I’m not the biggest Star Wars fan in the world but I did enjoy the movies a great deal. So it’s a bit ironic that I did not play the NES game until years after their release. In a way that might have been a boon as it could have soured me on the entire series. I can’t imagine a world in which I completely ignored the Rogue Squadron games. Not that the game is completely bad as there are some good ideas buried in there but the execution leaves much to be desired. You are better off starting with the SNES trilogy if you want to explore a galaxy far, far, away.
For an NES title JVC and Beam Software have done a good job of replicating the look of the film. The characters have shrunken a bit but are still recognizable. There’s a high level of detail in the backdrops and the animation in particular is very well done. It can’t be helped as the movie had such a limited number of locations but the brown world of Tatooine grows old pretty quickly. However that is more a limitation of the NES; the Master System and Game Gear versions are far more colorful. The faux scaling during the Millennium Falcon segments is pretty impressive as well. The music tries to replicate John William’s fantastic score and while you might recognize a few signature chords the brilliant soundtrack isn’t really done justice.
There is no set structure to Star Wars. After the initial cave you are free to explore Tatooine. There are set goals and you can speak to C3PO if you are lost for a reminder. But for the most part you can explore and tackle them at your leisure. Most of the movie set pieces are recreated to varying degrees and add a great deal of variety to the game. There is the attack on the Jawa sandcrawler, the Cantina, and even exploring the Death Star. You’ll dodge asteroids and shoot down Tie Fighters in the Millennium Falcon. The Death Star trench run is present and is an overhead shooter; not a good one but they at least tried. Once you meet Han Solo and rescue Princess Leia they become playable characters. Chewbacca is mysteriously absent. Hell you never see Darth Vader unless you get a game over!
What I like the most about Star Wars is its nonlinear nature. The game works on a percentage based system and you don’t have to complete every task in order to finish the game. Aside from a few core objectives such as finding R2D2, Han Solo and Obi Wan nearly everything else is completely optional. There are plenty of caves that house power-ups such as shields and extra lives that will greatly benefit you later. Even in the Death Star you can completely skip what should be crucial tasks and head straight to the finale. This is kind of embarrassing but I, uh, “forgot” to save Princess Leia and blew up the Death Star with her in it. Obviously you’ll only see the true ending if you do everything but I seriously doubt anyone will have the patience or fortitude to do so.
Unfortunately Star Wars suffers from the Battletoads problem. There is lots of awesome content but the game is so hard most will never see it. It really is insane how easy it is to die in this game. Touching most early enemies will slice your life bar in half. Later in the game it equals instant death! Falling damage is a persistent threat with far too many blind leaps for my taste. With the heavy emphasis on platforming that nearly ruins it. Any sequence involving the Millennium Falcon runs far too long and feels impossible to complete. God I could keep going on but it just seems like every rule of decent game design was broken when it came to polishing the game. Were it not for the high difficulty you could enjoy the aspects that are done right even if at its core this is a generic platformer.
In spite of all of its problems I liked what Lucas Arts tried to do with Star Wars. But that doesn’t mean that I would recommend it to anyone. You’ll have to deal with far too much frustration to appreciate the game’s good points and it isn’t worth it. The Sega Master System game is definitely superior and what this should have been.