Friday 27 March 2015

Snes Review : Super Star Wars : The Empire Strikes Back (Game 074)

How Strong is the Force when a Snes Game is a carbon copy of it's prequel?

Released in 1993
Developed by Sculptured Software.
Published by Lucas Arts / JVC.

"What do you hate about modern gaming?" It was a question posed by a website asked recently. Highest on the list of pet peeves was "game content sold as DLC"; gamers understandably were annoyed that they have to pay extra to access content that they have already paid for. Amongst the comments below the article were countless users singing the praises of the retro glory days. They longed for a time when you didn't have to patch your game to have it work. They missed the days when you weren't re-sold last years most popular game, deceived into thinking it was a new game because the graphics and level layout had changed.

'Super Star Wars : The Empire Strikes Back' is proof that the games of yesteryear are just as guilty when it comes to re-selling you the same game in new clothes. Even a casual glance at the games prequel 'Super Star Wars' will make it very obvious that the two games share DNA. It wasn't something that escaped Jonathan Davies' attention when he reviewed the game for Super Play magazine. "I loved 'Super Star Wars' he recalled, "I played it lots, eventually got bored of it and haven't touched it since. Changing the graphics around a bit [in the sequel] just isn't enough to rekindle my interest." Like its predecessor ' Super Empire Strikes Back' is in the main a brutally hard side scrolling action platformer, with the running jumping levels interspersed with mode7 stage when you get to pilot a craft of some sort. Many may say that the original game is so good that they are happy to pay to have more of it. There is truth in this, but I am of the opinion that a sequel should bring new ideas to the experience, not be a photocopy of a game that was released the previous year. Edge magazine too couldn’t ignore the striking similarities and believed "it’s all too similar. It follows the same level-boss format and in so doing it quickly loses its appeal. If you liked the original – and many of you did – then 'Super Empire Strikes Back' is worth a look, but don’t expect any radical changes. The story has moved on, but the play mechanics remain the same."

As should be obvious from the game’s name 'Super Empire Strikes Back' is a game based on the second, or chronologically the fifth, 'Star Wars' film. However (as with the previous game) while the same overarching story is told through stills between the levels, rather large liberties have been taken with the source material. Some scenes from the film have been greatly expanded, leading to a lot more shooting and light sabre swinging than the film ever had. The game’s developers also seem to be in love with the parts of the film set on the icy planet Hoth since half the game is set here. However other parts of the source film, the asteroid chase for example, barely gets a look in. 

The 'Star Wars' series of games are known for their impressive visuals and while it does look as graphically exciting as 'Super Star Wars' the sequel suffers more from slow down. It wasn't a fault over looked by reviewers with some even noting that "whole swathes of some levels only ever seem to operate in slow motion". The films familiar cast of characters have had a brilliant pixel make over though, with detailed sprites infused with character and charm. The environments they inhabit, immediately recognisable to any Star Wars fan, are equally detailed, but there is much less variety that that seen in the prequel. Far too many stages are ice based, and though some may be in icy caves rather than in snow fields the palette used remains identical. This lack of variety only draws more attention to the inherent problem true of all run and gun style games; what you do is essentially the same in all of the platforming stages. 

Even with a choice of characters with varied weapons and skills, should you reach the end of the game its likely boredom would have set in. The operative word in that sentence is "should", since getting too far into 'Super Empire Strikes Back' is very difficult. Like the previous game the difficulty will prove too much for the majority and deaths aren't always fair or avoidable. Game length feels artificially elongated by instant kill falls and surprise enemy attacks, with infrequent continue points adding to the frustration. Super Play magazine noted; "the difficulty level is nightmarish. Stages set in Dagobah are best tackled by closing your eyes, holding down Right and pressing Y and B a lot. Within the space of a few seconds without you doing anything noticeably crap you're dead". The game is made all the more difficult by the bulk of it being set in the ice environments, as with ice comes characters slipping around uncontrollably regardless of what the player does.
"This was our first attempt to add a ‘slippery’ factor to gameplay,” Kalani Streicher, producer and lead designer of the ‘Super Star Wars’trilogy admits. “It was difficult to test because of the many ways to slide into objects and assure proper collision. We also had to work hard on making the tiling of ice pieces look organic and not too repetitive." In retrospect Kalani admits that limiting the responsiveness of a playable character in a game series that’s notorious for its challenge, probably wasn't the best idea the developers had. "These were difficult games. We were aiming at the hardcore. Everybody was a hardcore player back then! I definitely could not deliver such difficult games today. In hindsight, I would reduce the enemy damage by 10-20 per cent, make the player character able to absorb more damage, add more power-ups and improve level design."

Luckily, unlike 'Super Star Wars' this game has passwords, essentially giving you infinite continues. Without them it's hard to imagine many would see beyond the numerous stages based on Hoth and would miss half the game. It's certainly a game worth sticking at though. As the game follows the same narrative as the film, the most enjoyable parts of Super 'Empire Strikes Back' can be found at the end. As can be expected, the best parts of the film equate to the best parts of the game.
While battles with Boba Fett and screen filling bosses like a swamp creature and the 'Metroid' inspired Wampa Beast are exciting, the climactic fight with Darth Vader is the real reason you'll endure all the pain it takes to get to the end. With a rousing chiptune version of John Williams' classic 'Star Wars' soundtrack creating atmosphere, the game’s closing force duel feels suitably epic. The problem is such unique high points only draws attention to how monotonous rest of the game is.

Jonathan Davies concluded his Super Play review by saying 'Super Empire Strikes Back' is more of the same for 'Super Star Wars' fans and that's not necessarily the recommendation it may first sound like". So similar are the Snes 'Star Wars' games that were 'Super Empire Strikes Back' released today it would almost certainly have to be downloadable content. It would take quite an audacious publisher to sell such a similar game for a full retail price. DLC may have only come about with the advent of technology capable of delivering the content, but selling more of the same has therefore been some that existed since the 16bit era. Maybe modern gamers don't have it so bad after all. 

Where did I get this game from?
Much like ‘Super Star Wars’ I got this game in an exchange with a fellow collector. It has sat on myself until the recent excitement surrounding ‘Secret Cinema’s Empire Strikes Back’ set my Twitter account ablaze and I remembered I had completely forgotten to play this game.

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