Years ago, when the Star Wars franchise wasn’t under the world-dominating scrutiny of the House of Mouse, developers were farming out all games like no one’s business. And while that did mean we were ‘treated’ to the likes of Star Wars: Demolition and Kinect Star Wars, it also meant the long-defunct LucasArts produced some of the best genre-crossing gems of the ‘90s and the ‘00s. The Jedi Knight franchise (and its more traditional FPS progenitor, Dark Forces) was one such bountiful series, culminating in the expansive and varied action-adventure, Star Wars: Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy in 2003.
Fast-forward 17 years and the journey of young padawan Jaden Korr has been ported over to Nintendo Switch, following in the footsteps of the game’s direct predecessor, Star Wars: Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast. Much like Jedi Outcast, Jedi Academy benefits from improved visuals, modernised controls (including motion, naturally) and support for online multiplayer. That’s right – Jedi Academy proved to be a real treat both on PC and the original Xbox (back when Xbox Live was still a bright young thing) with its own support for multiplayer. That mode is fully present on Switch, but before we get into that feature, let’s take a look at the campaign.
Unlike the previous games, the customisation of online and local play influenced the core story, trading series antihero Kyle Katarn for a fresh Force-sensitive progeny. So instead of a gruff, beardy human, you can select from a number of different species, genders and outfits. You can even start off by customising the look of your lightsaber and the colour of its blade. It’s a simple RPG addition, but it immediately helps Jedi Academy feel a little more personable back when multiplayer gaming and online avatars were becoming more and more prevalent.
While not being able to play as series antihero Kyle Katarn is still a bit a letdown after so many years battling the Sith (or joining them, depending on your Force persuasions), having the opportunity to play as a brand new character does make more sense as you, Luke and co head out into the galaxy to uncover a new Sith plot while fighting off the ever-present Imperial Remnant. The plot itself isn’t the best the series has ever achieved (Jedi Knight’s wonderfully corny FMV scenes will forever wear that crown), but it does feature a huge variety of levels, many of which offer more than one way to approach a mission. You can choose to follow the Dark Side or the Light, and your choices will affect the game’s ending in true Jedi Knight fashion.
Combat is quite clumsy, but then again, that was part of its charm back in the day. Playing the likes of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order shows just how far we’ve come in terms of melee finesse, and while it is possible to ‘master’ the slash and pray combat model, it’s a tough ask when you trade the greater control of a mouse for the far less responsive analogue sticks of the Joy-Cons – an issue that’s been made very apparent since PC players recently found a way to access Switch servers, creating a crossplay bloodbath in multiplayer where non-keyboard and mouse players regularly paid with their virtual lives. However, the inclusion of different stances and lightsaber hilts – which actively adjust your overall movement and position – does help add some much-needed strategy to the campaign if you’re willing to spend the time to learn their nuances.
PC death squads aside (a fix is in the works), we’re pleased to see a retro online component retained in a modern port. Multiplayer was dropped from the port of Jedi Outcast, but it’s retained here – albeit with more than a few concessions. You can jump into all the usual modes – including classic deathmatches with weapons, force powers, lightsabers and more – and with support for up to sixteen players online it’s a decent recreation of a popular multiplayer haunt. Not being able to select specific servers does make matchmaking more of a Russian roulette, but with the ability to customise match rules (such as Force powers and weapon types) the slapstick combat of Jedi Academy makes for a fun if forgettable online experience.
In terms of controls, port specialist Aspyr has done its best to ‘modernise’ a game that did feel quite clunky and imprecise, especially when it came to the focal lightsaber combat. It’s certainly a little smoother this time around, with the addition of quick shortcuts for your Force powers enabling you to access them a little faster in the heat of a battle. When it comes to presentation, the in-game visuals have transitioned over surprisingly well (despite those classic awkward animations), but pre-rendered cutscenes seemingly haven’t been adjusted and really look out of place as part of the whole package.
The aspect ratio of the game has also been changed, and not for the better. The widescreen format is now standard, and with no option to change it back to the original ratio you’re left with a portion of the screen cut off at the top (something that really stands out in cutscenes where character faces are sometimes partially obscured). Bizarrely, the option to switch between ratios was present in the port of Jedi Outcast, but not here.
While it’s not the best the series has been – many could argue Jedi Knight II or Jedi Outcast will perpetually battle for that title – Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy is still a fun and lengthy trek across the (non-canon) Star Wars universe. The multiplayer doesn’t live up to its former glories, but the sprawling and semi non-linear campaign certainly makes up for it with its lightning-fast lightsaber combat and that quintessentially silly approach to Star Wars that was still rife in the early 2000s. Don’t expect Jedi: Fallen Order, but do expect a time capsule of an action-adventure.