron II features a bland bonus ‘Asteroid Field’ level following the Millennium Falcon escaping from the Star Destroyers and a great Cloud City-based mission, though the latter is not set during the film.



Return of the Jedi

For the last film in the replay/rewatch, we’re going to supplement Lego Star Wars II with a couple of the best depictions of Star Wars ever put on cart/disc/PCB. Star Wars Trilogy Arcade was an on-rail shooter cabinet from Sega that featured half a dozen scenes from the films. I remember vividly watching the demo screen loop, wishing I was good enough at video games to get beyond the first level. Its Death Star Run and Battle of Hoth are fine, but it’s the Speeder Bike section and the Dual with Vader that really nail the atmosphere better than any other game. Couple this with the hectic ‘Battle of Endor’ and ‘Strike at the Core’ missions from Rogue Squadron II and you’ve made your way through the whole damn saga. Yub-nub!


******


I’m sure I’ve missed some and you may disagree, but there are some damn fine moments in there. I haven’t tried the recently released Battlefront, though videos show that it nails the look at least. There’s one thing which I think we can all agree on though – thank god for Lego Star Wars.

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