Review: Super Return of the Jedi (SNES)

The Emperor has been expecting you

The third and final game in the Super Star Wars series promises more of the same great experience offered as its two forerunners, but did LucasArts give us a conclusion worthy of the series or just a clichéd third act with some kid-friendly Ewoks thrown in?

Like the previous two outings, Super Return of the Jedi is a 2D platformer in which you take on Star Wars-universe bad guys while playing as one of the heroes from the movies. This time around you can choose your character like in the first game; the second game bowed to the demands of the story by forcing you to play only the character appropriate for each scene. Gone is this last shallow attempt at following the plot of the movies and you may now choose from a variety of characters in each level.

Once again, the storyline has virtually nothing to do with the movies'. You’ll watch cut scenes that use dialogue that summarizes events but never actually take place. You’ll view other scenes that blatantly rewrite the storyline. And, of course, you’ll fight bosses who are either not based on the movie or, such as the case of Jabba the Hutt, whose attack is to alternately charge you and then vomit green frogs in your direction, narrowly miss the mark of how they should have appeared in the game.

Story issues aside, your choice in each level is to play as Luke, Han, Chewbacca or (for the first time) Leia or Wicket. Not every character is available for each level (and Wicket is only available in the Ewok village level), but they each have their own unique strengths and weaknesses, so the choice you make matters greatly. For instance, Luke has grown in his Jedi training since his last outing; as a result, he is the same as before but has decided (in the tradition of all the arrogant Jedi) that it’s just too easy to use blasters and so he now uses only a lightsaber and force powers. One of the new characters, our favorite trash-talking princess, is arguably the most useless character of the bunch but you will no doubt choose to play as her anyway in the one level in Jabba’s Palace where she is dressed in her ‘slave’ bikini costume.

However, the rest of the time you will choose your character based on what strategy you will need to employ against the final boss of each level. For example, the first boss you will face absorbs an extraordinary amount of lightsaber damage, and so you will have a much easier time using Chewbacca and his blaster. You will have no way of knowing this up front, instead you'll just have to figure it out the hard way and choose the best character on your next attempt. As a result, the game involves just as much trial and error as in the previous two outings.

Fortunately, the game is slightly more balanced this time around because it automatically takes away your power-ups at the end of each level. In the past, your blaster upgrades would remain from level to level and were hard to replace if you died. This meant that the easiest way to beat the game was to simply never, ever die. This time around, the developers figured out that players die quite frequently in these games and need a little more help getting back on their feet, so power-ups are a bit more common. Since you begin each level with no power-ups, the difficulty has been adjusted accordingly.

This, perhaps, has given Super Return of the Jedi a reputation for being the easiest of the three games. And that is probably true, but it is easiest only because the previous two were so unfairly difficult. If this had been the only game in the series, it would still have a reputation for being brutally difficult, so don’t be suckered into thinking that this game is somehow a cakewalk. It’s still an incredible challenge, but is also the most manageable difficulty-wise of the three and so makes for the best starting point for those new to the series.

In addition, the password system from Super Empire Strikes Back makes a return here and adds to the ‘easiness’ of the game. Because each level resets your power ups, starting a level with a password is exactly the same as playing all of the way through the game up to that level and it is actually worth it to hang on to a password received after you die.

Another positive lies in the graphics upgrade. Although not so noticeable now, as the differences between this and Empire are negligible, at the time this was considered to be a marked improvement. Much was made of the fact that this was a “16 Megabit” cartridge, as this made for a relatively large game at the time; presumably, most of that extra space went into graphical detail. It is interesting to note that on the Virtual Console Jedi takes up 31 blocks. This is merely 4 more than Empire, and interestingly appears to be below average for a SNES game. But regardless of how much space it may take up, the attention to graphical detail shows and this is, by a slight margin, the best looking game in the trilogy.

The Mode 7 levels are about equal in quality to Empire. Though still hopelessly outdated compared to 3D gaming on a modern console, some of these levels at least do the SNES some justice. The Millenium Falcon level that takes place on the Death Star exterior is especially noticeable in that it looks a generation better than in Super Star Wars. The enemy Tie Fighters are sharp and recognizable and the background is well drawn and contributes to the three dimensional illusion. In contrast, the speeder bike scene on Endor, though once the technological darling of the videogame media, has since aged like…well, let’s just say it looks like its lived through a car wreck.

Conclusion

Super Return of the Jedi is the best looking, most balanced, and all-around complete package of the three games in the Super Star Wars series. Although not significantly different in gameplay than Super Empire Strikes Back, the attention to detail and variety of level designs and character options makes this release a worthy successor. Not only should those who enjoyed the previous release pick this one up, but those who have not played any game in the series are advised to play this one first because of its more forgiving difficulty curve.