Throughout the history of videogames, various consoles have served as one of the many pulpits for the gospel of film marketing. Videogame adaptations of movies are a strange breed. Motion Pixels will examine one such game each week, dissecting the basic gameplay, the graphics, and how faithfully it adapts the film on which it is based. Some are good, some are awful, and some are just down right weird, but they are all interesting experiments. We will also take a look at other cogs in a given film’s marketing machine. Grab some popcorn and a joystick and let the games begin!
Game/Movie: Super Star Wars
Graphics and Mechanics
Super Star Wars is a stellar platformer. The multidimensional environments engulf the player into the universe of the first film. There are sand dunes for miles on Tatooine, recognizable faces sitting in booths in the Mos Eisley cantina, and Tie Fighters whizzing by the foreground of the Death Star. The design of the characters is inspired and the specific, detailed movement of Luke’s hair or Chewbacca’s fur is phenomenal. The fact that characters can leap at you from the seemingly matte backgrounds or emerge from hallways along a surprising z-axis simultaneously enriches the game and gives it an arcade-style aesthetic. The eventual ability to select from multiple characters highlighted by flashing lights and heralded by signature sounds upon selection does little to stifle this arcade feel.
To say Super Star Wars is a step up from the NES Star Wars game is a bantha-sized understatement. The upswing in graphics are a given considering the 16bit jump, but ironically it’s a simplification of game procedure that represents Super Stars Wars’ champion improvement upon the NES version. The NES Star Wars game utilized a sort of TMNT engine with a top-down view that would require the gamer to navigate through large maps with various landmarks serving as the entrance to side-scrolling levels. As it if weren’t difficult enough to single-handedly raze the Galactic Empire to ruins, now I have to figure out which cave Obi-wan is hiding in? With Super Star Wars, the game progression is far more straightforward; get to the end, fight the boss, move on. That’s not to say the whole game is a monotonous, perpetual trek from the left side of the screen to the right. There are intermittent levels involving the piloting of vehicles to keep it fresh and entertaining.
But does this streamlining of gameplay make Super Star Wars easier?
The prevalence of enemies in each level is taxing enough. But when combined with the absence of adequate weaponry (i.e. the light saber) throughout most of the game, they become a swell of infuriating needles from Vader’s interrogation droid slowly sapping away all your health. As an added perk, the enemies’ rate of regeneration is insane. No sooner did the laser blast that decimated a scorpion dissipate before another had immerged in its place. For Yoda’s sake, Jason Voorhees takes longer to return to his feet!
God Darth Mode
There is a feeling of abject surrender inherent in using a cheat code. It was my hope that I would never use them for this column as it sullies the purity of the unspoken challenge between gamer and game. I am also fully aware of the scorn I am inviting by admitting to utilizing this nefarious resource; may even get the death sentence on twelve systems for it. But the awful truth is that I was not able to get past the fourth level of the game and it made little sense to try and examine only the first four levels of a videogame; one would not watch twenty minutes of a movie and then write a review. Sure I could read a walkthrough online, but that seemed the recipe for a truly hollow article devoid of personal perspective. But despite these logical, mitigating factors, the nagging guilt over potentially using a cheat code vexed me.
I therefore exhausted every contingency I could think of before stooping to such lowly measures. I even gathered together the wretched hive of scum and villainy that is my most gaming-inclined cohorts and despaired as one by one they failed as I had. At one point I actually had to change out a controller as frustration saw one splintering across the linoleum at the foot of the fireplace. When I was finally forced to employ the cheat code to afford me the option of skipping levels, it required entering a twenty-button combo within the span of fifteen seconds and the use of a second controller to actually activate. In other words, Super Star Wars is such an appallingly difficult game that even the cheat codes are overly complicated.
Once you actually get to the Death Star hanger, the plethora of gaping pits into which your character just loves to plunge are bad enough. So why must we also have tiny survey droids with the ability to shove you across the screen and directly into said pits? On what planet is a fully-grown Wookie at the mercy the five-pound Imperial equivalent of a Roomba? Oh, and the coup de grace of this level is the fact that passing Tie Fighters also inflict damage upon you if you fail to evade them. Objects in the foreground THE SIZE OF THE SCREEN must be dodged repeatedly and, again, without the advantage of logical patterns. I might as well have attempted to play this level with the blast shield down.
I played through to the end of the game, the seminal flight through the trench, and was just able to avoid the volley of torpedoes and tie fighters...
...necessary to reveal Darth himself. From inside his personal fighter, Darth ends up posing less threat than any other boss. By the game’s dubious logic, the lord of all Sith is less imposing than the reactor that controls the Death Star’s tractor beam? Sure, and ED-209 is no match for the water softener at OCP right? One memorable explosion later, the game is over.
Faithful to its Source?
Like you wouldn’t believe. Super Star Wars is essentially a remake of the NES game so it begins with the exact same recreation of Episode IV’s opening sequence. But in Super Star Wars, the colors and graphics provide for a gorgeous, drool-inducing love letter to the Star Destroyer and the ill-fated consular ship that served as the genesis of one of the greatest saga’s ever told. The music, all John William’s standards, rings nostalgically beautiful as the MIDI orchestra fills the room. The attention to every geeky detail is just staggering. The sight of Ponda Baba, Garindan, and Labria leaping to fight you in the cantina is the realization of many a childhood scenario enacted with boxes and boxes of action figures. I also love that one of the bosses is the Kalhar monster from the chessboard on the Millennium Falcon.
The ability to fly an X-wing and take part in the Rebellion’s decisive victory over the evil Empire is gleefully geeky.
The game sticks fairly closely to the plot of the film…fairly. Once you reach the end of the first level, and battle the goddamn Sarlaac monster of all things...
....the cinematic break reveals Luke’s discovering of C-3PO near the crashed escape pod. Given the context of the film, that means that all the effort to which you just went was merely Luke on his way to work in the morning. But I suppose otherwise the first level would involve drinking blue milk and whining incessantly about going to Tosche Station for power converters; works better to establish Luke as a badass right out of the gate as opposed to a sniveling, feathered-haired bitch. I also love that the green space rabbits, that I originally mistook as a reference to Jaxxon from the Marvel comics, turned out to be the womp rats upon Luke admits to enacting so much cruelty. I enjoy that the game takes the time to feature creatures alluded to but never seen in the original trilogy; impressive…most impressive.
In the cinematic break, as Luke and Obi-wan are listening to her holographic image give these instructions, it’s hard for the hardcore Star Wars geeks not to notice this planetary switcheroo. There is a completely reasonable argument to be made that since Alderaan is blasted to space dust on Peter Cushing’s orders, apparently Dracula isn’t the only thing that dude can destroy, that there could never be an Alderaan level and therefore the line would have to be altered. Sure, except there’s no level on Yavin in the game either! So if the change isn’t to denote actual game story points, why change it? Apparently it’s been many settings of the two suns since I’ve been outside.
License to Sell
The sugary goodness could have completed the devolution back to childhood and provided warm comfort after such crippling failure. The game continually struck me down, but I did not become any more powerful in the process.