Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
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Game Name: Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
Platforms: Super NES
Publisher(s): JVC
Developer(s): Sculptured Software
Genre(s): Platform
Release Date: Jun, 1993

It had to happen eventually. The only thing LucasArts loved more than pimping out its Star Wars franchise, was making easy money. So when Super Star Wars became the new buzzword, you could have bet dollars to doughnuts that you’d be seeing a sequel. This is that game.

This is the next game in JVC’s Super Star Wars trilogy. As you’ll recall, they popped these out once a year over three years, so there was plenty of time between the first and this one for JVC and Sculptured to assess and correct some things that went astray. First, the graphics are greatly improved, despite already being impressive in Super Star Wars. Second, characters are finally given some distinction with the inclusion of some special moves. Third, level passwords now mean you don’t have to beat the game in one marathon session. Unfortunately, they seem to have had more trouble converting this source film to an engaging action title. It seems they had some great ideas for sequences based on particular scenes in the film, but no idea how to handle the large majority of what is arguably Lucas’ greatest masterpiece.

Empire may have been the best of the films, but its plot-heavy nature apparently doesn’t make for much of a game. The designers must have had a hell of a time trying to figure out what moments they could pull from the film and stretch out into proper platform levels. To solve this problem, the designers took some of the most inane, seconds-long scenes from the film and made them entire levels in the game. The brief clip when Chewbacca tries to collect all of 3PO’s blasted parts in the furnace room is now an entire fucking romp through the bowels of Cloud City. Two-thirds of the game takes place on Hoth alone, probably because it was the scene of the only real battle in the film, so its milked for all its worth. Han will take multiple levels to get through stormtroopers and the labyrinthine ice base to escape, and then the next set of levels has you doing the same thing with Luke. Luke’s attempt to “check out a meteor that hit near here” at the opening of the film now spans five separate levels as he presumably treks across a quarter of the planet to battle with the damn probe droid. I seem to remember him getting laid out like a bitch by the Abominable Snowman not five seconds after radioing his intent to check the meteor, but what the hell do I know? This must have been some kind of deleted scene.

As if to draw your attention away from this lack of film source, or perhaps to draw out the length of the game even more, Sculptured Software decided to make this one of the most balls-out difficult games ever made. You may have already heard about the infamous frustration this game induces, and it’s all true. Anyone who scoffs at this and says things like “Well, I didn’t think the game was THAT hard” is a liar and cheat.

First, these grossly dilated levels are populated with an astonishing amount of foes that would make bastions of NES Logic start encouraging the game to back off. Everyone, absolutely everyone, is out to kill you. On Hoth, feral cats will fling ice at you, plants shoot laser balls from their stems to charbroil you, even the fucking planet itself shoots rail spikes of ice out of the ground to impale you, all before you take a single step. You can take that same basic “everyone hates you” idea and expand it to all the levels later in the game and get a perfect idea of what you’ll be up against – every robot on Cloud City shoots you while air cars hover and rain down lasers, while the floor caves underneath your feet and leaky pipes spit fire into your eyes. Super Empire is your worst day times infinity.

This alone would still be too easy. That is why the designers looked at footage of people playing Super Star Wars, and took notes of ways they could fuck them square in the ass in the sequel. The dropping of health hearts has been reduced, and the health they restore is significantly less. No more running past dozens of enemies, stopping to fight one or two guys, and then being back to full health. Every level has ground enemies coming at you, some kind of static turret-like emplacement shooting at you, and a flying creature to prevent you from just hopping your way to the end – all in the same screen. The final coup de grace is in the way that the spawn system works. You’ll move forward, hit a little invisible marker, and a rabid snow dog charges from the left of the screen. All enemies like to literally shove you back when they attack, so after you kill the dog you move back up to your previous point, trigger the spawn again, and a brand new copy of the snow dog attacks.

If you’re especially unlucky, you can trigger two, three, or four versions of the enemy du jour to attack you, all at the same time. Bear in mind that this is while other enemies are still charging from other directions. Basically, the system ensures that you are always fighting something at all times, and that you can’t “cheap out” and escape the fights, but leaves you underequipped to handle such punishment from all directions.

If you stay and fight every enemy, you’ll be fucked. Others will group up around you and you’ll probably lose more ground than you maintain as they knock you back while you attempt to fight them. If you try and run, you’ll be fucked, as you’ll have a posse of bad guys build up either in front or behind you. Death pits also now feature prominently in all levels, so blind running and jumping will probably just leave you pancaked at the bottom of a pit made ridiculously deep; probably the designers’ way of really rubbing your nose in shit while you fall for a good, continuous five seconds. The entire game then becomes a desperate, soul-squealing attempt to get to the next screen-clearing detonator pickup and another giant health heart, in that order.

This is where the various character abilities are probably supposed to come into play. Each character has a specific move or two exclusive to them by pressing the A button. Chewie freaks out and does a constant double lariat until his “special move” bar depletes, and is actually good for plowing your way out of the countless groupfuck situations you’ll find yourself trapped in. Solo chucks grenades that don’t do much, and can baseball-slide out of potential trouble spots. Luke has learned to use his lightsaber, and can direct his swings more precisely as well as block while holding down. Lasers will be deflected and he will not take damage from charging enemies, though they can just keep shoving him backward, probably all the way to start or the nearest deathtrap pit.

Luke is also the only member of the squad who can acquire Force powers. These give him a full suite of rockin’, though often redundant, magical abilities tempered by a limited supply of force energy. You’ll be able to charm or freeze your enemies, throw and direct your lightsaber, or levitate yourself out of dangerous pits, to name a few. The catch is that you have to find and “learn” every damn one of these powers as hidden orbs in the Dagobah levels. These orbs are invisible until you shoot or saber them, so much of your time on Dagobah will be spent shooting into the sky. If you miss one, the game keeps right on rolling without letting you know. It’s entirely possible (especially if you miss the levitate ability) to not be able to complete the game because you missed a useful power. You’ll need just about every single one of them, and of course, you can’t go back.

The improved graphics make this one a frequently beautiful SNES title. Hoth looks appropriately cold and foreboding, especially on the levels where sheets of snow fall (without greatly obscuring your vision). Dagobah has a little less mystery and menace to it than you would expect, but as a swampy, jungle planet, it is rendered here well. Cloud City looks quite nice, especially in the outdoor areas with the skyscraper towers in the background and a fading sunset. The Mode 7 snowspeeder level looks and plays much better than the landspeeder ones in the previous, and controlling the Millennium Falcon through the asteroids looks impressively 3-D as well. The interior areas, which make up the rest of the game, are less impressive. Cloud City’s hallways use interesting angles and mixes of blues and purples to be more attractive than the bland halls of the Death Star in the first, but still can’t match the broad landscapes and vistas of the great outdoors. Hoth’s ice caves probably look the worst out of the group, with a general lack of detail all around.

Characters look great, have lots of little pins and equipment on their uniforms, and move with fluid animation. Boss characters are a slightly more interesting group in this game, probably from having to bullshit to invent them all. They’re quite giant and all interestingly designed, even if they don’t even remotely follow cannon, and seem like many were conceived by anime designers (like the giant Transformer that Han will battle during his escape from Hoth).

Empire’s score is faithfully recreated here, in another astounding conversion to console digital. Every theme I could think of from the film is present and sounding great, though frequently overused as there apparently weren’t enough themes to go around. Still, it sounds different than Super Star Wars, and sounds quite a bit like the film it is based on. New to the series are digital voice clips from the film, which work fairly well. Yoda watches from the continue screen while you make your choice – pick “Quit” and he chides you with “That… is why you fail.” Pick “Try again” and well, I bet you can guess what he has to say about trying. The other major use for the voice is to give Darth Vader some menace within the game itself. A track of his mechanical breathing announces his arrival, as well as a few brief voice clips from time to time. These don’t sound as great, presumably because the other events like effects and background music fight the voice clip on the way out of the SNES’s sound processor. So “Impressive!” sounds closer to “Moo Kessick!” It took me a long time to even figure out what that was supposed to be.

All too easy.

The entire game pretty much drags along, scraping the bottom of the film can for levels and material, until the Main Event – your fight with Darth Vader. Everyone who picked this game up was probably aching with anticipation at fighting Vader as a boss in an awesome lightsaber duel for the ages. The kind of deal where you would pause the game, call all your friends up, and simply announce “Dude. Vader.” They would all immediately know to rush down to your place, crowd around the TV in anticipation, and watch you leap around, fling sparks when your sabers clash, and break shit as you rumble back and forth through Cloud City.

Well, as if to prove how out of touch the developers were, the final fight is actually the easiest part of the game. That’s right; what you would expect to be the hardest test of wills and skills against the baddest character in the films is, in fact, the simplest pissant boss fight you may ever encounter. All Vader does is move forward while pinwheeling his lightsaber, then he reverses his move. All you have to do is block and then nick him on his way back, or simply hang back at the edge of the screen and use the saber throw force power, if you were able to find it. It’s a final “fuck you” from a game that was shaping up to be a disappointment anyway.

The only thing that can possibly save Super Empire is the inclusion of level passwords; a feature sorely missed in the first game. You at least can attempt to struggle through the game at your own pace. A couple of difficulty levels also help out, though the distinction between them isn’t very apparent. “Easy” is still Hard, and “Jedi” is mostly impossible. It’s a fairly fun game at times, it’s just too bad that it decided to focus more on kicking you ‘tween the legs at every opportunity. Hard to recommend unless you’re on some hell-bent quest to play all the games in the trilogy, or are into masochism.

The Good

Looks impressive, sounds impressive. Or should I say, “moo kessick.”

The Bad

Completely, pointlessly difficult for no real reason at all. Goes way beyond providing a simple challenge. This is the kind of near-impossible trial that the Old Testament God would task you with, and then demand you kill your only son afterward.

One Comment

  1. Charlton says:

    I loved this game and even downloaded it to the Wii many years later. I have beat it more then once. But yes it is friggen crazy hard. Both caves in particular. You will try not to approach the cat because it will pounce at you only to get frozen by its breath and while frozen you will slide up against a laser ball plant…over and over and over…untill your dead. I will jump you say well you get frozen and knocked onto spikes by bats. Arrr! For a planet “without enough life to fill a space cruiser”…? Anyway it can be beat but you got to have a lot of patience. And my bro showed me the location of all the force power ups were though they are hard to get and you don’t really know what is what as you grab them. If you get force heal and levitate you will be OK.

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