Review: Super Star Wars (SNES)

Is the force strong with this one?

When Super Star Wars was released in 1992, it was an instant success. Offering old-school platforming but set in the Star Wars universe and culminating in the destruction of the Death Star, the video game format fit the movies like Harrison Ford fits the role of a roguish scoundrel. At the time, video game critics and Star Wars fans alike heralded the game as a great success. But has it held up over time as well as the movies have?

In Super Star Wars your goal, as in most platformers, is to relentlessly charge from left to right in your pursuit of whatever comes next. However, Super Star Wars succeeds in breaking this cliché by changing things up in two ways. First, not every screen requires you to move from left to right and often you will actually have to figure out which direction to go. It’s not quite like Metroid or Castlevania as there is still always a starting and ending point to every level, but it feels a bit more open ended than most other similar games.

Second, not every level is platforming-based. Starting in the second level, the game dabbles in other styles of play. In this case, driving around in a speeder using Mario Kart-style Mode 7 graphics. Unlike Mario Kart, however, this level looks ugly and plays awkwardly by today’s standards. But at the time, it was considered something of a revelation to have a platformer not be just a platformer and as such it was very original for its day.

Most of the game is still a platformer. And even though you have weapons, you’ll still be doing a lot of platform jumping. Most famously, this game includes the infamous exterior sandcrawler stage where the player must hop around from platform to platform on a moving sandcrawler all while dodging random projectiles that can knock you backwards slightly if they hit you. If you fall, it’s back to the beginning. This is perhaps the hardest level in the game and you get hit with it right at the very beginning.

But don’t expect the rest of the game to be a cakewalk as this is relentlessly old-school difficult game play. Every inch of this game is a challenge, even on easy mode. The game gives you multiple lives and continues and you will no doubt use them all on the default difficulty level until you eventually have played the game enough times to figure out and anticipate all of the obstacles you will face. This is a game designed for repeat trial and error gaming and so you will need an incredible amount of patience if you ever hope to blow up the Death Star at the end.

Part of the challenge is the controls. Many of the platforming elements of the game require the player to push up as well as a direction to jump in order to jump higher. There is no "double jump" here like some other games include to make platforming easier. So although you can slightly influence your jump mid-air, you must aim with considerable precision at the very beginning of the jump. This difficulty is compounded by the problem that at some points in the game you will have to make a leap of faith with no idea where your target landing area is until after you jump.

If you die, the game allows you to use a life or a continue like in most other games in this genre until you run out. However, you lose any weapon upgrades that you have accumulated. This means that if you die in a particularly difficult spot, you will have to replay that spot with the smallest, weakest pea-shooter in the game. As a result, getting through the game from beginning to the Death Star at the end is easiest accomplished without dying at all.

Incredibly, unlike its two sequels, Super Star Wars does not feature a save or password system. This means it was intended to be played from beginning to end in one sitting. That doesn’t mean it’s a short game, however. And because of the difficulty you will no doubt be playing many of those games over and over before you finally reach the Death Star. This is where the Virtual Console shines as the game now has a very much-appreciated save feature built in, as does every other game on the service.

Many fans have hailed the ‘accuracy’ of the story in Super Star Wars and its faithfulness to the Star Wars movies. This is frankly perplexing as even the “Special Editions” of the movies gathered more fan hate for less tampering with the storyline. Without any spoilers, let's introduce the plot to bring everyone up to speed:

On a typical day on Tattooine, Luke was killing scorpions, womp rats, and what are possibly Krayt Dragons, all of whom seem intent on working together to kill Luke as well. In the middle of this slaughter, Luke meets C-3PO who tells him to rescue R2-D2 from the Jawas. With blaster fully loaded, Luke heads to the nearest Jawa sandcrawler and proceeds to kill every man, woman, and youngling inside. At the end of his rampage, he takes what he came for, a droid that under both Imperial law as well as the laws of the Republic before it no doubt legally belonged to the Jawas as salvage. And that’s the story of how R2-D2 met Luke. The movie would have you believe that it was the Empire who ruthlessly killed those Jawas. Now we know it was Luke all along. It seems he takes after his father after all.

Don’t worry about the rest of the story. As you can see it doesn’t really match the movie at all, except in the most general sense. But the story is told in glorious cutscenes, which were also a fairly recent innovation in 1992. Perhaps fans were willing to overlook the obvious story disparities in exchange for fancy drawings of scenes from the movie. Who knows, with George Lucas at the helm, in a few years this could be the new “Special Edition” storyline. After all, every epic story gets better with each retelling.

Alongside the modern “cutscene” storytelling device is the classic John Williams musical score to the movie. Offered in stereo, it was considered to be a major selling point at the time. But like much of the rest of this game, this feature has been overshadowed by more recent Star Wars games such as the Rogue Squadron series on N64 and Gamecube which features near CD quality recreations of the music.

Conclusion

Super Star Wars was a groundbreaking game for its day, but like Mark Hamill it has aged terribly. Because of its popularity when it was new it will no doubt please many former fans on nostalgia alone. And as a series it only seems appropriate to play this first entry before moving on to the superior second and third entries. But newcomers to the series should be prepared for relentless, unfair punishment like one would expect from working as Darth Vader’s secretary. The early but beautiful examples of cutscenes make the challenge worth it, even if the story has an annoying tendency to rewrite the script. But the game should not be approached without a fair amount of caution, and is only for those strong enough in the force to have, for example, a Mega Man game or two under their belt.

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