A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…
That opening text is now stuff of legend and it was in the 90's, too. Star Wars, no matter its incarnation; has most typically equalled bank. It's a series that's firmly rooted in pop culture and the success of the original film spawned a life time of revenue for George Lucas and co. with all that tasty merchandise that's continuously flown off shelves since the late 70's.
It only makes sense that it would translate to the world of video games, with fans consistently clamouring for a shot at fulfilling all their space opera dreams. Atari were the first clever sausages to strike while the iron was hot when they presented the arcade title simply known as Star Wars back in 1983. Quite simply, it was absolutely brilliant. A first person shooter with glorious 3D vector graphics (in colour, no less). One of the highest grossing cabinets of all time, it also had a conversion kit to turn it into Empire Strikes Back. Clever, clever Atari! That said, this review isn't for that Star Wars arcade game, no…
This review is for the 1993 Sega game and even more specifically its 1994 port to the 32X known as Star Wars Arcade. Set during the original trilogy, one could easily pass it off as a semi-remake, or at least spiritual successor to the Atari original. But that is an inevitability of being under the same license banner, more than anything. It was a launch title for the 32X add-on of the MegaDrive (or Genesis, if you're North American) and thus is a good entry point for people looking at getting into the system.
The game will flash up on screen whenever you need to take evasive action, which I found works best to slow down and pull your 'Wing into an opposing direction, which then the enemies will happily fly over/under/around you, allowing you to line up a shot and take those suckers out. Flight controls are inverted as standard, which is fine for me, but I know some will bitch and moan about, so beware I guess. While your regular laser cannon thingies have unlimited shots (you can literally hold down the button for built-in rapid/turbo fire), the protons are more limited with five-a-go, but replenish themselves fairly quickly. In cockpit view, you will notice a number under the small schematic of your ship which indicates how many hits you can take before kicking the bucket.
I have noticed while going to review this for myself, that Star Wars Arcade for the Sega 32X has had a bit of a mixed bag reception from a critical stand point. One of the heavy criticisms besides the repetitive nature (which, let's be fair; it is pretty rinse-repeat, not to mention fairly short) is the controls being bad, or at least cumbersome to a degree. While I would agree that would likely be the case if you decided to go three button on this bad boy, using the recommended pad I don't particularly see this as an issue. Sure, the X/Y-Wing can be slow to manoeuvre, but once you adjust yourself to it it very rarely becomes an issue and I personally found that I adjusted fairly quickly to it myself. So, perhaps its a more it either clicks with you or it doesn't.
Overall, the gameplay is average to good with this one. That said, the enemy AI can be a little dumb at times (remember how I said to literally just pull the opposite direction? Yeah), but that doesn't really reflect negatively on the pure enjoyment factor. It's fun to shoot things. In space.
Presentation-wise Star Wars Arcade nails it, in all honesty and fairness. It's a fitting home console entry to the franchise that doesn't suffer some of the ill effects of its less arcade-like cousins. Many fan favourite characters appear (aforementioned Ackbar, R2-D2 and Darth Vader) and to have a chance to recreate the trench run with those sassy 3D polygons is as cool now as it was back in 1994.
Graphically speaking, where this is an early console 3D title, you could argue that it's a bit messy or lacking in definition. Yet for whatever reason, I still feel it works. Yeah it aint Battlefront on the Xbox One, but you can't compare that way. This was a quickly produced (reportedly rushed) launch title for a system with untapped potential, acting as an admirable attempt at recreating the magic of what you'd seen in the arcade little over a year earlier. I dig it, at least. This being my review and thus unabashed opinion on the matter, that's what counts! Though, that's why Transbot kicks in with his two cents at the end and why we have screenshots for you to view and a longplay link to help you make your own pre-assessment.
Obviously there are a fair few cues taken from the musical scores of the movies. They all come off sounding like decent MD stylings of the originals and are instantly recognisable even to the non-seasoned Jedi amongst the crowds. I particularly approve of the admittedly tad random use of the genius “Cantina Song” for when it comes time to enter your name for the highscore screen. The game is also chock full of digitised voice samples (see Konami? It's possible!), whether it's Ackbar yelling about fending off TIE Fighters or the nice little bits of dialogue as you approach the Death Star.
Being an arcade game both in name and nature, the story is practically non-existent. You play as a Pilot (unless you're the P2 Gunner) of either an X-Wing or Y-Wing for the Rebel Alliance, taking orders from Admiral Ackbar (“It's a TRAP!”) and getting into dog fights in space with various TIE Fighters. Basic stuff. Just every day occurrences for a Rebel pilot/gunner back in the day. The player is given the option of two game modes, either that of the original Arcade version; or the extended and “more challenging” 32X mode.
Before you even get to the menu, you are treated to a nice little animation sequence that mimics the films opening somewhat. That's also the first time you get an idea of how the game will mostly look, at least during the actual gameplay segments.
Obviously this is a post-Street Fighter II release, thus a 6-Button MD pad is recommended as it alludes to on the box. But back then, if you had the cash to splash on a 32X upgrade, my betting is that you sure as heck could have afforded to upgrade your controller by then, too. That said, in my honest opinion; as soon as the 6-Button became available every man, woman and wookiee should have owned one, simply for it being one of the greatest controllers known to humankind. Alas!
The reason the newer pad becomes a bit of a necessity here is simply due to making the in-game controls a little less awkward. You need your button to slow down, to speed up, one to shoot regularly, one to shoot proton torpedos and another for changing perspective. As you should instantly tell, that requires more than three buttons. So, yeah...Speaks for itself, really.
Missions are mostly dog fights, as mentioned previous. As you pilot your X/Y-Wing about, you are often set the task of downing a set amount of TIE Fighters, with three core stages. First up is an asteroid field, followed by one which sets you off into a location where you are surrounded by Star Destroyers before finally looking to recreate the original flick with you flying about the surface of the Death Star before going on to recreate Luke Skywalker's heroic trench run.
It's on the 32X Mode that (unless I'm mad and my brains making it up) that you may notice it is all relatively “easy” until you reach the Death Star. When you get there, the difficulty spikes, with more TIE's, Darth Vader himself flying about and a multitude of turrets, etc. and more obstacles to crash into. This eats away at your shields fairly quickly and makes R2-D2 scream. No, seriously. I would make a guess this is where the so-called added challenge comes into play. Pretty sneaky, Sega. Personally, I found it better to utilise the first person setting. Not only does it look nicer, but you have added displays including a mini-map that lets you know where the enemy TIE Fighters are lurking.
If you don't like flying solo, a second player can control the Gunner while you're the Pilot as alluded to early on in this review, however this means you must choose the Y-Wing at the start. You share the screen, with just differing cursors/targets. Now, for this review I didn't get a chance to do any multiplayer action as I'm a lonely and impatient sod, so that's that, really. Hence the screenshots that have the Gunner listed on this page having zero points. I just consider R2-D2 as my co-pilot and that gives me a fuzzy feeling all of its own…
Although in my older yet only partially wiser years I align myself much more with Star Trek than I do Star Wars, but I would be a liar if I told you this title didn't just take me right back to being a kid. It was fun. Super fun! If this was a personally slanted review only and not at all objective, then it'd pretty much be garnering straight tens. It felt good to be completely shut out from the real world, just to pretend that I really was a Pilot for the Rebel Alliance and that I really did just take out the goshdarn Death Star. Awesome, awesome stuff.
At the end of the day, I would happily recommend Star Wars Arcade to any fan of the franchise or any one who is looking to get into the 32X. It's one of the more common games for collectors, too. While it may struggle to fully replicate the experience of being in the arcade and absorbing yourself into the action in its purest form, this certainly acts as a damn fine gateway drug and exists as a decent title worth playing in its own right.
In terms of other options out there, there is of course a plethora of Star Wars games available, both retro and contemporary. Especially those that cater to the very genre of ship based battles and dog fights such as this. But before you go reaching back for your Xbox One or PS4 pad, show some love to an under-appreciated classic and give Star Wars Arcade a shot.
May the force be with you, retrobates!
Verdict:- It's Star Wars, it's from the arcades...
It's Star Wars Arcade for the Sega MegaDrive/Genesis by way of the mighty yet hated 32X! Basically, a game that does exactly as it says on the tin.
While not the most perfect port of a top arcade title ever seen, we have seen much, much worse. Does it beg the question how much more polished it could have been? Sure. But what is here is a rather good game on its own merit.
Personally, I love it. I really enjoyed myself going back and reviewing this for RGG as the nostalgia factor kicked in and went into overdrive.
Like Star Wars? Ever wanted to stick the proverbial boot to the Imperial forces? Well, this game gives you that opportunity. Plus, it's Sega. It's a win-win!
Second Opinion:- Sometimes all a system ever truly needs is that 'One' game that tells you very clearly why it's worth either playing or owning. Now whilst eventually the 32X system had several games that fit that category in it's short lifespan it was this game that really should have sold the add-on in it's millions.
Superb to look at, amazing to hear and a joy to play this was every kid's dream game from the franchise. The only problem being that it was too expensive to own because the 32X was massively over priced so 99% of potential fans missed out.
As a game though it was magnificent, all these years later the force is still exceptionally strong in this one. I find it hard to fault and i'm sure those who feel a connection to the franchise will either.
Transbot Scores:- 9 out of 10