Super Star Wars – The Empire Strikes Back

Fans of the original Star Wars movies had to wait three years between episodes IV and V. I’ve only made you wait two weeks. Suck one, George Lucas.

After their victory against the Galactic Empire, the Rebel Alliance has been forced to flee to the frigid ice planet Hoth in order to escape detection. But Darth Vader is obsessed with finding Luke Skywalker, because he thinks he’s powerful and wouldn’t it be great to use him etc etc. Lots of new enemies and allies are formed.

Released in 1993, Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back is a largely side-scrolling platform run-and-gun affair. It also has the first- and third-person vehicle elements that appeared previously in 1992’s award-winning Super Star Wars.

The Empire Strikes Back is believed by many to be the best of all the Star Wars movies and I certainly think so. But is the game the best of the SNES trilogy? Is it at least a marked improvement on the first game? Well, there are some interesting parallels there.

If you compare the first two movies, you can see that the pacing and special effects of Empire are significantly better than Hope. Why? Well, the first move bore the heavy burden of having to establish the Star Wars universe, all within the time-limit of a feature film. The sequel had to be consistent, but the hard work of getting audiences to understand and assimilate that galaxy far, far away was done. In addition to continuing the story in a way that was compelling and credible, other improvements were made. You can see straight away that the special effects have had the creases ironed out of them. The lightsaber and blaster effects look and sound better, as do the vehicles, costumes and sets. The game measures up in similar ways, as you will see.

Again, the game’s intro is a nicely cut down version of the movie’s beginning. We see an Imperial Star Destroyer launching probe droids in an effort to find the rebels’ hidden base. One happens to land on the ice world of Hoth, where a patrolling Luke Skywalker goes to check it out, mistaking it for a meteor.

Straight away, you can see that the lightsaber effects have been improved. Someone at Sculptured Software had the genius idea of drawing the lightsaber frames as though it were swishing through the air, so that when animated it would give the illusion of motion-blur. It works great. Not only that, but it is a much more effective weapon than in Super Star Wars. It’s actually worth alternating between blaster weapons and the lightsaber. The ‘saber is the default weapon for Skywalker, but you can switch to blasters if you want. It must be said that once you get a reasonably powered-up blaster, you’re better off with that, depending on where you are. The blaster power-ups are exactly the same as in the previous game. Just in case you missed my review, here’s what they look like.

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Just like the previous game, if you lose a life, you lose all weapon upgrades. Harsh, especially when you consider how much harder this game is. Holy balls, is it hard. There are shaggy ice-beasts that attack you (could be little wampas, I don’t know), bats, sharp crystals, pitfalls and weird anthill-like things that spurt spiky things. This is just the first stage. The good news is that yet another improvement has been made: there is a password option. Yes, every stage right up to the last gives you a password. About time. This is one thing the first game sorely lacked.

Luke starts off on foot, but swiftly finds one of Hoth’s friendlier creatures, a tauntaun, upon whose back he can ride. It has a much longer health bar than Luke, so it’s good to stay on it for as long as possible. The tauntaun can die, so dodge and slash with your trusty lightsaber for as long as possible. I didn’t do very well here, so my tauntaun was dead before I reached the cave. Maybe if I’d had pets growing up, I’d have taken more care.

The inside of the cave is equally fraught. The same enemies await. Dotted throughout the cave are tunnels going directly upward. If you jump at them, you get sucked up to new areas. There are usually bonus items to be found, which are handy. I’ll get to the ol’ item montage shortly.

Well, that’s clearly not the wampa Luke faces in the that cave in the movie. Nonetheless, this is the first boss you face. Once you get its pattern down, it’s not too hard. If you evade its arms and freezing breath, you should be fine. I had a heavily upgraded blaster by this time, but if you’ve only got the very first one when you reach here. switch to the lightsaber.

As promised, here are the items you can collect.

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Nothing has changed there since the first game. The thermal detonator explosion effects look cooler, but that’s about it. Hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

The first portion of the game is a whole chunk of these glacier fields and caves.

Ever wonder what happened to that probe droid? Well, cover your butt-hole, Luke, ’cause these babies are a-probin’ tonight.

The first probe droid boss looks just like the one in the movie and isn’t too hard to beat. Then the daddy of all probe droids comes at you full force. It’s no good dropping into the freezing water to get away from it, because it goes there too. Even if it didn’t, there’s a little electric eel discharging its jolting unpleasantness all around. I know Luke’s supposed to use the force or his lightsaber or whatever, but fuck that shit. Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.

You start wondering if there’s anything else to the game. The good news is, there is. Welcome to Echo Base.

Imperial troops have entered the base! Imperial troops have ent-

Luke has a blaster and a lightsaber, so the troops shouldn’t be too much trouble. After a bit of running though the base, Luke jumps on a little speeder bike and blasts his way through a hallway full of marauding snowtroopers. Eventually, Luke reaches his Snowspeeder. If you pace yourself and pick up the hearts and health swords, this stage is less difficult. You still have to be very careful, as things fall from the ceiling and troops throw bombs at you. The speeder bit can be fairly murderous, so just keep your finger on the trigger. By now, you might be getting a bit sick of seeing Hoth. Not to worry, it’ll be over soon. The next part is on Hoth, but…

Bu-ya! I thought that this was a very ambitious portion of the movie to try and capture on the SNES, but Sculptured Software and LucasArts made it work. It’s pretty challenging, but very playable. You control Luke’s snowspeeder and you have to destroy probe droids, AT-STs and AT-ATs. You even get to use your tow cable. Go for the legs, it might be your only chance of stopping them. By means of following the movie, you required to fly towards the last AT-AT, which brings you to the next stage.

Holy crap, the side-view is hard! Doesn’t take much to make you crash and burn. You’re supposed to take a hit and go down anyway, but it happens all by itself at a specific place. It’s pretty tough to get there. Once you do, Luke continues on foot. It’s cool to switch straight from vehicle to walking like that. Nice touch. Luke approaches the last AT-AT and has to climb up. There are a number of stormtroopers who feel disinclined to let him. You find a door in the belly of the beast and venture inside.

You have to climb several levels inside the AT-AT and it can be arduous. There are troopers and guns everywhere. Once you get outside and walk along the AT-AT’s spine, you face the boss, which is the head of the beast itself. If you crouch in the right place with the lightsaber, you can deflect all of the AT-AT’s shots back at it, destroying the guns. Once you’ve destroyed them all, you win. Even if you start this fight without full health, sitting in the sweet-spot above the neck will most likely mean you will defeat it.

Ugh, more Hoth stuff. We’re back to playing Han for a while. Players of the previous game might’ve noticed that there is no character select this time around. Super TESB follows the story more tightly, so you have to be the guy who was in the place at the time. This is the bit where Han has to get Leia to the Millennium Falcon in order to escape from the besieged Echo Base. Since you can’t just have Leia tagging along beside you, Han must reach the end of the base, where he will find Leia waiting. Might’ve been nice to put a character selection for this stage. Since Han, Chewbacca and Leia are trying to reach the Falcon, would it have been too much to ask to play as one of the three? Ah, well. At least they’re not making us do it as C-3PO. There are two bosses to face here.

The first boss is this hovering vehicle with vicious swinging chain things. There are also troopers mounted on platforms. It’s not very tough, but it’s best to avoid the chains. The second boss is an AT-ST. You have to dodge that rapid ion-firing gun as much as you can. That is, until you can shoot it off. Once you done that, you can shoot the crap out of the chicken walker quite easily. Just tuck and roll under it when it jumps. Once that’s done, you can hook up with Leia, who I guess was just standing watching as Han nearly died.

Huh. Thought she’d be happier than that.

FINALLY, we get off Hoth! Here’s your first-person bit for the game. Take the helm of the Millennium Falcon and plunge it into an asteroid field. I found it tricky as hell to do this the first few times. You have to dodge the asteroids and destroy 20 TIE-fighters. You can blow up any asteroids that come your way, but it’s hard to keep tabs on everything. The TIEs can get behind you and shoot, which makes you a sitting duck. You have to dodge around, but watch for those asteroids. The radar shows you where the TIEs are in relation to you. If they show up red they’re behind you, green means they’re in front. Once you’ve done ’em all, jump to hyperspace, even though in the movie they couldn’t, and head for Bespin.

It does feel good to get away from Hoth, as it seems you spend a lot of time there. The asteroid field is challenging and a good change of scene. Still staying pretty tight to the movie (apart from the lightspeed thing). It can feel a bit boring after a while, especially if you find you’re not making much progress. Plus, there’s not much to look at. Maybe flying close to some huge asteroids, as in the movie, would’ve livened things up a bit.

So while Han, Leia, Chewie and Threepio are making their way to Bespin, Luke has just arrived on the mysterious planet Dagobah, where he hopes to find Jedi Master Yoda. But first, he has to find R2-D2, who has fallen into the swamp.

Ah, so nice to be attacked by something other than robots and Stormtroopers, eh? Like Hoth, there are electric eels that dwell in the water and can zap you. Unlike Hoth, there are plants with dangerous spores, what I presume are the bat-like mynocks, wormy things and big-brutal rhino-like things. This is the first stage in which Luke has a force meter. It seems that just being on Dagobah makes Luke feel more Jedi-like. You see that E up there? That’s a force power, which Luke can collect and then use for the rest of the game. What’s that? You want me to do a montage for you? Sure, no problem.

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There is also one called “Saber deflect”, which I think makes you temporarily invincible to lightsaber attacks. Since there’s only one dude who attacks you with a lightsaber in this game and we’re not there yet, no spoilers. The one drawback to the Force powers is that it can be tricky to switch to the one you need when you’re also trying to fight. Kind of gets you in a panic. It might’ve been better if the game paused while you were choosing.

Now all we have to do is find this Yoda, if he even exists.

After another romp through the Dagobah swamps, we find the aged Jedi Master.

He promptly sets Luke on his training regime. What does it entail? Romping through the Dagobah swamps, of course!

In the movie, Luke learns a lesson about his enemy’s face being his own if he acts in anger. In the game, he just has to fight a big slug with teeth. A bit less conceptual, but I guess they didn’t want to spoil the big fight with Darth Vader by having him appear this early. Fair enough. It doesn’t matter which blaster power you have here: the lightsaber works best. Jump around avoiding the mouth and destroying the slug-thing’s eyes, then its body. It’s quite hard until you get the pattern down. But then, aren’t they all?

Killed your slug, Yoda. Hope you’re happy.

Han and the gang finally arrive on Bespin, seeking the help of Han’s old buddy, Lando. The colours for the Cloud City stage are gorgeous. The oranges and purples really work well and it’s obvious a lot of thought has gone into it. The stage itself can be pretty harsh. The difficulty takes another logical step up. Got to keep your wits about you now. In addition to the ubiquitous guns, there are what appear to be bounty hunters from the movie. Or at least they look a bit like them. Let’s play Hunt the Bounty Hunters!

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If you have the standard blaster, or even the flame at this point, some of these guys seem unreasonably hard to beat. IG-88 takes many, many hits. Zuckuss isn’t too bad and you can even recoup your lost health if you wait by the doors for him to come out: just shoot him and collect the little heart. 4-LOM can go bat-shit crazy on you, spinning around the room and flailing his arms. Dengar has that shield thing, which he can whip out at you, but he’s not that hard if you get behind him. Bossk leapfrogs around and continually respawns, but again, isn’t that tough. These dudes are everywhere on Cloud City.

But wait, where’s the man himself? Where’s Boba Fett? Oh, we’re getting to him, my friends. Patience.

The boss is this big, weird ship. Looks like elements of it were modelled on Boba Fett’s ship, Slave-1. Just a little teaser, perhaps. As with so many of the bosses in the Super Star Wars games, you have to knock bits off it before it craps out completely. After that, we get our only glimpse of that lovable rogue, Lando Calrissian.

Everyone realises C-3PO is missing and delegate Chewbacca to go and look for him. So Chewie heads into the bowels of Cloud City, where the Ugnauts work. This stage can be a pain in the rear, but for one reason only. Those flying purple fucks. You can only shoot them when they stop, open and fire at you. The rest of the time, they zip around the screen and are invincible. What’s irksome about them is that they can nudge you off platforms and slowly deplete your health. If you’re being attacked by other enemies and those flying blueberries are around, you’re going to get annoyed. Fuck them so hard.

OK, it was hard to get a good screenshot of the factory boss. It’s basically a giant clinkerbuilt vessel, flown around by Ugnauts. Again, you shoot it to pieces and eventually all that’s left is a wee cockpit thing. After it’s done, you’ll find Threepio standing in an alcove, even though in the movie he would have been in pieces by now. Got to point that out, you understand. I’m a nerd.

After Threepio is rescued, Han decides to…wander off on his own. He goes to the carbon freezing chamber. This facility is crude, but it should be adequate to freeze Skywalker for his journey to the Emperor. There are more of those annoying purple aresholes here, as well as vents that will freeze Solo if he gets too close when they expel gas. You even have to fight the carbon freezing device itself. Although you have to beat it to progress, we all know Captain Solo doesn’t come out of the situation a winner.

Han is frozen in carbonite and the Fett man proceeds to take him to Jabba. Now, wouldn’t this be a great opportunity to put up a character select screen, just like in the first game? Wouldn’t it be cool if you could choose to be Leia, Lando or Chewbacca for the attempt to rescue Han?  “YES!” I hear you all cry.

Well, tough shit. LucasArts disagrees.

I don’t know what the reason is (maybe memory capacity or whatever), but the developers saw fit to omit the character selection from this game entirely. Such a shame. To me, this next stage would have been the perfect opportunity to employ it. Instead, we have to play as Chewie. What’s the matter, LucasArts? Don’t like black guys or women? Ooh, controversial.

So, this is pretty freakin’ awesome. Finally, we get to fight Boba Fett. How badass does he look? Well, OK, he looks a bit cartoony, but badass cartoony. Even if you fight him off, he runs away and comes back in SLAVE-1! Mr Fett is as tough as you’d expect him to be and Slave-1 looks so cool. The good thing is that once you defeat Boba Fett, he drops a bunch of hearts so that you can replenish before fighting Slave-1. You’ll need ’em. Time to tell Princess Leia you failed to rescue her favourite scoundrel.

You better do it.

What’s Luke up to?

The impetuous little pipsqueak has sensed that his friends are in peril, so he decides to abandon his training and make his way to Bespin. His reception is frosty.

Hmm. Surely it would have been more appropriate to have TIE-fighters attacking Luke when he arrives on Bespin. I mean, the Cloud City security wouldn’t give a thundering fuck who he is; they have problems of their own. Nonetheless, you have to destroy a whole bunch of the twin-pod cloud-cars before you can make your way to Cloud City itself. Meh, it looks pretty enough and you can go above or below the clouds. I guess it breaks up the side-scrolling a bit, but I never felt that this stage was all that great. Just a bit of filler. Still, it’s harmless filler.

It’s almost time for the final showdown with Lord Vader.

For my money, this scene was when Vader was at his most imposing, most intimidating. How could a SNES recreation of this epic duel possibly measure up?

Damn, this is cool! Look at it! You don’t just fight Vader once. You lose sight of him and have to go looking, just like in the movie. Some parts of this are annoying, such as the small platforms from which you can be shoved by flying things and stormtroopers’ shots. But it’s all worth it when you finally see and begin to fight Darth Vader. The setting is perfect. The Vader sprite looks glorious and moves well. The backdrops are stunning: the colours and parallax work in perfect unison here. It really feels like and epic battle. Hats off to the developers for pulling this off. Once you get sucked through the window, the next stage begins with a long, long fall.

You can collect many of those Rebel Alliance symbols on the way down, which go towards extra lives. If you use the force elevation, you can collect even more. Once you’ve landed, you have to fight through a bunch of troopers and stuff before you reach Vader again, but this is the final battle. As before, Vader comes at you, swinging his lightsaber, leaping over you, lunging and using the force to make objects fly at you. When you destroy the projectiles, some of them will drop force power-ups. I just kept using force heal in order to finally defeat the dark lord. Pretty awesome end-of-game boss. Very nicely done.

And so ends Episode V.

So, does Super TESB improve upon its predecessor, like the movie? Hell, yes, it does. The graphics for the first game were already great, but they’ve been tweaked here and there and just look superb. Nothing was phoned in here. The music has been extremely well rendered for a 16-bit machine and the sound effects are lifted right from the movie (for the most part).

The gameplay feels much the same as it did in Super Star Wars, but the difficulty has gone way up. The inclusion of a password option was a must. Very glad of its inclusion.

One thing the game needed was a character selection screen. This was a tremendous feature of the first game and it seemed to me like a grave error to leave it out this time around. There were opportunities when it would’ve been propitious to play as Luke, Leia, Han, Chewbacca or Lando. I think it would’ve enhanced the game greatly to give the player such an opportunity.

The snowspeeder stage was a great inclusion and more or less essential. It was just plain cool. I feel that the same cannot be said for the other flying sequences. The asteroid chase and Luke’s flight to Cloud City just seemed rather bland. They were no doubt inserted to relieve any potential monotony incurred by so many stages of side-scrolling platform action, which is at least laudable. The inclusion of TIE-fighters instead of cloud cars would certainly have improved the Cloud City sequence. The asteroid chase was an integral part of the story, but was itself not terribly engrossing; more just something you had to do if you wanted to see the next part.

It would’ve made the player feel even more immersed in the story if the characters wore the costumes appropriate to the scenes. Specifically, when Luke is on Dagobah and Bespin, he should be wearing his khaki fatigues, not his orange flight suit. And why is Leia still in her Hoth battle gear when on Bespin? Where’s the elegant red dress and weird hair? It’s a minor niggle, but I think if that one extra element had been included in the game, people would say “Hey, nice touch!”

The duel with Darth Vader at the end is nothing short of epic. The setting, sprites and sounds are all flawless. He’s tough to beat, but not insurmountably so. You really have to go at it if you want to beat him, which is at it should be.

Despite a few forgiveable flaws, Super Empire has the edge over the first game. It looks nicer, sounds nicer and feels nicer. They are both worth a good, solid play-through. Read my Super Star Wars review and you’ll know that.

Impressive. Most impressive.

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