A Long Time Ago (1992 in fact), In a Galaxy Far, Far Away (or rather, Salt Lake City, Utah); a developer by the name of Sculptured Software embarked on their own saga to bring the classic Star Wars Trilogy to the Super Nintendo.
George Lucas’ space opera was no stranger to the realm of video games, not even a stranger to Nintendo systems in fact – As the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System was home to adaptations of both A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. Published by JVC, these platform adventures didn’t quite hit the mark, even as movie licenses go. Then, of course, there’s that Namco-developed Japanese version.
However, with the advent of 16-bit systems, there came a new opportunity to do these movies justice. Even a decade after the release of the original cinematic finale of the saga, Return of the Jedi, the franchise was still popular and so, a game like Super Star Wars made complete business sense. Utilising every one of the Super Nintendo’s strengths, this action platformer takes players from Luke Skywalker’s farmboy beginnings on Tatooine, to the iconic Death Star Trench.
Presentation-wise, you can’t help but be impressed. Sure, that iconic theme-tune has a MIDI-cheesiness to it, but if you compare it to 1992 standards, it’s pretty damn good. The cutscenes in-between levels hit on all of the main story beats so it really does feel like you’re playing through the film, even if there is a fair amount of artistic license going on.
Super Star Wars Review – It’s Going To Get Weird
And from the start, you really get a feel for how far that artistic license goes. How else can you explain Luke Skywalker blasting acid-spitting scorpions across the Dune Sea before going toe-to-toe with a Sarlacc Pit Monster? And that’s just the first level.
Super Star Wars more or less plays like a run and gunner for most of the time. Naturally, Luke’s abilities are fairly limited at this early point in the game – He can fire his blaster, crouch, perform a Super Jump with up and jump, and perform a sliding move with Down and jump. Your biggest challenge is trying not to get hit. Especially as this is the sort of title that will happily throw enemies at you repeatedly from nowhere. They’ll spawn from all directions and at the most inopportune moments, usually when you’re trying to jump between platforms. Even on Easy difficulty, there is a great deal of challenge and that unfortunately stems a lot from some slightly unfair design choices.
Moving on and the second level takes you to Mode 7 heaven via a slightly more violent Landspeeder journey than in the movie. In an entire level based around a few moments of the movie that were barely a few seconds long, you’ll be speeding through the desert using the Boost button to travel faster, avoiding rocks and blowing up towers to find fuel containers that you can use to fill your Boost bar. Oh, and you’ve got to brutally murder a certain number of Jawas before racing to their Sandcrawler to slaughter more of their kind.
Level three takes place outside the Jawa’s Sandcrawler, where you start outside its tracks and have to find your way to the entrance all the way at the top. It’s here where the game starts to figuratively kick you repeatedly in the balls. Everything you hate in a platformer rears its ugly head here: Jumping between platforms that are almost too far to jump to. Turrets and enemies that fire at your while you’re trying to make those incredible jumps, plus a few platforms that would almost be out of sight if you weren’t able to look up and down by pressing the L & R buttons. Oh, and having to climb all the way back up if you fall down. Then, as you reach the top and have to pass a metric turd-load of turrets, you quickly realise that Super Star Wars is not always so kind with the checkpoints. However, it is kind enough to let you restart from those few checkpoints even after losing all your lives and using a continue. Get used to seeing Vader’s face taunting you, though. Sometimes, you’ll find Health Swords that increase your health bar, but honestly, you’ll probably experience more deaths through instant kills such as bottomless pits, or lava.
Now you’re inside the Sandcrawler, it’s time for some more needless Jawa murder and a body count that rivals Robocop. Tight corridors make for the perfect kill zone, especially as you find the occasional blaster powerup that takes you from a weedy laser to a more powerful Flame shot, then to a super useful Seeker missile upgrade. After that, there’s the Rapid Ion cannon, and finally the uber-powerful Plasma gun. These powerups pretty much become a necessity as you start to face endless hordes of enemies that are utter bullet sponges. Even with the Plasma shot, you’ll be plugging away for some time at some of these mechanical enemies and biological monstrosities.
Annoyingly, you’ll lose these powerups the moment you lose a life, which is pretty frustrating inside the Sandcrawler, as the level ends with some horrible jumps over molten steel that kills you if touched. It won’t surprise you to know that the end of this level takes place over such a substance, as you jump between platforms to avoid the attacks of an ugly and very angry Lava Beast called Jawenko. You might think this ugly beast is another enemy made up for the game, and you’d be right – However, this beast would become a canonical part of Star Wars lore, showing up in 2017’s Secrets of the Empire VR experience. Turns out this nasty creature is native to the planet Mustafar and one such beast found itself stranded on Tatooine many years ago. Once you’ve blown this thing full of holes, you find that for some reason known only to Jawenko, it was guarding R2D2 all along.
Another brief cutscene and a quick “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi” later, you’re on your way to the so-called Land of the Sandpeople. The two suns of Tatooine are shining down on you, the perfect climate for leaping across crumbling rock platforms and slaughtering the local Sandpeople, taking the odd break to thin out the local wildlife and also get a little revenge on a few more Jawas. Here we start to see a few auto-scrolling areas featuring platforms that fall, and also the occasional flying beast that needs a bit of swatting in between leaps. Eventually, you’ll finally meet up with old Ben, and get your father’s trusty lightsaber before he sends you out into the Land of the Banthas.
From here on out, Luke can now swap between blaster and lightsaber at will, which does bolster your offensive capabilities somewhat – Even if Luke isn’t a Jedi yet, he’s relatively proficient enough with it. Of course, you’ve now got something you can swing at enemies with by equipping the lightsaber, but there’s more than that. Luke’s utilitarian super jump becomes a whirling sabre jump of doom – Probably the deadliest offensive tool in the entire game, in fact. It’s pretty handy on this level as you’ll come across a few angry Banthas, which literally explode when killed – Do they live on a diet of Thermal Detonators? Actually, speaking of Thermal Detonators, sometimes enemies drop them and they are a time-limited Smart Bomb of sorts, destroying every enemy on screen when they’re activated, provided you do so before the indicator at the top of the screen disappears.
More violence occurs until you reach a gigantic Mutant Womp Rat. This one clearly heard of Luke’s boast of bulls eyeing its smaller brethren in his T-16 back home, and is incredibly pissed off about the whole thing, to be honest. Still, you have a lightsaber now, so a few bonks on the head will sort that disagreement out in a typically explosive fashion. As I said at the start of this Super Star Wars review, artistic license is definitely a little kooky here.
Another Landspeeder section awaits, and you’re once again ensuring the Jawa race has no further future on Tatooine, while you’re on your way to the filthy spaceport of Mos Eisley.
Unfortunately, when you get there it’s raining Stormtroopers. No joke – They literally fall from the sky and are coming to get you. There are a few Jawas still alive, but they’re no match for you now, and for some reason, these Dewbacks don’t mind you using them as platforms. This level feels pretty long and has a lot of repeating moments, plus the constant stream of Stormtroopers gets a little annoying. The Seeker missile powerup is definitely handy here, especially when you face troopers with larger guns. Eventually, you’ll find good old Chewbacca who’ll escort you to the Cantina.
From here on out, you’ll start getting a choice of characters at the beginning of the majority of levels going forward. You could choose Luke, but you’re probably bored of him and his stupid blonde hair by now, so why not give Chewie a spin? You’ve stumbled upon a bar brawl, and it’s a good thing this walking carpet is armed with a bowcaster.
The Cantina’s famous band are playing the only song they know, and you’ve got an all-new set of enemies to blast into high heaven, including Greedo and that guy who gets his arm hacked off. There are weird walrus-type enemies that bounce around and even these irritating shrouded bastards. The clientele doesn’t seem too bothered though, even when a gigantic Kalhar Boss Monster appears. If you recognise him, that’s because he’s a living, breathing version of one of the holo chess pieces back on the Falcon. Apparently, he’s a Mentallian Savrip, a race of sentient lizardfolk. That doesn’t matter though, because he will die like all the rest. In flames.
You’ve now met up with that lovable rogue, Han Solo and that means another character control as you escape from Mos Eisley. This level starts off in a very similar way to your entrance into Mos Eisley to be honest, complete with the rain of Stormtroopers. Might as well tell you about the Darth Vader helmets that enemies occasionally drop, that give you a score multiplier – Pick up multiple Vader helmets and your multiplier will increase. Back to the escape, and after battling a few maintenance droids, this already quite long level descends into a cycle of turrets, droids that cause explosion damage when destroyed, mechanical claws and these incredibly irritating mines that you need to hit with pixel-perfect shots or they’ll hurt you on contact. It all culminates in a battle with a Hover Combat Carrier, piloted by a very nonchalant Stormtrooper. It’s heavily armed, but once you blow away its armaments, it’s a piece of cake.
You’ve now finally got out of Tatooine and are now blowing up tiny droids in the Death Star’s Hanger. TIE Fighters are literally swooping past you, trying to knock you into bottomless pits, before a few Stormtroopers start arriving to let their presence be known. Luckily, this level’s pretty generous with the blaster upgrades, which is good at the end of the Hanger, this ED209 looking son-of-a-nerf-herder arrives. It’s big, it’s shiny and is seemingly invincible, but this Imperial Defence Droid isn’t immune to being repeatedly shot at while it’s excreting missiles from its shiny metal ass.
Another boss destroyed in a freak blaster/lightsaber related explosion, and it’s off to save Princess Leia , the wonderful Princess of Alderaan. Or should that be the rebel formerly known as Princess? Regardless, Stormtroopers aren’t just going to let her walk out the front door, so you’ll need to be on your toes – Especially as there are a few Interrogation Droids flying about the place. It doesn’t help that you’ll also have to slide out of some crushing platforms, usually right next to an enemy that’s more than happy to push you right back in to get squished. A heavily-armed Detention Guard Boss waits for you outside of Leia’s cell, and it seems to have a TARDIS-like inside filled with Stormtroopers to throw at you. This is another “wait for the weak point to appear” kinda boss, and you need to pay close attention to the Seeker missiles it throws at you alongside the occasional vertical laser beam that reveals its weak point. However, before you can say “Aren’t you a little big for a Detention Guard Boss”, once destroyed it then becomes a smaller little droid thing that bounces around, firing Rapid Ion shots everywhere. Thankfully, it’s still pretty easy to defeat by this point.
The Princess is saved and it’s time to blow this joint, but first, you’ll need to disable the Tractor Beam. And by disable, I mean blow the everloving crap out of. The Tractor Beam Core is an entirely vertical level, which does mean it’s the sort of level where you could miss a jump or get knocked off by an enemy and fall all the way to the bottom. Thankfully, there platforms at the left and right of the area that mitigates this risk somewhat. This is one of those levels where going psycho with Seeker missiles is the order of the day. At the very top, is the aforementioned Tractor Beam menacingly lifts up and down, firing weird fiery balls at you. However, Seeker missiles do a great job of both getting rid of the balls and attacking the Tractor Beam itself, so hooray for powerups.
After watching Obi-Wan do the noble Jedi death thing, we retreat to Yavin and hit the final stretch. In another Mode 7 section, you pilot an X-Wing fighter and have to blow up a certain number of TIE fighters and towers before you can proceed with the grand finale, an excursion to that most beloved of Star Wars moments, the infamous Death Star Trench Run.
In this first-person mode, you’ll need to shoot down both TIE Fighters and the missiles they fire at you, before coming face to face with Vader’s TIE Interceptor (which, to be honest, you deal with in the same way as the other enemy Fighters). Once Ol’ Crunchy Helmet is out of the way, you make your final approach – Obi-Wan prompts you to “use the force”, the music gets all tense and you have just a few moments to fire off your photon torpedoes – Failure to do so means you go back to the beginning of the previous Mode 7 level, but success gives you the moment you’ve been waiting for: The pleasing explosion effect that can only be achieved by destroying a Death Star from the inside.
Cue the ending sequence, Chewbacca’s lack of reward risking his life for the galaxy, end credits, yadda yadda yadda. Plus a warning that the Empire might Strike Back. Whatever that means.
The Best Super Star Wars Game?
And that, my friends, is Super Star Wars in its entirety. I must admit, I’m pretty torn about the game in general. Visually, it looks great with sensible use of Mode 7, graphics that are clear even when things are going crazy, and some excellent cutscene art. As you’d expect from a Star Wars adaptation, John Williams score is there throughout and it sounds great through the SNES’ sample-based sound chip, and there’s a few digitised speech and effect samples in there, just to hammer home what movie that you’re playing one of the Star Wars games for Super Nintendo.
I joke about games based on movies fudging around with the subject matter, but at the end of the day, an action game with a movie license has to be exciting and entertaining. Sculptured Software did a pretty good job with not only making sure those big action sequences are playable, but also by extending some of those moments in-between into more action-orientated levels. Super Star Wars’ enemies take good inspiration from the larger lore of the saga, and nothing here is really where it shouldn’t be.
However, it wouldn’t be a Super Star Wars review if I didn’t point out some negative aspects, and where this title falters is some of the more fundamental game design aspects. The levels themselves are well put together for the most part, but frustration comes with poor enemy placement and seemingly endless spawns of foes. Then there are those platforming moments that rely on cheap difficulty tropes such as ledges just slightly out of view. The fact that the game has buttons to look up and down and makes them more or less essential to see certain platforms, is just lazy game design. At least the up and down viewing buttons are there, many games don’t bother – But I just find it a little needless, especially when you’re also dealing with enemies that tend to spawn just as the screen scrolls to the next platform.
So, Super Star Wars commits a few cardinal sins of game design. Call it an average movie license with an above-average presentation, and I think you’d have a pretty fair assessment. It’s good, but not great – Yet it’s a good adaptation of probably the least action-packed entry in the original trilogy. All in all, a decent attempt.
It might be the end of my Super Star Wars review, but the saga doesn’t end there! Next week we’ll be tripping over gigantic four-legged robots and getting frozen in Carbonite in Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, as part of Pug Hoof Gaming’s Star Wars month – But I’m not done with the original Super Star Wars yet, as this week you’ll also see videos showing you my full playthrough of the entire game, every single cheat code, and Super Star Wars’ ending too, so hopefully, I’ll see you back here soon.