Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Game Review: Super Star Wars

Super Star Wars
  • Publisher: JVC / Lucasarts 
  • Developer: Sculptured Software 
  • Release: 
    • Super Nintendo, November 1992 
    • PlayStation 4 / PS Vita, 17 November 2015 
  • Genre: 2D Action (Platformer, Run & Gun)
  • Players: 1 
  • Save: None (SNES) 
America has come down once again with a case of Star Wars fever this year, owing no doubt to the upcoming release of the new movie, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Therefore, in terms of video games, the talk of the town is on the new Star Wars Battlefront for the PlayStation 2 and XBox... sorry, I meant the other Star Wars Battlefront for the PlayStation 4 and XBox One. DO YOU SEE HOW ANNOYING THIS GETS!? Title aside, Star Wars Battlefront (the new one, that is) is yet another of those multiplayer-only shooters in the vein of Titanfall and Evolve, which thought they could get away without any single-player story content but still sell at full price. On its own, it's simply bound to get old fast. In comparison to the old Battlefront duology, each of those games being stuffed with enough features to choke a Sarlacc, it is unforgivable. I haven't played EA's Battlefront yet, nor do I ever plan to, but I'll end this rant by saying the game can go take a proton torpedo up its exhaust port, if you see what I mean.

Fortunately, I have something else to fall back on, as the powers that be saw fit to release ports of Super Star Wars for the PS4 and PS Vita. I'm a bit curious as to this decision, as the original game came out in 1992 for the Super NES, a non-Sony console. Indeed, it used to be available on the Wii's Virtual Console shop, along with its sequels based on The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, but those have since been taken down due to an expired licence or something. Well, whatever you're playing it on, you're getting more or less a straight adaptation of the original Star Wars film. A young man, Luke Skywalker, comes across a pair of droids carrying plans for the Death Star, a planet-destroying space station built by the Galactic Empire, and he must bring them safely to the Rebel Alliance. But you already knew that.

Much of the game is played as a jump-and-shoot platformer, similar to the Contra series. Super Star Wars makes some welcome evolutions to Contra's formula, however. Your blaster fires automatically when you hold down the fire button, and while doing so, you stay locked in place so you can aim in multiple directions without also moving around. And perhaps most importantly, you can take more than one hit per life! Yes, you have a health meter in this game, and not only are health pickups plentiful, with little ones coming out of nearly every enemy you kill, but you can extend it with "Health Sword" powerups (because the health meter is drawn like a lightsaber, I guess...). Other pickups include blaster upgrades, invincibility shields, thermal detonator bombs, and Darth Vader heads which doubles the points you earn for a limited time. Over the course of the game, Luke gains a lightsaber in addition to his blaster, and later on you can choose to play as Han Solo or Chewbacca instead of Luke, who lack the lightsaber (and the awesome, almost overpowered spinny-jump slice that comes with it), but start off with a blaster upgrade and/or a longer health bar.
By holding the fire button, you can aim in multiple directions.
But don't think for a second that this is an easy game. It may look like you have a long health bar even without upgrades, and enemies don't seem to do much damage, but there are a lot of enemies. And if you do lose all your health, all your upgrades go along with it. I do hate when games do this, because it makes it that much harder to get back on track. Furthermore, enemies can push you around easily, which makes what few spots of precision platforming all the more treacherous and unfair. Not helping is the semi-isometric perspective the walls and floors are drawn in, making it a bit tough to determine where each platform begins and ends. Oh yeah, and there's no mercy invincibility, either. That seems to be a running theme with 2D platformer games I've chosen to review. Also, there's a timer counting down as you play each level, but before you start panicking, you don't die when it expires (cf. Mario and Sonic), you just don't get a time bonus at the end. Granted, points are important in this game, as you're given extra lives at certain milestones (cf. Sonic again), and trust me, you'll need them.

And then the levels themselves offer their own flavours of unnecessary challenge. The first major wall of difficulty comes in the form of the fourth level, where you're inside the Sandcrawler searching for R2-D2. About half-way through, just after the only checkpoint in the level, you have to get past these laser grids which block you when you get close. You're supposed to get past these by sliding (hold Down and press the jump button), but it's more of an art than a science, and you're liable to get hurt by at least one, if not all of them. And then there's a surprise waiting for you when you get down to the final floor: instant-kill lava, or sand, or something. Normally you can make longer and higher jumps by holding Up and pressing the jump button, but don't do it here or you'll just hit the ceiling and lose distance instead of gaining it. And you're expected to fight a boss over the stuff. And if you do die here, you go all the way back to the middle of the level, just before the aforementioned laser gates. The Sandcrawler scene is not the only tough level in the game -- the one right afterwards has some precision platforming which has claimed many of my lives -- but it does set the tone for the rest of the game.
Vehicle sections punctuate the gameplay experience.
That's not exactly true, however, as some levels break up the side-scrolling action by way of 3D vehicle sections. In these levels, you pilot a landspeeder or X-Wing fighter and gun down a specific number of targets before you're allowed to move on. They use the same perspective-scrolling technology (a.k.a. Mode 7) seen in games like Pilotwings, F-Zero, and Super Mario Kart. It shows effort, which I like, and if I'm in a good mood I would call it fun. But the vehicle controls are a bit too floaty for me to really get into it. It's almost as if these things ride on air or something! (It's funny because that's exactly the case.) And riddle me this: how come we can only change direction by spending jet fuel? The L and R buttons go unused during these levels; if you felt you had no other options, surely they could've been used to turn or strafe, right? Super Star Wars only offers three of these levels, but it's nice to have that variety. I'd say you'll never get bored playing this game, but then I reflect upon how long and monotonous the other levels are and I'm forced to retract that statement.

The soundtrack is appropriately John Williams-y, and the opening cutscene recreates the movie's famous text-scroll admirably. Unfortunately, all the other cutscenes are just scrolling pictures and text; given what the Super Nintendo can do with manipulating images, I felt that more could've been done in this regard. As for in-game storytelling, the levels are all based on events from the movie, albeit expanded for action's sake. As I said with GoldenEye 007, it's always nice to add content to a story you're adapting. So for simply being an adaptation of the source material, Super Star Wars does its job well, and for being a jump-and-shoot platformer, it also does its job well. I can understand if its tough, but mostly fair, difficulty gets to you and prevents you from enjoying it in full. In the end, it's a pretty good game, but play through it again? I'd rather kiss a wookie!

+ Subtle improvements to the jump-and-shoot formula.
+ A faithful adaptation of the source material.
+ Occasional vehicle stages.

- Generally intense difficulty.
- Overly long and repetitive levels.
- Floaty controls in the occasional vehicle stages.

Controls: 3 Health Swords out of 5
Design: 3 Health Swords out of 5
Graphics: 4 Health Swords out of 5
Sound: 4 Health Swords out of 5
Value: 3 Health Swords out of 5
The Call: 70% (C+)

You might also like: Contra 3: The Alien Wars, Mega Man X, Super Metroid

Super Star Wars was followed by two sequels: Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back in 1993, and Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi in 1994, both based on the films they were named after, obviously. There aren't enough differences in those games to warrant their own reviews, but I would like to say a few words on them now while I have the opportunity. All those sequels are equally as hard as the original Super Star Wars, but add a password system for saving progress, which is good, and ditch the timer system, which doesn't really matter. Also, Super Empire Strikes Back introduces Force powers, but they're integrated in a pretty stupid way. You can only get them in one level, during the Dagobah swamp scene, and you can only find them by using the "flying" Force power, which you have to pick up in the previous stage! At least you start out with the lot in Super Return of the Jedi, but why bother when you can play as Chewie, who has a spin attack which refuels automatically and keeps you invincible while it's active?  Remember: let the wookie win.  Either way, if you got through the first Super Star Wars intact and found it fun, try these games out as well. But not Battlefront; that game can go deep-throat a lightsaber for all I care.

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