May 4th has come and gone, but I don’t need to be confined to a specific date to talk about Star Wars. Much like a rogue Jedi, I’m breaking all the rules.
The Star Wars saga sits in a somewhat unique position in that the source material lends itself well to various genres, at least when it comes to video games. Want a flight sim? Sure thing. How about an RTS? You got it. So take note my padawans, as I present to you 12 Star Wars games that I feel best represent not only the licence, but its diversity and ability to push new boundaries.
12. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
What better way to kick things off than with a little history lesson. I present to you Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back which was released on both the Atari 2600 and the Intellivision in 1982. This was the very first Star Wars game ever made for home consoles. Published by Parker Brothers, this relatively simple side scrolling shooter sees players take part in the Battle of Hoth, taking on a horde of AT-ATs in your snow speeder.
The goal was to stop the Imperial forces from destroying Echo Base’s power generator, and the game would continue until the Imperials succeeded in their task or the player ran out of lives. With each progressive wave the AT-AT’s speed would increase, similar to Space Invaders tactics. Later AT-ATs would also become solid, meaning the player could crash into them, or come equipped with a smart bomb that could destroy the player’s snow speeder in one hit.
While the game is very simplistic compared to today’s standards, it’s an interesting look back at Star War’s first foray into video games. You can pick up the Atari cartridge on ebay for next to nothing these days. The game itself still plays great with solid controls.
11. Star Wars Episode One: Racer
I don’t hide the fact that I think the prequel films are a bit shit. They have their moments, but overall they left me yearning for something with a bit more substance. So a game based on one of these would have to be pretty good to catch my attention. Well Episode 1: Racer did just that. Making a racing game focuses around perhaps the best bit of Episode 1 was a stroke of genius on Lucas Arts’ part. The pod racing was fast and exciting, but still not as good as the speeder bike scene from Return of the Jedi (ok I’m done bashing the prequels now I promise, mostly). What we got was a racing game with just as much energy and character that could easily stand alongside other classic racers such as F-Zero and WipEout.
It speaks volumes that Racer went on to become the best selling sci-fi racing game with a whopping 3.12 million units sold worldwide. It was just the Star Wars label that attracted the attention of gamers everywhere. Along with some great sound production, Racer had a slew of well crafted and interesting tracks that had no problem with punishing any players not paying attention to the road. Couple this with the sensation that you were actually travelling at blistering speeds, a feature that is often lacking in other futuristic racers, and the developers came up with a winning formula.
10. Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
I may be singling out the Empire Strikes Back copy, but this post can be applied to the series in general. Empire just happens to be my favourite movie, so naturally a game based on that will get prioritised. For those of you not in the know the Super Star Wars series of games came out on the Super Nintendo, beginning with Super Star Wars in 1993. This was followed a year later by Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and then finally in 1995 we got Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.
The games were all side scrolling action platformers which saw players playing through levels reminiscent of the movies. I can’t really say they follow the movies exactly as there is a lot more killing of wild animals hell bent on your demise than I seem to remember. Saying that it’s Star Wars and you’ll be blasting or slicing your way through the familiar locales of Tatooine, Hoth, Endor, Cloud City and the Death Star to name a few. The stages were also broken up in sections that saw you piloting Luke’s land speeder or taking on Imperial AT-ATs on Hoth.
That is if you could get far enough into the game to sample such delights. Make no mistake, these are probably the hardest and most gruelling games that’ll appear on this list. My younger self made great use of the level select code just so I could see what was passed the second level. If you’ve still got an old Snes knocking around, and feel you are a true master of the force, each cartridge can be found for under a tenner over on ebay.
9. Star Wars Arcade
Growing up in Ireland, arcades were not a thing that happened to me. Sure they existed, in Dublin. I however had the great misfortune to be stuck in the technological black hole known as the countryside. Once in a blue moon though I would go to the big city and sometimes a young, bright eyed Corey got to go into an arcade. Which resulted in me heading straight to the Star Wars cabinet.
Released in Ireland around 1994 I believe, (1993 in the US), Star Wars Arcade had a fairly simple concept. You’d pilot and X-wing through three levels intercepting TIE Fighters in an asteroid field, taking on a Star Destroyer and finally doing the trench run to destroy the Death Star. All in super awesome vector graphics. There was even a two player mode where one person could pilot the ship while the other acted as gunner. Chances are you won’t see many of these cabinets floating around any more, especially since arcades themselves seem to have gone the way of the dinosaurs.
8. Republic Commando
The next game on this list, Republic Commando saw players take control of an elite squad of clone troopers set somewhere in between Episode 2 and Episode 3. Commando has often been likened by those who played it as a hybrid between Metroid Prime, Halo and Rainbow Six due to the various mechanics on display. Looking through the troopers visor puts one in the mind they are playing as Samus Aran. The Halo comparisons come through the smooth shooting mechanics and the fact that your shields need to be worn down before you lose health, and finally you are able to issue simple squad commands, a la Rainbow Six.
As a competent corridor shooter, the squad dynamics add some nice variety to the gameplay. Your squad mates can breach doorways, set up bombs or take up sniper positions to give the rest of the squad covering fire. It’s a good job the shooting works so well, because the story isn’t much to write home about. There are a few cameos of prominent characters, but overall it’s mostly a sell contained story within the Star Wars Saga. It’s also worth noting that this was the first game to have licensed music in it’s soundtrack and the musical score doesn’t just relay on traditional Star Wars music. The music serves to give the game a grittier, more militaristic edge.
The game was successful upon release and has developed something of a cult following, with fans wanting to see a sequel. What makes this even harder is there was a sequel planned, even before the original released, known as Imperial Commando. Judging from the title, you would have played as elite stormtroopers trying to squash rebel scum and trying to keep some semblance of peace and order to the galaxy. Unfortunately it was cancelled in 2004.
7. Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga
Finally! A game that combines my love of both Lego and Star Wars. Has there ever been a more perfect union? I think not. Lego Star Wars kicked off the whole Lego: Insert franchise here craze. At first people were sceptical. I mean it’s lego. How could this possibly work and retell the Star Wars story through mute characters. Luckily all doubts were dispelled when we got our hands on the game and found it oozing with charm, re-playability and more importantly, fun.
I chose the complete saga rather than the stand alone prequel/trilogy games because the amount of content contained within this box is well worth the asking price. You’ll jump shoot and force push your way through all six movies, reliving precious memories, except now enemies explode into bricks. While you’ll breeze through many of the levels there are plenty of layers of re-playability to dive into. Levels will need to be replayed with certain characters to access all areas. This is essential in collecting all of the minikits, that make awesome lego versions of classic Star Wars vehicles and special bricks that grant bonuses. Plus pretty much every famous, well known character is available to unlock, all with various abilities. What I’m saying is, if you haven’t already got this game, then what are you waiting for!
6. Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast
Now here’s a classic if ever there was one. Jedi Outcast is seen as one of the greatest Star Wars games ever made. On release it received mostly favourable reviews and frequently pops up in lists such as this. Based on the Quake 3: Team Arena game engine, this was one of the first games that really made you feel like a jedi. Sure plenty of Star Wars game’s had jedis in them before, but the visceral nature of this title’s third person combat, combined with force powers really made players feel like they were powerful space knights.
There are a range of powers to choose from such as force push, jump or lightning. The combat itself puts the emphasis squarely on lightsaber battles. Sure you can use a blaster, but that’s boring. Depending on the combat style one could execute various combos when duelling. While the story is pretty good, the real meat of the game is in the multiplayer mode or the single player arena type games filled with bots.
I can’t imagine there are many Star Wars fans out there who haven’t played this game, but if there are then know that this game comes highly recommended.
5. Star Wars: Empire At War
The only RTS game on this list, and in fact the only RTS based on Star Wars if I remember correctly, Empire at War lets you command rebel and imperial forces on a galactic scale. Everything is laid out on the table here. You’ll need to amass fleets to protect planets under your control, decide the ground based production facilities on each one, defend space stations from mercenary raids and make sure you have enough credits to build your Death Star. Playing this game I took great pleasure playing as the Imperials because there is no greater joy in fielding an entire company of AT-ATs or springing a fleet of Star Destroyers on unsuspecting rebel outposts.
While the single player campaign will test your tactical mettle through a variety of challenges and limitations, the bulk of this game is housed within the galactic conquest mode which gives you the freedom to conquer the galaxy, (44 planets in all) any way you like. This was a very competent RTS which didn’t follow some of the traditional rules of the genre. Each planet had two sets of slots, one for military units and one for buildings, the number varying depending on the planet. This gave it a layer of strategy in that one would need to take the planet’s unique bonus offering in deciding what was needed most.
When in battle you would not spawn troops on the fly. If you had a barracks or factory this would periodically produce new units, however if these weren’t present then you only had the units you previously designated to the area. Much of the time the battle for a planet would have two stages, a space one if there was a fleet or station there to guard the system, and then the land based battle could begin if the enemy fleet was destroyed. These could be bypassed by small raiding parties though, designed for hit and run attacks. All of this happened in real time on the galactic map, meaning you could see various fleets and units moving from system to system, with players trying to second guess what the enemies next move would be.
4. Rogue Squadron 2: Rogue Leader
If you needed one reason to own a Gamecube, then this game was it. Factor 5′s seminal Rogue Leader is perhaps the best Star Wars flight sim you can get your hands on. This game controls great, looks great, sounds great and is quite a challenging beast. Rogue Leader is certainly a game that will push your futuristic piloting skills to the test.
The game plays out over ten missions spanning the entire original trilogy. Playing as both Wedge Antilles and Luke Skywalker, players will defend Hoth, take on Star Destroyers in a B-Wing and take part in the classic trench run. One level see’s you dogfighting over a particularly beautiful coastline, TIE fighters swarming all around and a derelict Star Destroy jutting out of the ocean. Stylistically this game ticks all of the boxes.
With plenty of classic ships to choose from, including unlockables such as the Millennium Falcon and Boba Fett’s Slave 1, this was a game that was easy enough to pick up and play, but extremely hard to master. You’d need to make sure your targeting computer was up to scratch because it often seemed like you were up against the Empire’s best pilots. In saying that, there’s a nice variety of missions on offer insure things never got stale. The games sound production is spot on, with all of the ships sounding like they were ripped straight from the movies and secondary objectives and bonuses are on offer to make sure you go back for more.
3. Star Wars Battlefront
Much like the Super Star Wars entry I’m going to lump both Star Wars Battlefront 1 & 2 in here together. It come from the fact that I find both games do some things better, while they also do some things worse, and picking my favourite would be a long drawn out process which would mean this article would take even longer to write. Just know that they’re both great games and deserve their place here at number three.
The Battlefront games are essentially the Battlefield games, but with Star Wars characters and laser blasters. The basis of the games is conquest mode in which the two teams, either the Rebels Vs the Empire, or Republic Vs Federation, battle across maps ripped from the movies to control various spawn points on the map. The game ends either when all posts are captured or a teams player count dwindles to zero. Fighting across these maps players will need to pick certain classes for certain jobs. Heavy troopers pack a rocket launcher to take out tanks while pilots can repair their ships and vehicles while driving them. I’ve personally poured an uncountable amount of time into both games.
Battlefront 2 added a slew of extras on an already solid premise, with space battles making an appearance where the targets are not spawn points but capital cruisers and a hunt mode where you can gleefully gun down Jawas, Wampas and most importantly Gungans. Each JarJar Binks I kill makes the world seem a little bit brighter. While both games featured Jedi’s, it was in Battlefront 2 where players could actually take control of Darth Vader or Mace Windu for a limited time, carving a path of near unstoppable destruction through the opposing forces. Unbalanced? Yes. Totally awesome? You know it.
Star Wars Battlefront was a huge success upon release. What’s more is it’s sequel did even better, making Lucas Arts truckloads of money and became the best selling Star Wars game of all time. This makes it all the more devastating that Battlefront 3, which had been in development and was sporting extremely impressive tech to expand the scope of the series, was cancelled. Due to what I can only assume was Lucas Art’s executives being completely out of touch with consumers or somehow killing off all common sense within the company. The fact remains that even with fans clamouring for a new game, Lucas Arts truly are lost to the dark side.
2. TIE Fighter
Now you know when I said that Rogue Squadron 2 was the best Star Wars flight sim you could get? Well I have a confession to make. I lied. TIE Fighter is the best Star Wars flight sim you can get. What’s impressive is TIE Fighter is a space combat simulator originally released in 1994. The space sim is a genre that has died off recently, but this game right here, was one of the best.
TIE Fighter is essentially a sequel to Star Wars: X-Wing, but saw the players piloting ships on behalf of the bad guys. While some missions do pit you against the rebel alliance, many of them see you acting as a security force, like a space cop. Missions include fighting pirates, searching out and destroying illegal contraband and putting stop to a long running civil war on a particular planet. TIE Fighter was a marked improvement over it’s predecessor with a better engine, HUD, targeting system and visuals.
Later on players would gain access to experimental ships such as the TIE Defender or TIE Advance which saw the player having to play a delicate balancing act in choosing how much power needed to be diverted to both shields and laser cannons. Play defensively and you’ll find your weapons recharging more slowly, while placing more power in the guns means you’ll take less hits before exploding. These newer ships all played a part in the game’s story, which saw you join the Emperors secret circle by completing secondary mission objectives.
For anyone who’s played this game, the very idea of a modern sequel or even a remake makes them go weak at the knees. This game is up there with Battlefront 3 levels of longing. However Lucas Art’s has come down with a severe case of the stupids as of late, so don’t expect much from them any time soon. Also if you can’t be bothered to mess around with DOS box, the game is available on a Collector’s Edition CD-Rom with upgraded visuals. So you have no excuse.
1. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
All of the above games make great use of the Star Wars license. They transport players into the universe they know and love and let them take part in some of the most memorable moments from the franchise. Why is KOTOR number one on this list? Sure it’s a great game to play with fantastic controls and awesome RPG mechanics, memorable characters and just great production values all round. However it does something that no other game on this list does. It actively expands the Star Wars universe, using the name to create a brand new and meaningful story that is just as deep and wide reaching as the original saga.
It isn’t just a great Star Wars game, it’s a great Star Wars story. With so many great characters and moments, spanning a monumental story that takes place thousands of years before the original trilogy, KOTOR is perhaps the most important Star Wars game ever made and the impact it’s had on the legacy as a whole cannot be understated. Everything that needs to be said about this game has already been said by countless others before me. More so than any game on this list, if you haven’t yet played this masterpiece, then rectify this immediately, and truly become one with the force.
So there’s 12 games that I feel sum up the Star Wars legacy within the video game medium. Feel free to have your say in the comments, did your favourite make the cut?
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This article was first posted on May 9, 2012