With Star Wars: The Force Unleashed coming out later this year, it's a perfect time to look at the history of LucasArts video games. Unfortunately, the long road of Star Wars tie-in games hasn't always been pretty. We've come a long way since the old 8-bit games of 1983, and here are some of the high and low points of the past 25 years.
- The first game to bear the Star Wars name was The Empire Strikes Back for the Atari 2600. You could fly around as Luke Skywalker taking down AT-ATs which inexplicably had one tiny space on their backsides which allowed you to destroy them easily. Too bad the Rebels didn't know about this in the movie.
- They followed that one up with the equally forgettable The Return of the Jedi: Death Star Attack on the same system, and it faded like a an iron-on tranfer that's been washed 2,000 times.
- Probably the worst (or at least simplest) Star Wars game to come out of the Halls of Lucas was 1983s Jedi Arena, which featured an overhead shot of... two dueling lightsabers. The little Star Wars target probe would pop out every now and then to irritate the crap out of you, and you'd try to vanquish your opponent.
- The real Star Wars game that most people think of and remember as the first in the genre was the coin-op game Star Wars from Atari in 1983. The thing came in both standup and sitdown versions, and featured digitized voices from the game. It was vector graphic goodness, and for some reason it was also addictive as hell. You could even "Use the Force" by not firing a shot during the trench run on the Death Star for bonus points.
- Atari also put out versions of Return of the Jedi in 1983, and a strangely out of order The Empire Strikes Back in 1984. Jedi featured a weird 3/4 angle looking down at speeder bikes, but Empire returned to the vector graphic format. You could find Jedi at theaters across America, but Empire was extremely hard to come by.
- Star Wars games faded from the limelight until 1991 when Ubisoft Games released Star Wars on the Nintendo, but the game really looked best on the Super Nintendo where it appeared as Super Star Wars, Super Empire Strikes Back, and Super Return of the Jedi. These were side-scrollers that were surprisingly fun to play, especially since the Jawas would say "Utinnin!' over and over.
- Part of what I can blame my low grades for in college was the release of Star Wars: X-Wing in 1993. It was a flight and combat simulator based on the X-Wing, and it was obsessively fun because... well, you're in the cockpit of an X-Wing. What kid hasn't dreamed about that? It had expansion packs for more missions, different kinds of ships, and later led to Star Wars: TIE Fighter in 1994.
- By 1996, the Star Wars gaming renaissance was in full swing, and LucasArts released Shadows of the Empire for the Nintendo 64. It was set between Empire and Jedi, and followed the exploits of Dash Rendar, a sort of Han Solo-ish mercenary. In fact, Shadows of the Empire was also a novel, a comic book, an action figure line, and a soundtrack release for Lucas, in an attempt to take advantage of all types of multimedia at once.
- In 1997, the popularity of fighting games on gaming consoles was hard to resist, so LucasArts released Masters of Teras Kasi, where you could pit Chewbacca against Luke Skywalker, and so forth. The game had some decent animations, but mostly sucky gameplay. Just explain to me in what world a Gamorrean Guard could beat Darth Vader.
- With the prequels came more opportunities for video games, and there were a slew of forgettable Episode I games on the consoles and on PCs. However, Episode I Racer in 1999, which was a game solely about podracing, can still be found in most arcades around the country. It's not half bad, even if that movie did suck.
- In 2001 LucasArts created a launch game for the Nintendo GameCube with Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader, which features the word "rogue" in the title two times, just so you're sure. It was a sequel to 1998's Rogue Squadron, which was a Nintendo 64 (and later Windows) title. It spanned all three movies, and tried to fill in gaps in the story.
- In 2001, 2002, and 2003 LucasArts released Star Wars Starfighter, Jedi Starfighter, and The Clone Wars, all with declining sales, and they featured elements like stale gameplay, and repetitive missions.
- 2001 was also the year that LucasArts tried to go after the hardcore strategy gamers with Galactic Battlegrounds. It featured gameplay similar to Warcraft (not World of, mind you, which hadn't been invented yet).
- 2002 was a year of Star Wars sequel games, giving us not only Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast (which was a sequel to Dark Forces: Jedi Knight, which was itself a sequel to Dark Forces) but also Racer Revenge, which was an update to the Episode I Racer game.
- Dark Forces actually followed a character created specifically for the video games, Kyle Katarn. He was originally an Imperial Officer, but later turned and became a spy for the rebellion. He was played by actor Jason Court for Dark Forces: Jedi Knight II.
- 2003 saw both the release of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Star Wars Galaxies, both of which were the first Star Wars roleplaying games. Knights was set 4,000 years before A New Hope, but Galaxies was in the "current" Star Wars universe. However, while Knights was a huge hit and spawned a sequel (and possibly an upcoming third game), Galaxies was reviled for having sucky gameplay and things like dancing Wookies.
- In 2004 Lucas brought Battlefield style gaming to the table with Star Wars Battlefront, where you could play as a single soldier in massive battles set in the Star Wars storyline and universe.
- Republic Commando in 2005 was, for my money, one of the most underrated Star Wars games, featuring you as a clone trooper who had to issue squadron commands to the other clones under his command. It was set amidst plot holes in the prequels, and was genuinely Anakin-free fun.
- However, one of the most fun Star Wars games, both in gameplay and with the supplied tongue-in-cheek humor was Lego Star Wars: The Video Game. It was irreverent, sassy, and pure dumb fun. It was followed up with Lego Star Wars: The Original Trilogy in 2006 and Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga in 2007. Later this year you'll also be able to pick up Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures.
- While there are many to choose from, what wins the award for the crappiest game ever to bear the Star Wars name? That would have to be Star Wars: Super Bombad Racing from 2001. It featured big-headed versions of the movie characters racing around go-kart style. While the Star Wars Lego titles could take something like this and make it fun, this game just sucked, bombad.