The Super Star Wars Trilogy Review

In the early-to-mid 1990s LucasArts took on an ambitious task of trying to turn one of its most well known licences into a Trilogy of Action Platformer games on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). The result was the Super Star Wars trilogy, three games which faithfully followed the direction of the original trilogy, the latter half of the Star Wars saga, allowing the player to take control of classic characters like Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Chewbacca and later still Princess Leia and the brave Ewok warrior Wickett.

The SNES Trilogy was released for download on Nintendo’s own Virtual Console service with a price of 800 Wii points (roughly 9,2€) each last Fall. This gave yours truly a chance to play through each game and compare just how the series has developed and changed. Among SW fans the Super Trilogy is rather well regarded though some instalments are rather notorious for their difficulty.

But before we get ahead of ourselves let’s start from the beginning.

“That’s no moon…”

Like the movies themselves the Super Trilogy starts a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. The first instalment in the series, simply titled Super Star Wars (though the in-game opening crawl does include the full title of Episode IV: A New Hope), begins with Luke Skywalker traversing Tatooine. Among some of the recognisable segments are rides on the land-speeder, exploring caves infested with Tusken Raiders, meeting Obi-Wan and receiving a lightsaber and finally making it to Mos Eisley to meet up with Han Solo and Chewbacca who become playable characters themselves.

The rest of the game follows the plot of the movie roughly with the heroes being captured aboard the Death Star, fighting their way out and then finally taking part in the air-battle on the surface of the giant space-station. And of course, the grand finale, the iconic trench-run scene from the original movie.

The play controls on the whole feel very responsive which is good since for the first half of the game you are only able to play as Luke. His blaster gun is fairly effective as it fires continuously  and the player will receive weapon upgrades along the way. However, once the player gets the lightsaber there is really no need to use the blaster except if an enemy is out of reach and in boss-fights.

Despite the fact that the game later allows you to play as Han or Chewie, something which immediately caught my attention was the fact how completely pointless it is to play as Chewie. Like Han, Chewie begins a stage already with the second weapon update, making both of them considerably more effective against more powerful enemies later in the game than Luke. However, Chewie is much slower than either Han or Luke. This is a definite disadvantage in a few stages and in a few boss-fights. Generally Han is more useful in most levels because of his better gun while Luke is your choice if you want to see some serious lightsaber action.

Graphics wise the game is as good as you’d expect from the SNES but the digitized stills from the movie and the level of graphic detail is still fairly impressive and gives the game that good old-timey retro feel. The animation department’s only weak spot might be that there is very little motion in the cutscenes but at least in-game the animations are fairly fluid and natural. Only the bosses come off as being nothing but motionless masses with very little animation.

The game also tried to utilize the Mode 7 effects of the SNES in its land-speeder and X-wing segments but the result isn’t very satisfactory. Especially the land-speeder segments suffer from immense slow-up when there are more than three items on the screen at once. However, these sections take up such a small part of the game they don’t really hinder the experience. The only other slightly embarrassing detail of the game is the Luke’s hair animation. LucasArts’ attempt to recreate Mark Hamill’s original 70s hair ‘do instead makes Luke look like a girl and this was a little discomforting to see the first time.

In the sound-department there’s hardly anything to complain about. The tunes are all familiar from the film and for some reason you have a very triumphant feeling whenever you hear the Star Wars theme’s 16-bit rendition during the cutscenes. Even the sound-effects are faithfully digitized from the films with authentic Jawa, Tusken, Lightsaber and Laser sounds heard all through the game. Obi-Wan saying “Use the Force, Luke!” in the Game Over screen is the icing on this nostalgia cake.

The game may at first feel a little chaotic with enemies appearing from all sides. You’ll be fending them off for most of the game and especially on the first few tries the game’s difficulty may even feel a little unfair. However, with enough effort the playing begins to feel natural, you’ll start to expect the enemies as they arrive and thankfully the boss-fights for the most part are almost a little too easy (often requiring you to only stand in one spot holding the fire-button and maybe jumping to dodge a projectile very once and again).

One thing which is very discouraging is the lack of a save-game feature or a password system. Depending on the difficulty level the player can get up to 5 continues after which its back to the beginning of the game. Most players will run out of continues on their first, second and third try but after the levels have become familiar they become more of a safety net if one happens to make mistakes late in the game. None the less the final level is a nightmare and requires extreme concentration on the player’s part to pull off.

The last negative point about the game is probably its level design. Mostly the problem is that many of the levels are consisted of simple straight-forward progressing from left-to-right with little or no height variation. This makes several levels (the first Tatooine, the first Mos Eisley, the Cantina and the first Death Star level in particular) feel very dull. Thankfully there are several levels to make up for these like the inside of the Sand-Crawler, the Cave levels and the second Death Star level.

Over-all the first Super Star Wars is a delightfully action-packed game and definitely worth a try for action-platformer nuts and Star Wars fans alike. The following titles did make notable improvements in certain areas but there is also one area where they perhaps went a little too far…

“I have a very bad feeling about this.”

Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back or just Super Empire was next. The rebels are on the run. (Deviating somewhat from the movie) Luke discovers an imperial probe on the ice-planet Hoth which causes the Empire to launch an assault on the Rebel base. The rebels fight back as they struggle to evacuate. Han Solo and Princess Leia escape to Cloud City while Luke goes to Dagobah to train in the ways of the force.

The Empire finds Solo and Leia. Han is captured and handed to the bounty-hunter Boba Fett. Luke comes to Cloud City and confronts Darth Vader there. The main difference from the first game is that this time around the player doesn’t get to choose which character they will play as. Instead each level is designed specifically for either Luke, Han and Chewie and thankfully all three characters finally have some distinguishing gameplay features.

Naturally Luke has his lightsaber and later on learns force-powers which show their usefulness in the final level of the game. However, juggling between force-powers in the heat of battle is a little awkward and swinging at enemies is surprisingly less effective than in the last game instead prompting the player to spin-jump through levels as this way enemies are killed more easily while Luke takes a lot less damage. As silly as it sounds, this is really the only good way to play as Luke in Super Empire.

Han can now throw grenades, which is extremely useful for taking out large numbers of enemies at the same time. Chewie now has his own close-range attack, a furious spin-move, which instantly tears enemies to pieces. It’s surprisingly effective and makes Chewie considerably more fun to play as than in the last game.

Graphics wise the game has improved quite a bit with enemies having more animation and the backgrounds being even more rich in detail than before. However, the cut-scenes have improved only marginally with most now including some moving elements but basically being pretty much as stationary as before. The Mode 7 effects again suffer from slow-ups which is a shame since otherwise the Hoth air battles (complete with hooking the cable on the Imperial Walkers) would have looked really nice. The later Cloud City sky battle level on the other hand suffers from some pretty bland designing.

The music and sound-effects are also as good as before but I started to feel that the imperial march was getting severely overused during the cutscenes. It simply doesn’t have the same uplifting feel as the Star Wars theme which is why its usage is so much more noticeable. However, I will give the game credit for the sound-design of the first Dagobah level which instead of music featured nature sounds, giving this one level a very unique feel in the game trilogy.

The Game Over screen this time features Yoda saying the line “Do or do not, there is no try!”. After hearing it several times throughout the game its comedic appeal began to wear off pretty quickly.

Now, to the relief of fans who were driven up the wall by the limited continues of the last game – this one actually features a password system. You still only get a set number of continues but the Game Over screen always displays the current level’s password, which means you’ll be able to continue where you left off. Unfortunately this does not make the game considerably easier compared to the first.

By some incredibly stroke of stupidity LucasArts decided to make the first few levels of this instalment the hardest in the whole game. The ice caves are a nightmare of platform game-designing. Firstly there are way too many enemies. Some, like the Wampas, are dangerously strong and others, like the bats, are tiny and hard to hit or even notice. With Luke there is a temptation to hack away blindly at everything in your way but the slippery terrain makes this both difficult and at times impossible.

On top of which the ceiling and walls are lined with spikes that take away health, one reckless leap may lead you to a sudden death and there aren’t even any checkpoints except right before the first mini-boss. This means that if you die in the cave, you start from the very beginning. I spent probably more time trying to finish the damn caves and then trying to destroy the second Probe than I did trying to beat the rest of the game. The further you get it seems there are more checkpoints in almost every following level and once you’re off Hoth you actually start feeling relieved.

For a moment at least. The game still throws many annoying obstacles in your way, especially hard boss fights. The final one against Vader being by far the hardest in the whole trilogy and complicated even further by the difficult-to-operate force-power system. Now the game has some nice challenging points, some excellent level design which definitely leaves the first game to shame (if we forget the nightmarish ice caves from the beginning)  but there is one thing about this game that is extremely disappointing for a Star Wars fan. The fact that the plot seems to make no sense at all.

This is evident in the cutscenes which don’t coherently connect at all unlike in the first or the third games. Events are pushed forward mechanically without any reason or explanation. Even the text-space beneath the cutscene images seems to serve as nothing more than a display for “The Greatest Lines from Star Wars”. This is annoying beyond belief.

Finally, the one thing I had expected this game to have would have been the great revelation of Darth Vader’s identity. But after finishing the final frustrating battle you are not rewarded with a scene of Vader chopping Luke’s hand off, you do not see Luke hanging desperately for his life, you do not see or hear the words “I am your father.” anywhere in this game.

In quite a baffling fashion, LucasArts left the most iconic line of the Star Wars saga out of the game version of the movie in which it appears. After struggling so long with the ice level the idea that I might hear the digitized 16-bit version of the classic father-quote at the end became fixed in my head. I thought “If I can only enjoy one moment of awesomeness in the end it’ll make this frustrating piece of shit worth-while.” Plus, I had every reason to expect to hear the line as Vader talks all through the game, whenever you pickup a Double Score power-up and all through the final level.

And then I get to the end and I see and hear nothing. The game has betrayed my expectations in the worst possible manner and made me hate it over and over again due to its frustrating difficulty. I am sorry to say that Empire not only serves no purpose in the game Trilogy (other than filling the gap between Episodes IV and VI) but is far too frustrating to feel at all worth-while. It is by far the worst game of the series.

“Take this mask off…”

Finally we come to Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi or just Super Jedi. This instalment in the trilogy felt like it could have ahd the potential of making up for the mistakes of the previous game. Indeed, it did bring back the good old character selection screen but kept the character’s individual abilities, it added two new playable characters (Leia and Wickett) and I felt simplified Luke’s force-power system considerably. It also went back to using the Star Wars theme in its cutscenes.

However, I’d be lying if I said this game managed to reach the same level of enjoyability as the first game. Admittedly it did away with a lot of the annoying problems of Super Empire but that didn’t stop it from developing a few of its own.

Mainly the game’s level design took a turn for the worse with levels becoming convoluted beyond belief. Most of the time it is impossible to even guess which way you’re supposed to go. Added to this you’re still frantically fighting off enemies and avoiding traps all the way through. On the challenge level it is not that far removed from the second game but thankfully nowhere near as frustrating either.

The Game Over screen now shows the Emperor cackling evilly. Even though it’s hardly as repetitive sounding than Yoda from the second game, you are going to be seeing the Game Over screen enough to get sick of it.

LucasArts were at least able to finally perfect their usage of the Mode 7 with the speeder and space-levels being much smoother than previously seen. However, the first-person view control of the Millennium Falcon (flying in and out of the Death Star) was something I didn’t really enjoy and provided another fairly stressful experience to conclude a game. Even the boss-fights against Vader and the Emperor were child’s play compared to these flying segments.

However, something has to be said about the cutscenes which went back to the more coherent style of the first game. The ending is also moderately better than the second game’s.

The few levels that caused gray hairs for me this time around were the second Ewok village stage and the Power Generator level with its insane platforming. Running around Jabba’s fortress or on his barge isn’t exactly fun either which is a definite shame. At times it really feels that LucasArts were making this game difficult just for the sake of making a difficult game.

This is the main problem. While some may enjoy the challenge, most will be put off by it, and unlike the first game there’s not really a grand reward for finishing the whole game. However, Super Jedi is still far more enjoyable in my view than Super Empire. If you wanted to try one of them I’d recommend the latter any day of the week.

“The Force will be with you, always…”

With many years and many Star Wars games having passed, the Super Trilogy still holds up fairly well. However, the notorious difficulty may drive away casual gamers but I highly recommend trying out the first game in the very least. Various dumb design choices, both structure and gameplay wise, make Super Empire the least likeable game in the series and one many will be likely to skip. Even Super Jedi may feel overtly challenging but some might enjoy it because of that.