Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

 

A Star War
A Star War

I’m a big fan of Star Wars, as you can probably tell from my name—that’s right, I spell “Scott” with two lightsabers instead of the letter T. When I say “Scott” out loud I make the lightsaber noise at the end twice and then shout “NOOOOOO!” when you look at me weird.

With this fact out in the open I’m sure you can see why I was elated to be chosen to review Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. It’s so firmly in my wheelhouse that I can fit one less wheel in there because of the space Star Wars is taking up. That’s why there’s an old wheel on my front lawn.

First of all, the music in this game is great! It’s just like the music from the movies except way shittier! Considering the technology they had to work with here I’m still fairly impressed that they managed to simulate it so well, even if it is like someone threw John Williams into a digital hole and then filled it up with spit.

Here’s a good example of a game that reminds me my reflexes have deteriorated almost completely: it tells me I’m a Jedi but the controls don’t let me feel like one—instead I’m the drunk guy in the cantina who makes some poor life decisions by threatening space wizards.

Graphically this game looks fairly nice: it has very sprightly sprites and all of the things on the screen look enough like the things from the movie that I can recognize them. Hoth is remarkably populated for an ice planet, but I guess everything just thawed out to run or fly back and forth to slightly inconvenience the player. Your life bar is a lightsaber, which makes sense because as Jedi get hurt their lightsabers slowly turn off.

I enjoy the way they emulated how Yoda talks with this Game Over screen:

Me too, Yoda
Me too, Yoda

This is a screen that you’re going to be seeing a lot because this game is pretty hard. I’m adept at jumping into the icy pits on Hoth that first murder your tauntaun, and then Luke very shortly after. Luke probably has just enough time to really contemplate the fact that he’s about to die right before he dies. He sees the tauntaun die and thinks “I’m next. I’m going to die next in a very similar way.” And then he dies.

He looks at me as if I killed him on purpose! He's right. I did.
He looks at me as if I killed him on purpose! He’s right. I did.

Yoda says “Do or do not, there is no try” at the game over screen, and I agree with him so this review ends here. 

Super Star Wars

... didn't know that licensed movie games were supposed to be awful.

Super Star Wars starts out innocuously enough. You get your scrolling text from A New Hope about something something galactic whatever. You get the shot of the Star Destroyer shooting at the Corvette (you read the second sentence and you were like “oh, fuck this guy who doesn’t know anything about Star Wars” and then I start dropping ship knowledge… whaaaaat?). You see the pod jettison down to Tatooine. Then you play as Luke Skywalker just dicking around on sand dunes with a blaster that, if you upgrade it enough, shoots homing missiles.

So close.

It's a lot less impressive if you kill the sarlac before you even know about the force and you have a missile gun. Seriously.

But whatever. Luke’s hair wafts in the wind while you run. It’s pretty for an SNES game and the controls are tight. You platform. A lot. And it’s surprisingly tough. It’s probably worth playing through in some respects, but of course the problem with a licensed game like this is that I know how it ends, and I’m not particularly inclined to see it through.

It's pretty faithful...

On the other hand, I think I would be so happy to play this game it if came out now. Advances in physics engines mean that stuff like the force are really cool to see on screen. It’s sort of funny when you think about how the movies were made on these scant budgets with all of these primitive special effects that almost everyone seems to universally believe is better than the newer digital counterparts. But then I play this and I gotta tell you, mode 7 just doesn’t cut it. You sort of can’t go home again.

Toshi Station, here we come!

Anyway… I think we’re all aware that the greatest Star Wars games of all time have very little to do with the movies themselves. I’m talking about Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, Jedi Academy (still my favorite), X-Wing, Tie Fighter, X-Wing VERSUS Tie Fighter, and I guess the Republic Commando game is supposedly pretty awesome. Star Wars has a fun universe, it’s always neat when you get to play in it without the movies getting in the way.

But I guess the sad part of these games is that they’re a few out of thousands of licensed movie games that are pretty good. I would have been more than content with this when I was a kid. The only reason I’m not super content with it right now is because I have four other reviews to write and it’s kinda hard. Unsurprisingly, that probably still makes it one of the best games I’ve reviewed for the site.

Anyway, it’s Star Wars. You’d probably like it if you’ve got a controller, a little patience, and an afternoon.

Star Fox

I would pay good money for a new Star Fox game. It’s been some time since I’ve been able to experience partial freedom while moving continuously in a single direction. “Purposeful gameplay” is what they call that, I think. Game designers have forgotten the extent to which their audience loves to be controlled. I’m certain that, though the gaming community consistently demands “open worlds” and “open minds,” they wouldn’t pass up a good spanking or two, as long as it leads somewhere fun. I miss the games where it was like you had your big brother playing with you the whole time, going, “Shoot that! Oh, you missed it… Shoot that! Oh, you’re dead.” Most arguments for on-rails gameplay centre on the importance of the story. But that’s missing the point. The point is, people like to pay to be told what to do. With our individualistic western society that seems almost sinful, but games like House of the Dead and, especially, Star Fox prove that it’s possible to have fun with limited freedom.  And not just a little fun, a ton of fun. Star Fox is ballin-ass shit, and anyone that doesn’t think so is stupid. Hell, I could take any old kid, some kid born after the death of the Dreamcast, some kid who has never heard of the Game Cube. I could take this kid, sit him down with Star Fox and he’d be all talkin’ about how this was a revolution. That might be a stretch, but I’m pretty certain he wouldn’t trash my apartment.

So that’s all to tell you that Star Fox is still fun. Now I’m going to tell you why. It comes down to two things: characters and imagination. The first is the easier to describe, so I’ll go for that. The characters in Star Fox expect something from you. Right from the first training mission, Falco will rag on your ass if you ain’t doin’ it right, Slippy will encourage you, and that rabbit thing will say something insane. Probably something about carrots. I know how much he likes those. Anyway, this sets up a situation where you actually want to impress these characters. Hell, the characters don’t even have voices. They just say “bip bip bip bip” or “slurp slurp slurp” or something, and you’re still saying, “Oh shit, sorry” if you steal their kills. Except Falco; he’s a douche and I’ll steal his kills when I want to. But this game is perhaps the only game that successfully captures the magic of Top Gun and the last 14 minutes of Star Wars. Banter and shooting planes. That’s about as good as it gets.

The second point begins with an acknowledgement of the graphical limitations of this game. To be fair, the graphics are certainly better than anything else on the Super Nintendo, but that’s saying very little at this point. Let’s face it, you’re shooting geometric shapes. But what makes this game amazing is that it forces you to imagine the object behind the geometric shapes, and does it quite successfully. Let’s take, for example, this screen shot.

That’s like a frickin’ abstract painting man! Do what you want with it! It’s pretty apparent that it’s supposed to be some sort of walking thing, but the specifics are hazy. And that’s the beauty of it. For me, this guy was a giant robot carrying an equally giant piece of plywood. Maybe he’s building a cottage. Maybe he’s rehearsing some slapstick comedy. Either way, I killed him dead. All of the enemies and buildings in Star Fox are like this. They force you to invent the parts that the engine isn’t capable of rendering. You might say this is pretty similar to the argument against gratuitous CGI, and it is. It’s the same thing. Congratulations. And to make a quick analogy to the film industry: watching Star Wars: Episode 1, it’s hard not to notice how dated the CGI is. That was made 11 years ago, and it shows it. A New Hope, made in 1977, holds up because there’s a reliance on the imagination of the viewer.

The point is, Star Fox is an incredible game. Easily as incredible as the version for Nintendo 64. It probably one of the only games on this list that people will still play in ten years. It goes beyond nostalgia.

Spindizzy Worlds

There is a glass on the table. In the glass is a blue liquid. Where I come from, people drink this liquid to improve their speech patterns. As you can tell, I have gorged myself on its juices many a time. If you drink from it, I cannot be held responsible for the consequences. If you do not drink from it, I actually might get a bit upset. But never mind that now. Under the glass is a roll of parchment. The parchment is stained blue; I forgot a coaster. Interestingly, the parchment’s syntax and grammar have only been improved by this mishap. It now reads: “The successful manipulation of a topwise spinning article of physical matter will allow for ultimate transcendental mood-swings.” So, there’s that.

Oh, I forgot. What I really came to tell you about was the worlds of spin. First, let me explain that all worlds spin. Some worlds, however, spin harder than others. These worlds are called spindizzy worlds. Earth spins at about 1,038 miles per hour at the equator, relative to the sun. These spindizzy worlds spin at about eight times that speed. What’s really interesting is that the inhabitance of these worlds experience massive centripetal force and must wear very heavy boots if they want to stay on the ground. Some choose to take another route, however. And that’s where you come in. Turns out Einstein was wrong about special relativity. Turns out if you spin really really fast, light ends up traveling at the speed of sound, at least for you. Essentially this breaks space-time completely, and you enter an alternate universe.

Oh, I forgot. I’m actually talking about a Super Nintendo game. Oh, shit, I’m so high on that blue shit! Do you have any table salt? That brings me right down. Yeah. Table salt.

Uncle Owen! This one's got a bad motivator! Look!

Okay, so, Spindizzy Worlds for the SNES… kinda like that Sonic game. Got that whole 3/4 isometric stuff going on. Also got that thing where up isn’t up: it’s up and to the right. Keep that in mind. Dead frustrating game though. Odd mechanics. Like, one tried to fix my car, but he was so odd that I had to buy a new car. Odd mechanics.

Anyway, if collecting gems is your bag, and if your bag is full of gems, you might like this wonderfully frustrating game. If you’re like me, you might get bored. Then again, if you’re like me, you play these games for the nostalgia factor anyway, so beans!

Finally, I don’t have any answers for you. Ask a mobile phones expert, not me.

Pinball Fantasies

WELCOME TO PINBALL FANTASIES ANONYMOUS

Believe it or not, I have a pinball fantasy. Nothing dirty, just one simple thing: to own the Star Wars pinball machine. I vicariously live out this fantasy through a friend of mine every New Year’s Eve. Specifically, I live out this fantasy through his father, who happens to be a fairly well-to-do member of local government. He owns the Star Wars pinball machine. It’s in the pool room, beside the bar. I have fond memories of a New Year’s Eve; “Chariots of Fire” by Vangelis playing (inexplicably) over the stereo, inebriated friends taking assy cue shots behind me; and me, sipping down a Canadian Club and Cola playing Star Wars pinball. I swear I’ve missed the countdown every year.

The Force is strong with this one.

It’s more than appropriate, I think: A New Hope for the New Year. And what better way to start the year than with a You-just-blew-up-the-Death-Star Multi-ball? Granted, the most bodacious babe at the party could be standing right next to you on the count of zero, but I can go one better.  Listen closely:

  1. Bring a portable radio and mount it on the bar beside the Star Wars pinball machine. This is so you can hear the countdown on your radio station of choice.
  2. Bring spare batteries – you won’t get the kiss if you don’t get the countdown.
  3. Open an ice cold bottle of Canadian Club and Cola.
  4. Invite the most smoking hot babe at the party to play pinball as part of a group – it’s less intimidating, and the Star Wars pinball machine can accomodate up to 4 players. Believe it or not, pinball machines are not regarded in as geeky a light as videogames – they’re cool and retro, like faded jeans and vinyl.
  5. If she plays like a n00b, this is the perfect opportunity to show her how. Get in close behind her and place your hands on her hands, just like they do in the movies. But DON’T look a gift horse in the mouth and start ramming her forcefully from behind! That’s a one-way ticket to Slap-town!
  6. DO take a few sips of your Canadian Club. DON’T get drunk and make an ass of yourself.
  7. Try to time the Death Star Tri-Ball to occur just before the countdown (so you’ll look awesome), and on “THREE, TWO, ONE!” quickly turn around, pick up your Pinball Woman by the waist, spin her around and kiss her (again, just like the movies).
  8. “HAPPY NEW YEAR!!”
  9. Canadian Club. Don’t forget.

Now that, my friends, is a pinball fantasy.

TALKING ABOUT THE ACTUAL GAME NOW

Pinball Fantasies is nowhere near as cool as Star Wars pinball. It is NOT worth missing the countdown for.

Indiana Jones’ Greatest Adventures

The Indy you once knew and loved is now dead.  Like, A LOT of times.
The Indy you once knew and loved is now dead. Like, A LOT of times.

For all the things that Indiana Jones’ Greatest Adventures gets right, it gets something fundamentally wrong.  It looks like Indy, albeit with the help of a Han Solo head-swap from Super Star Wars.  It even sounds like Indy, from the satisfying crack of the whip to Han Solo’s high-bit-rate voice samples, to loops of John Williams’ classic theme.  But it doesn’t feel like Indy.

Booby-rigged-tomb-raiding is the name of the game (or at least it was until Ms. Croft brought all new meaning to that phrase) – stealing treasure for The Museum [read: The White Man] and whipping natives and animals full of ill will (more on that later).  This videogame has all that.  Grappling and swinging across ravines with your whip?  No worries, you can tick that box as well.  What about running away from giant boulders?  Has it in spades (more on that later, too).

“Well, that’s all there is to Indiana Jones!”, you may say.

WRONG!

You’ve never been more wrong!  There’s one crucial ingredient to the Indiana Jones formula that is missing from this videogame, and I’m sure even George Lucas in his post-quality-filmmaking phase knows what it is.  In fact, given his repeated failure to emulate the success of Star Wars, Empire and Raiders in recent years, he especially would know.  The secret ingredient to Indiana Jones, my friends, is exactly this:

Dumb Luck.

Know this: for all of the unfortunate situations Indy finds himself in – situations that, need I remind you, he himself went looking for – he is incredibly, nay incredulously, fortunate.  He goes out looking for trouble, and instead he finds luck.  The man survived an atomic blast by hiding in the refrigerator – need I say more?

See?!  Lucky!
See?! Lucky!

See, Han Solo’s head isn’t the only thing Indy borrows from Super Star Wars.  It also borrows the series’ notoriously excruciating difficulty.  There is no luck to be had in his Greatest Adventures, dumb or otherwise.  Indy’s future tomb-raiding career (or indeed, his very life) rests solely on your near-Ikaruga-level-ability to memorise booby trap sequences with less than a third of the screen’s x-axis available to you to respond to said sequences.  Which brings me back to the giant boulders.  You’ll be seeing a lot of them.  As in the same single boulder, over and over again.  In fact, this one boulder will be all you see and no further.  Hit a trap and it’ll knock you back into the boulder.  Hit the boulder and you die instantly.  Rinse and repeat until you run out of lives, then use a continue, and complete the first level all over again to reach the boulder and die some more.  Yes, this is just the second level.

Referred to as the 'Infamous Boulder Chase' for more reasons than one.
Referred to as the 'Infamous Boulder Chase' for more reasons than one.

Okay, so I exaggerate a little on the difficulty.  I *did* get past the boulder eventually.  I switched the difficulty to ‘easy’ – which, as far as I can tell, merely increases the number of lives at your disposal – jumped like crazy, and finally, a few continues later, made it out of the Peruvian temple, MacGuffin in hand.

It's like those bastards knew!
It's like those bastards knew!

Still, it requires a masochistic spirit and an iron will to push on through, and you will come upon similarly frustrating situations on a regular basis (like, every second level).  Case in point: Marion’s tavern, which, true to the film, is burning to the ground.  Unlike the film, however, Indy must climb to the rafters, instead of, say, just getting out of the damn building, in what must be the tallest tavern in the known world.  Meanwhile a wall of fire climbs beneath you, ready to welcome you into its fiery embrace should you run into a rat and fall through the floorboards.

Indiana Jones in the hit movie, Firewall.
Indiana Jones in the hit movie, Firewall.

None of this feels as effortless as Harrison Ford made it look all those years ago, and that’s the problem!  Videogame Indy is decidedly unlucky, with no-one to aid him save for a handful of stubborn nerds with walkthroughs.

One thing they *do* get right, however, is the racial stereotyping inherent in the films.  It’s an interesting dichotomy having a white protagonist with a whip against anything other than white vampires.  A whip denotes mastery over the whip-ee, whereas being whipped denotes slavery.  Throw in several non-white antagonists, and immediately there’s a dichotomy of class and race.  Throw in a few animals, and you’ve got a whole bag of issues.  How did this go unnoticed by PETA, or N’Gai Croal?  Now, we all know that Indy hates rats, and Nazis.  Well, turns out he hates a whole lot more.  If you thought RE5 was bad, wait until you get a load of this Montage of Hate:

"I hate rats!"
"I hate rats!"
"I hate Nazis!"
"I hate Nazis!"
"Hate Arabs!"
"Hate Arabs!"
"Hate Gyppos!"
"Hate Gyppos!"
"Hate Natives!"
"Hate Natives!"
"Hate monkeys!"
"Hate monkeys!"

Indiana Jones hates you, and this game exists as proof of that hate.