Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

Eek! Not long now, eh?

To mark the release of Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (and in the hope of shamelessly garnering more hits as a result of it), I decided it was time for the second Star Wars outing on the NES. Sadly, there is no third. Well, I say “sadly”…

01 Title

The Empire Strikes Back was born in 1992, and was the result of a hate-fuck between JVC and Lucasfilm. While they did a nice job with the intro and cut-scenes just as they did in the first game, they seemed to forget that it’s the bits in between that matter. Ugh, let’s just get our asses to Hoth. Sooner we get in, sooner we get out.


So if you’ve never heard of this obscure movie called The Empire Strikes Back, it’s all about a guy called Luke Skywalker and another guy called Dad Vader. DARTH! I meant to say Darth Vader there. Don’t read too much into that slip. Luke is learning how to be a Jedi Knight – a powerful dude indeed, but Vader is a Dark Lord of the Sith, which is the polar opposite. He doesn’t want Luke to succeed, and thinks it would be neat if he joined the Dark Side. There’s a whole bunch of other stuff going on too, involving a princess, a smuggler, a lanky bear, and some moving metal.

As I said, the intro is faithful to the movie, and is short and to the point. The probe droids are sent out to find the Rebel Alliance, and one lands on the ice world of Hoth.


Before you can even begin taking your tauntaun out for walkies, Han Solo rudely interrupts and tells you to check out a meteor (though he should have said meteorite – a meteorite is an object originating in space that survives passage through planetary atmosphere and successfully makes planet-fall. The more you know.)

So you think you can set out and check out that meteorite? Wrong! Take another few steps, and this happens.

04 Stage 01 02.jpg

To have this happen twice in the first 30 seconds of playing is so jarring. And thanks, Obi-Wan, for stating the effing obvious. I seem to recall your doing that in the last game. Upping your game now, I see. What’s next, I wonder.

58 Beardy


Can we get started now? Thank you.

As I started to play, I thought, “Hey, where’s the music?” Just as I thought it, the music kicked in, which was a relief. But then, about five seconds later, the music stopped. It didn’t reappear until some minutes later. It seems that what you get is five seconds or so of score from the movie interspersed with long periods of nothing. It is deeply, deeply off-putting. Who on earth thought that that was a good idea? Probably the same person that was in charge of the sound effects.

One of the first things that’ll hit you is the noise the tauntaun makes. Fuck my face, it is obnoxious. Imagine your ear is placed right next to a meat grinder into which someone is feeding a large bag of rice. Now, that’s what it sounds like, but I need to convey to you how it  feels. Imagine further, if you will, that the person operating the meat grinder is repeatedly saying, “This is annoying, I’m not going to stop. This is annoying, I’m not going to stop.” in the voice of Gilbert Gottfried. There. Now you’re exactly where I am with this shit. The other sound effects leave a lot to be desired as well. Maybe the tauntaun sound was put in just to distract you from how banal the rest is. Mute the sound and slap on the soundtrack to Stranger Things. You know you want to.

In terms of the gameplay itself: HARD. AS. FUCK. And this is the EASIEST portion of the game. Everything moves pretty fast, and the movement feels a bit stiff. The jumping is kind of awkward and happens so fast that it can be tricky to plan your landing. The enemies you encounter (probe droids and wampas) can sap your health fast. To begin with, you just have your crappy blaster. You can shoot in eight directions, but it’s not always easy to aim in the direction you want, especially if you favour diagonals. Plus, some enemies take an eternity to die. Tell us what to do, Master Jedi.

Well, that’s fucking awesome. Old Obes tells me to use the Force, so I hit START to see what powers I have. None. Don’t dick with me, old man.

Turns out you have to find the Force powers in some stages. You can totally miss them and go on to the next stage without them, thereby making the game even harder than it already is. I think some of the Force powers only appear once in the game, so if you miss them, good freakin’ luck.


Having collected it, I discovered that no matter what I tried, I couldn’t use it. Now, I think it’s supposed to let me use the lightsaber, but it just didn’t work. I figured I was doing something wrong (I was, but not what I thought – more on that later), so I just tried to take on the wampas by myself.

16 Stage 01 Boss 01


Facing a wampa like this did not end well. It just kept knocking me back and taking my health. OK, Obi-Wan, any more advice?

59 Cheat

Whoa! Really? Was not expecting you to say that, but hey, you’re the master.

Yep. I discovered that if you power past the wampa and stand on this platform, it can’t get you, but you can blast its precious lifeblood away. It takes positively ages to die. How the hell are you supposed to do this if you don’t cheat? It does seem to encourage the player to use the Dark Side of the Force. I’m beginning to think that JVC stands for Jedi Vilification Cult.

After struggling through the caves and losing my tauntaun to the freezing water, Han told me to waste the probe droid. So again, I just stood on a high platform and painstakingly took it down with my mediocre blaster. That done, I was finally able to move on. I’m pretty sure that was Han’s job in the movie. Now’s he literally phoning it in.


How nice. A change of playing style. Now we’re into side-scrolling shoot-’em-up territory. As Luke piloting a snowspeeder, you have to take out ten AT-ATs before they reach the Rebel base. This is no mean feat. Just like the movie, you can destroy them with harpoons and tow-cables, but you only have five of them. Once they run out, you have to resort to blasters. When the AT-ATs hit you with their lasers, your ship’s energy will go down fast. If that happens too often…

You’re in deep shit now. Once your snowspeeder crashes, the snowtroopers come at you in droves and blast the crap out of you. Luke’s health goes down super-fast now. If you shoot the troopers, they drop little ‘S’ symbols. I’m not completely sure, but it seems that if you collect enough of them, another snowspeeder appears for you to jump into. That’s fine, and you feel all safe and warm, but the darn thing has no tow-cables, so you can’t just fell the remaining AT-ATs. Back to shooting, which will almost definitely cost you another speeder. Ugh, the graphics are not bad (if slightly glitchy), but this is too damn hard to be enjoyable. Apart from the AT-ATs, random shots seem to come out of thin air and bullseye your ship. Who’s doing that?

I must say that the AT-ATs look pretty good and the animation on the snowspeeder is nice. Again, the music just occurs as a short burst every now and again. I found that it was really beginning to take me out of the game. That, and the piss-your-pants difficulty.

I got stuck here for ages because I just couldn’t survive long enough to take out ten effing AT-ATs. I sneaked a little peek at a video of how best to approach it, and you’re supposed to be able to do what Luke did in the movie (i.e. use a grapple hook, lightsaber and sapper charge to destroy the AT-ATs while Luke is on foot). But try as I might, Luke just would not climb up like he was supposed to. He’d jump into the background, but then jump straight back again. This made him an easy target for the snowtroopers. What the hell am I supposed to do?

Guessing that maybe I’d missed something, I went back to the first stage.

46 Lightsaber

Oh, for fuck’s sake.

So it’s all very well to collect the lightsaber Force power, but if you don’t collect the lightsaber itself, you’re wasting your time. Once I got this, I was considerably more powerful.


Aha! With a combination of the lightsaber and the snowspeeder, I was finally able to clear this stage. I had to use save states in order to do it. It shouldn’t be this hard!


Obviously having got this far, the programmers assumed you must be something of a pro, so they step up the difficulty a bit more. Bravo! (Sarcastic slow clap.)

Why do I have to solve everyone’s problems for them? Luke, do this. Luke, do that. Wah, wah, wah! We see a cut scene of Luke returning to base in his snowspeeder and then it’s back into the action.

Again, before you can even get moving, you’re interrupted. Leia says she can’t escape. I guess you’re supposed to infer from that you’re meant to rescue her. Once again, that was Han’s job. The fuck is he doing?

Oh, so he gets me to do all his work for him and he still has the effrontery to call me ‘kid’? Man, the Han in this game is such a dickbag. He does give little hints every now and again, which I suppose is something. You can indeed jump into that AT-ST (from above) and scurry around in it, shooting snowtroopers. It’s pretty effective, actually, and you need one later to complete the stage. It’s surprisingly nimble for a machine of its size. It can jump around and stand on tiny elevators. When riding the tauntaun, you can press SELECT to jump off, but if you exit the AT-ST, it explodes. You don’t get hurt, but it is gone.


42 Echo Base 03

There’s R2-D2! He appears a couple of times throughout the map. I assumed he acted as some kind of checkpoint (like Super Return of the Jedi), but nope. You don’t get checkpoints. He just kind of scoots about and his little scanner pops up from time to time. The main thing to take away from this is that YOU DON’T GET CHECKPOINTS! Now that I think of it, Super Empire Strikes Back was tougher than a leather condom. It could have been modelled on this game. George Lucas would have loved it, no doubt. “It’s like poetry. They rhyme.”

You eventually hit another cut scene in which Leia tells you there’s a damaged area of floor you can’t cross on foot. There’s all this exposed wiring there which electrocutes you if you try. I guessed this meant I needed an AT-ST. It’s not possible to use the one you find early on, because there’s no way to get it to the damaged floor area. Having searched around, I found another one. Trouble is, it’s occupied, and not by someone who likes Luke. Before you can take the walker, you have to damage it. Luckily, I somehow had Darth Vader’s red lightsaber with me (seriously, couldn’t they get that right?) and a Game Genie cheat for infinite health, so I GTA’d the shit out of things. Didn’t get far without cheating in some way, did I?


No idea how I would have beaten this heavy-duty AT-ST without being a lowdown, dirty cheat. It just runs into you, shooting. Thanks to infinite health, I lightsabered it into submission. That was the stage boss. Time to trade the tundra for the tropics.


Our cut scene leads us to the swamp planet of Dagobah. Let’s see just how hard it is to learn about the Force.

I had acquired a few more Force powers before getting here, one of which gave me the ability to run at great speed. What it didn’t give me was the ability to jump at speed. One would intuitively assume that if you’re travelling very quickly, any jump you make will be longer. Not so in this game. It just behaves as though you jumped from a standing position. That is uniquely lame.

Dagobah is just as stupidly fraught with perils as the previous levels, with a few new ones thrown in. You can barely see it, but there is a snake coiled around the vine in that first screen. They show up on every vine and are barely visible. And yes, they hurt you. The thing on the second screen is some kind of weird blobby thing that flips back and forth between the platform and the wall. If you touch it, it hurts you and you fall. It is nigh-on impossible to get past it or hit it with the lightsaber. You face these obstacles very early on.

I got a bit lost for a while and didn’t know what to do. Then I stumbled into an area in which I received another urging from Obi-Wan to use the Force (he will not shut up about it). From there, I got into a sort of sub-boss battle with a preying mantis. I discovered that if I stood in a certain place, the praying mantis stayed off-screen and I could just shoot it dead. Wow, the Dark Side is way easier!

Luke finds Yodes-malodes just standing in a corner and he is immediately set to work. I guess it’s kind of like the movie, in which Yoda makes Luke run an obstacle course through the swamp. More of the same hard shit awaits. There is one kind of cool bit, though.

You’re given your first encounter with Darth Vader here. Just like in the film, you face him in the cave. He’s pretty easy to beat, too. You just have to hit him and then dodge away before he can hit you back. Once you defeat him, his head falls off and the mask explodes, revealing what is presumably supposed to be Luke’s face. Meh, nice touch. I’ll give the game a plus there. (SPOILER ALERT: I’ll be taking it away again later. Believe me, you will know why.)

Once you defeat Vades, Luke has a vision of Leia calling for his help. Yoda advises Luke to save his friends, and –

– Wait, WHAT?

Yoda tells Luke to go? Funny how the developers interpreted his line from the movie, “You must not go!” How long had it been since they watched it? And what is up with Yoda’s face in that picture? He looks like he’s taking a particularly satisfying dump.

(Sigh) OK, so the Jedi Master encourages Luke to leave. To Bespin!


The background for this stage looks pretty decent. Luke flies his X-wing into Cloud City and is set upon by its twin-pod cloud-cars. In keeping with the Jedi training he has attained thus far, he slaughters them all. After that, 32 TIE fighters come after him. Holy shit, that must be tough if you’re not cheating. Again, the look and animation of the ships is quite good for 8-bit. The difficulty aside, this might be the best stage to play. Don’t read too much into that: it is a low bar to clear.

Another deviation from the movie here, as Lando Calrissian is there to meet Luke as he arrives on Cloud City. He tells him that Artoo can shut off laser beams, allowing him to pass. How does this dude know more about R2-D2 already? What interactions did those two even have in the movie?

Judging by the pastel shades of pink, blue and yellow, I’d say that Cloud City was built in the early ’90s. Not sure about the lethal vat of acid motif. I would’ve left that out. That, and the floor-mounted meat-grinders. This is Empire, people, not Oddworld.

Artoo does indeed shut down the laser walls for you. He stands in them, receiving the shock for you, allowing you to pass unhurt. I felt bad for him. Little guy must have very low self-esteem to do such a thing. “It’s OK, Master Luke. I don’t matter. Use me as insulation from the lasers.” And why the hell are there laser walls? Lando, as administrator of the mining colony, it is incumbent upon you to deal with the death-trap that is Cloud City. Even the Health and Safety officers on the Death Star would shake their heads and tut loudly at your set-up, Mr Calrissian. Sort yourself out.

Leia somehow tells Luke that there are bounty hunters on Bespin. Huh. I guess the scene where all the bounty hunters just follow Boba Fett in a sort of awkward procession was cut from the movie. None the less, it’s true. The bounty hunters are annoying pricks.

I guess these are meant to be Zuckuss and Dengar respectively, but who knows. They both attack in much the same way: shooting or spinning at you. When they do their spin-attacks they constantly knock you back, draining your health. You can’t jump over them and they move too fast for you to turn and run, so you just have to let them chivvy you off the platform you’re standing on, or through the laser walls. Even with the lightsaber, you can’t take away their breathing privileges with ease. I thought they were sub-bosses when they first showed up, but in fact they appear numerous times throughout the stage and test your fucking nerve every fucking time.

96 AT-ST Bespin.jpg

Was not expecting to see one of these!

Think how fucking daft it would’ve made the movie to see an AT-ST stomping about Cloud City. What the shit is it even doing there? Just like on Hoth, if you can knock it down, you can steal it. I felt like a top arsehole charging about the place in that thing. Makes no goddamn sense.

Oh, now just what the hell is going on here? I’m all for the Fettmeister being in a Star Wars game, but why is Luke fighting him? Fett took a few potshots at Luke in the movie, which has now been hugely inflated for the game.

Once you get his pattern down (that should take you all of four seconds), he’s actually not that hard to beat. All he does is jetpack between two platforms firing his gun and dropping bombs. If you don’t jump, the laser blasts will never hit you. You can follow him and shoot him occasionally with your blaster, while dodging the bombs. It will take you positively ages to beat him (my guess is around 20 minutes), but if you’re careful, he needn’t hit you. How disappointing.

Look at Slave-I! Does Boba even fit in there? Let’s find out.

118 Boba fit

Nope! Maybe if he curls up and sets the ship on autopilot, he can get around. He’s supposed to have Han Solo frozen in carbonite with him, so I presume our favourite smuggler would have to be strapped to the roof rack.

Well, I guess it’s time for Luke to face his destiny. It is time for the showdown with the most fearsome Dark Lord of the Sith the galaxy has ever known: Darth Vader!


“Go get him”? I’m beginning to think this game was based on another movie called The Empire Strikes Back. Whose idea was this? How did everyone OK it? I never thought I’d see anything in a Star Wars game that steered away from the story more than what happened on the Famicom. You know: that bit in the sandcrawler where Luke faces Vader and Vader suddenly turns into a scorpion. Think I’m joking? Look it up. Seriously, look it up.

So, I thought this was an astonishing enough skew from the story, but what happened next made my jaw drop. Hard. After DESTROYING Slave-I, this happened:

117 Han's safe



I…I’m so sorry, everyone. I broke Star Wars. I’ve single-handedly rendered the first act of Return of the Jedi redundant. No need to go to Tatooine. No payoff to all the references to Jabba the Hutt in the previous movies. No rancor, no sarlacc, and no Leia disguised as Boussh. Han is safe and well and free of the carbonite block into which he was just frozen. Boba Fett is dead.

Fuck. Very much fuck.

There. Rescued. OK?


103 Cut scene 27

Oh, look! Something from the movie!

104 Vader 01

Oh, look! Darth Vader is using a blaster! [Manic, distressing laugh that goes on far too long to be considered sane.]

Yes, if you get to far away from Darth, he whips out a blaster. If you get too close…

105 Vader 02

Ooh! His lightsaber is blue, while Luke’s is red! That’s nice, isn’t it? [Another laugh, only higher pitched and certainly dancing precariously on the outermost edge of irretrievable lunacy.]

I paused the game at this point, and after a lengthy cromit (that’s where you cry and vomit simultaneously), I felt able to continue.

The duel with Vader takes places in several locations under Cloud City, which is as it should be. You fight him for a bit, he says a line from the movie and fucks off, and you pursue him.

But the last encounter must come to pass.

109 Vader 06


That is actually a reaction shot from the game. Luke recoils when he sees Vader in this portion of the game, even though he’s fought him like five times already. It is mind-meltingly tough now. Notwithstanding the power-sapping peril of Vader’s pretty blue blade, he uses the Force to hurl objects at you, which can shove you off the small platforms you stand on. We all know what happens when Luke jumps into Cloud City’s core shaft near the end of the movie:

110 Vader 07

He lands in the pit of pink spikes they have there.

Even if you have Force Float among your selection, you will run out of power long before you reach even the lowest platform. You are simply not meant to survive this.

Well, this is the last, last bit of the game. Would I be correct in guessing it’s the part where Darth cuts off Luke’s hand before Luke submits himself to the void?

I can’t. I don’t…I can’t.

I’m out. Cue ending.


113 Ending 02

There’s more, of course. Don’t even bother.

The scroller at the end hints that there will be a Return of the Jedi game. I imagine that would be the one where Luke, Captain Janeway, and Rowdy Roddy Piper save the second Death Star from the rebels and Jabba the Hutt is in one scene, where he just waves from the window of a Taco Bell in Pittsburgh.

116 Ending 05

Fuck off, Yoda.


Well, we got through it. Too bad our sanity wasn’t able to accompany us the whole way, but here we are. What is the final verdict?

57 Final score


Hmm, charitable.

Oh, my God. What is this game? Words fail me.

This has to be the worst Star Wars game I’ve ever played, and I’ve played Masters of Teras Kasi. It is shocking how dreadful this is. The Star Wars movies were aimed at all audiences, but the games were for kids, really. The Empire Strikes Back is too hard for adult gamers, let alone children. I don’t mean it’s challenging; such games can still be fun and addictive. I mean that it is too hard to be entertaining. There’s no incentive to keep playing anyway, as the sound and music actively encourage you to hit the OFF button and slide the cartridge out, never to sit in the console again.

There are hints of graphical pleasantness here and there, but even these are marred by glitchy, flashy collision. The cut scenes look OK, and for the most part come directly from the movie.

Possibly the worst aspect of the whole affair, certainly the one that would have most Star Wars fans throwing their hands in the air and saying “I’m done”, is the way in which it swerves so severely and yet so casually away from the original story. Listen up, JVC. Fans of Star Wars care about canon, OK? You can’t just screw with the story and think it doesn’t matter. If you don’t give a fuck about the story, then no one will give a fuck about your game. The liberties you took here are simply staggering.

Oh, that was awful, m’dears. Just awful. I’ve got to review something good after such a lumpen, malodorous blob of horror. All we have left for now is hope that The Last Jedi is a good movie. I hope I don’t end up eating those words.