Overall Rating: 3.5/5 Stars
Whether you credit it to Beam Software, JVC Digital Studios, or Lucasfilm Games, the Nintendo Entertainment System got its 8-bit Star Wars video game release in 1991. Following, for the most part, the adventures of fateful protagonist Luke Skywalker, this cartridge corresponds to the events of the Stars Wars film of the same original name, specifically episode IV: A New Hope.
This is a slick adventure with tight controls. Although it is often merely classified as a two-dimensional platformers, that is actually only true of many of the quest’s segments; in others, the player controls a vehicle (Luke’s landspeeder on Tatooine) with an overhead view using the control pad in literal directional guidance with the B button also accelerating, or even including a first-person pilot view for flying the Millennium Falcon and Luke’s X-Wing during critical portions.
Indeed, though, the bulk of the game takes place as a side-scroller with impressive level design and depth, featuring Luke and his abilities to jump, carry momentum, duck, move back and forth, and fire his blaster. Fortunately, this title retains the classic NES controls of A button to jump and B button to attack.
Just as in the movie, Luke begins on Tatooine, the desert planet, and must travel across the landscape exploring caves in order to gather items like an upgrade to his blaster (much appreciated in the early game, allowing as many projectiles as the player can hit B, as opposed to one per screen), shields for the Falcon, and some health boosts to help along the way. Pattern-based enemies abound, though they occasionally show crafty early A.I. moves; for example, the womp rats in these early levels may either move back and forth or suddenly leap onto the platform you are on.
These platforms are key, as much of Skywalker’s battles are fought in hostile environments where pits, spikes, lava, and other deadly obstacles abound, demanding a fair bit of precision jumping, memorization, and brute trial-and-error. This provides this NES game with a provocative learning curve and difficulty level: Although often regarded as a difficult game, the actual moment-by-moment play is very enjoyable and well-controlled, and the player is given a massive ten continues with three lives each.
As Luke progresses to the Cantina in the Mos Eisley spaceport, finds Han Solo to hitch a ride on the Falcon, hops around on the Death Star, eventually helps blow it up, and other various misadventures
in between, the player must maintain honed reflexes and a varied play skill alike in order to succeed in this grand story. Upon losing all the lives in a current continue, the player is even given a screen detailing a completion percentage, showcasing not only a then-visionary system for marking the extent of exploration and secret-finding, but providing a telltale sign that this is a deep game with almost prophetic sandbox-game-like features in some areas, with plenty to do and occasional places without a clear direction for where to go, allowing the player to potentially immerse him or herself in an engrossing experience that widens eyes and drops jaws. Perhaps, though, that is just the magic of the original movie talking.
This is a two-way street, as the visuals in Star Wars are very varied. Many of the enemies, for instance, are simple single-hued two-frame sprites without too much inspiration in most cases. Sometimes the environment is recognizable, yet space is wasted with bland backgrounds and lazy continuances. The actual animations are perfect, and the action is able to be kept at a high gear without flickering, slowdown, or other console issues. Overall, it is probably above-average, simply for its scope in portraying different play modes without sacrificing the integrity of the source material. Notably, there are also some cutscenes, including the famous opening over the Tatooine planet when the Tantive IV is fired upon by an Imperial Star Destroyer. Then again, non-geeks may not appreciate such in-game theater nearly as richly.
The near-legendary cinematic soundtrack composed by the renowned John Williams seems to come and go, one notable early appearance being the fun, upbeat, iconic Cantina theme. In some areas the music is just average, and the sound effects are only inspired by the movie, rather than being direct translations.
This was the first Star Wars game on the NES, and it performed its role well: While staying true to the source material, it also filled in the gaps with some additional scenes. After all, canon fans will probably not remember plotlines like Luke having to precision-jump over spikes while shooting at slug creatures, because that only appears in the game.
This is a remarkable ambitious game, yet achieves its means without much bloated damage to its play quality. The repetitive endeavor of having to try over and over again, due to Luke’s dying easily despite a health bar, may be grating on some gamers, and even rightly so. But with so many continues offered, the percentage motivation to keep trying for more, and the overall smoothness of gameplay, the result is an above-average near-epic blow-away game for NES and sci-fi fans that really need a challenge to sink their teeth into. Star Wars fires three and a half stars out of five out of its full-clip laser blaster.