Three years after the events of A New Hope, and the Death Star is nothing but debris in space. The rebels are still hiding from the Empire, who are sending Imperial Probes around the galaxy, hoping to find a chance to Strike Back after their horrific defeat.
And thus, we come to the second in the Super Star Wars Trilogy: The Empire Strikes Back. Coming a year after the original title, this second game in Sculptured Software’s series is built upon the foundations of the previous game, an action platformer with the occasional Mode 7-powered elements. Will the best movie in the Original Trilogy translate to a great video game?
Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back SNES Review
Instantly, this game is every bit equal to its predecessor, with a similar audio/visual style in terms of cutscenes and overall presentation. It all kicks off very quickly with a trek through the snowy Hoth vistas, and playing as Luke you’re given both a blaster and lightsaber from the very start. Controls remain mostly the same, although there are few amendments, such as the Super Jump now being a double-jump move as opposed to the hold-up and jump motion. On that note, equipping the saber turns that Super Jump into an incredibly powerful swirling saber jump of death, which pretty much becomes your most-used manoeuvre in the entire game.
Very early on, you’ll meet a friendly Tauntaun which you can ride on, which has quite a large health bar, making these first few stages a little easier to manage. However, this is a game that will punch you in the proverbial dick from the get-go. Expect some pretty nasty jumps and some very unfair bottomless pits, just like the original Super Star Wars.
Pretty soon, you’ll come to an ice cave in which you can take shelter, so you’ll have to wave goodbye to Mr Tauntaun and crawl in. Less than ten minutes in, and this is where controllers start flying. Expect more unexpected instant-death kills, a lot of enemies with projectile attacks, such as these weird porcupine bastards, these irritating plants that fire little twinkly things that heart, and these mini-Wampas that can freeze you repeatedly with their breath. Oh, and spiked walls and floors, because those are very fun in enclosed areas. Expect to die a lot in the early game – Honestly, I wouldn’t blame you for skipping these levels with the newly-added password system. Actually, if you’re going to play this game, I suggest you do that. Seriously, use this password: WFBJTB. Don’t even think about playing this game on any difficulty other than Easy. The stress is just too much.
For the first few levels, you’ll alternate between several of these ice cave sections and outdoor Hoth areas, and they become absolutely tedious and frustrating. There’s a pretty cool Wampa boss in the first Ice Cave. He’s big, he’s bad, but he’s not too much trouble so long as you keep moving between his ice breath and his wandering hands while pummelling his face with blaster fire and your lightsabre. I spent about an hour going through these first couple of areas, because of the ridiculous amount of unfair deaths – The second Ice Cave is just an absolute nightmare. You think you’ve made some progress, and then some ice crystals come out of the ground and kill you. It’s just terrible.
Once you’re out, you’ll fight an Imperial Probe droid, who’s pretty easy to destroy with your sabre-powered Super Jump. However, after sliding down a few ski slopes on a rock, you’ll face another one that dips in and out of the frozen waters. Once you realise that you can sort of swim in the water and you’ve got the boss’s pattern down, it’s not too bad to dodge its shots and reply with your own. Once this droid bites the dust, you find yourself back at the Rebel Base which seems to be under attack by a heap of angry droids, and these falling light fixtures are also on strike, it seems. Luckily, Luke’s got a few more lightsaber tricks this game, and can now deflect blaster shots with his Jedi weapon – This is a move that’s essential to master and is a great way to kill some of these enemies.
Eventually, Luke finds a speeder bike, and this cool scrolling shooter segment plays out, with you blasting Snowtroopers out of the air. After the horrifically unfair early levels, this stage is quite cathartic by comparison. Once you’ve shown the Troopers who’s boss, Luke finds his Snowspeeder and decides to go and kick some metallic AT-AT ass, prompting the now obligatory Hoth Snowspeeder level.
And this one is a great one, as it happens. Despite Mode 7 graphics being normally flat, somehow they managed to use some trickery to make it feel like Hoth’s landscape is a little more interesting. It’s a really impressive level, but you’ll be too busy tackling several missions to really take in the scenery. Your first mission is to take down a certain number of Imperial Droids and Snowtroopers on bikes, which is easy enough. Then, it’s the main event, blowing up the two-legged AT-ST vehicles as well as the larger four-legged AT-ATs. Just like the movie, you’ll need to throw tow cables at the larger walkers, before swooping around them in a circle to trip them up with the cable. Once they’re down, you can blow them up with blaster fire – This level is not only an impressive showcase of what the Super Nintendo can do without fancy in-cartridge chips, but it’s also incredibly fun. It truly sets the bar for what a Hoth level should be like. Once you’ve destroyed enough AT-STs and AT-ATs, you need to fly towards the last walker to reach the next stage.
Here, you’ll need to pilot a big old chunky Snowspeeder sprite, blowing up more Snowtroopers, before effortlessly leaping out and taking your frustrations out on foot. In this brief level, you’ll need to climb up the AT-AT’s legs and enter a very convenient door to reach the inside of the walker. More droids and Snowtroopers await, along with some turrets. Expert use of the lightsabre deflect will definitely see you through, but overall this level is pretty simple, navigating each floor to get further up the AT-AT and exit at the top.
Now that you’re back outside, you’re on top of the walker being attacked by rocket-pack wearing Snowtroopers, with their stylish orange shoulder pads. Here comes the next boss, the walker’s turret-loaded head – Just destroy the guns and this enemy will soon be destroyed and you can move on with both the game and your life.
We’re still not done with Hoth, as now you’re playing as Han Solo back at the Rebel Base. The droids are still angry, the light fittings still want you dead, but now there are also a few Snowtroopers to spoil your day. This time around, Han has access to grenades, which are relatively easy to obtain but very useful, especially when facing bosses or enemies with long-range weapons. There are plenty of elevators on this level, but luckily no horrible platform jumping areas. Just as in Super Star Wars, the blaster can be upgraded with powerups, from a laser, flame, Seeker, Rapid Ion and Plasma variants. However, Han always starts with the Flame powerup, which is pretty damn handy. Rather than sliding, he has a pretty cool roll move that can be quite fiddly to control as it travels a fair distance very quickly – Not a move to do while near the edge of a platform, that’s for sure.
Eventually, you’ll start to run into these weird rotating chain spikes, which seems like a bit of a dumb thing for the Rebels to install in their own base, but there you go. As you reach the end of this stage, you’ll come into contact with these massive droids which seem incredibly out of place for Star Wars. They’re normal enemies but take as long to kill as bosses unless you have the right powerups. Finally, you’ll escape this area and come into contact with this Combat Attack Transport with two rotating chain spikes, a bomb launcher, and no qualms about trying to crash into you. It’s a tricky boss, but eventually, you’ll pass it with perseverance.
Unfortunately, the exit to the Rebel Base still isn’t close enough, as we’re back to fighting Snowtroopers, the dreaded evil light fittings, chain spikes and those wonderful gigantic droids. This level is almost identical to the previous one, which is a little annoying, but at least it sends with a one-on-one battle against an AT-ST. This is one of those bosses you’ll be glad you packed your grenades for, and Seeker missiles are also pretty handy – Both will make light work of this fearsome foe.
Finally, we’re out of Hoth, and for the first time in the series (but not the last), we’re sitting in the famous Millenium Falcon. In this stage, you’re controlling the turret lasers and need to destroy a certain number of TIE Fighters, as well as any asteroids that are approaching. You’ve got a radar at the bottom to give you a rough idea of where enemies are, so it’s not too much of a big ask. This brief stage will end with the Millenium Falcon activating Hyperspace, and you’ll now rejoin Luke as he searches the Dagobah System for the Jedi Master, Yoda.
It’s at this point you realise that there’s still a healthy chunk of game left, and even discounting the time spent dying over and over again, this does seem like a much longer game than its predecessor. No bad thing if you were too young to have a disposable income and only got a game or two a year. Yup, this Empire Strikes Back SNES review is going to go on for a bit longer!
In any case, we’re on Dagobah but R2D2 has gone for a walkabout. Looks like we’ll have to find him, but first, we haven’t even met Yoda yet and can already learn The Force. There are a variety of Force abilities available to Luke in this game, and you can pick them all up over the course of the Dagobah levels, and the first one – Elevation, can be picked up before you find R2D2 at the end of this area.
Using Force powers deplete a bar in the top right of the screen, which can be replenished by picking up these weird canisters of Force power. Must be some sort of cocktail with midochlorians in or something. Anyway, the first power is Elevation and when activated you can levitate yourself – Which is great when you know miss a jump or you know you’re going to fall to your death. Instantly, this is the most useful power in the entire game, and to be honest you’re rarely going to use anything else. It’s especially great when you use the lightsabre Super Jump at the same time.
The next level is a very brief area, full of various creatures that would be more of a hindrance at this point if you didn’t just get the ability to fly over them all. Still, Yoda awaits you at the end of this level, along with the chance to pick up even more Force powers.
Infact, you can pick up all of the remaining Force powers by just using Elevation to fly up into the air, the moment you start this level. You’d think there would have been more thought or effort put into Jedi training, but here we are, so let’s talk about the remaining powers, shall we?
Mind Control allows you to turn weaker-minded foes against their own kind, which is kind of fun I suppose.
Freeze allows you to blast everyone on screen and make them freeze on the spot, which can be pretty useful when your way is blocked by some of the more irritating enemies.
Saber Deflect makes you automatically block and deflect laser fire, but to be honest, it’s not like it’s terribly difficult to do that manually, so why waste the Force bar?
Saber Control gives you the incredibly cool-looking power to throw your lightsaber around the screen, but it’s pretty useless unless there’s an enemy you can’t quite hit with the blaster.
Slowdown does what it says on the tin, temporarily slowing all enemies down to give you a little breathing room when things get hectic. Great when you just want to run past enemies because you can’t be bothered to fight them.
Heal is another one that you can figure out, but my word is it so damn useful for a game like this. With some of the boss fights being more of a war of attrition than skill, being able to sacrifice some of your Force bar in exchange for some extra health is a literal lifesaver.
Finally, Invisible doesn’t really make you disappear. Enemies still seem to be able to see you, it’s just their attacks don’t hurt you. I’d probably use Heal over this, to be honest.
So, now that’s all the Force powers covered, from here on out the game feels like it’s a whole lot easier, mainly because you can now heal yourself or fly out of danger. But that doesn’t mean it’s a cakewalk. Yoda’s training involves you going through a weird auto-scrolling area with a wobbly ground over some dirty-looking water. If you missed some of the Force powers, you can pick them up here by jumping to the top of the area. This segment is a bit tedious, much like most of the Dagobah section to be honest. It culminates in a boss fight against a bizarre swamp creature named Habogad – One of those completely made up for the game dealios. It’s got a gaping maw, and quite a few facial features you’ll need to blow off before you can actually do any damage. Simply put, this is a time-consuming and quite irritating boss that takes way too long to kill and just isn’t fun, even with your newfound powers. It’s easier just to use the old favourite lightsabre Super Jump and avoid contact as best as you can. It’s not as frustrating as the early Ice Cave areas, but barely.
With Dagobah finished, it’s time to play as Han once again as the crew arrive at Bespin’s Cloud City. You’d think Lando could have at least disabled the turrets once we’d arrive, to be honest. There’s some light platforming to be done, but the worse side of this stage is enemies that repeatedly spawn from every single doorway you pass. It’s especially bad when you reach these platforms with barely enough room to stand on, right next to a door that will spawn an enemy that knocks you off nearly every single time.
As well as the now-standard droid and Trooper enemies, there’s also a few Bounty Hunters roaming around the place that are little more than bullet sponges and only serve to slow you down with a great deal of irritation. At the end of this area is this very odd ship that likes to fly into you, fire Rapid Ion blasts at you and generally piss you off. Lando is happily waiting for you with a smug grin on his face, immediately after you blow up this mechanical monstrosity. I mean, either you put that enemy there deliberately, or you could have at least helped out, right?
Our tour of Cloud City continues as now we play as Chewbacca in Cloud City’s mines, trying to find Threepio. This area feels like something from the first game, only with Ugnaughts to slaughter instead of Jawas. There are a few Bounty Hunters like Dengar and IG88 to spoil your day, as well as a few really annoying flying droids that are almost invulnerable. Lava is also a pretty big feature here, so expect a few nasty instant kills as well. Thankfully, the blaster powerups are plentiful, but the good old Seeker is definitely of most use here. Before you reach Threepio, you’ll need to blow up an Ugharro Mining Crusher, which will use its bulk to push you into the lava. Thankfully, it’s mostly harmless and is easily destroyed, at which point it’ll reveal an Ugnaught cockpit which, despite being a little more offensive, can be dispatched quickly.
Moving on and Han Solo is now walking around a familiar blue and orange area with plenty of exhausts spewing out carbonite that freezes you on the spot. Some Snowtroopers decided to take a holiday here so they’re around to give you some hassle, while some annoying barely visible laser turrets are also there to be blown up. Other than that, nothing you haven’t already seen before, but the end of those level does pit you against a carbonite freezer that acts pretty similarly to the Tractor Beam in Super Star Wars. If you can stand in the right spot, crouch and fire diagonally upwards, you’ll be able to destroy it without harm. Unfortunately, it’s all for nought as Solo is frozen anyway.
So, we take up Chewbacca’s Bowcaster once again and blow up some more Bounty Hunters while we escape Cloud City. This area is mostly similar to the previous levels, but you get to fight Boba Fett, and his sprite looks pretty damn rad. Once he runs away, he then comes back with his notorious ship, Slave One, which seems like a very unfair fight. Luckily, Chewbacca has a very useful Spin move that deals heaps of damage, makes him invulnerable and also recharges after a few seconds. This makes light work of the bounty hunter’s ship.
Time for the next level, and time for Luke to bunk off his Jedi training and rush to Cloud City to save his pals. It’s been a while, but it’s time for another Mode 7 level, and here we’re one again shooting a certain number of enemies (in this case, Cloud Cars) before we can proceed. In this level, we can fly under and above the clouds, which makes it a little easier to avoid the Cloud Cars’ surprising offensive capabilities.
Once we get to Cloud City, the place is overrun with turrets and heavily armed Snowtroopers, some of them riding around on speeders because it’s fun. In between jumping between platforms, we’ll also have a few scraps with Darth Vader himself on the way. It’s not so much an epic saber fight as it is a mix of waiting for Vader to finish attacking, slapping him in the face your saber, and occasionally Super Jumping to avoid attacks and deal a little damage. As you can imagine, he’ll deflect blaster bolts right back at you, so forget about that.
After a second battle with the Lord of the Sith, he’ll chuck you out of a window, and you’ll fall down for a long way, moving to pick up various Force icons that give you extra points. Jetpacking Snowtroopers and red Imperial Guards are rushing around to make you fall of the various platforms, so keeping the Elevation force power equipped is a very good idea at this point, as there are plenty of instant deaths to be had here. Make your way through this area, and you’ll have reached the final battle of the game – A proper showdown with Vader.
He’ll come at you with lightsabre strikes, but he’ll also use the force to throw heaps of debris at you, which hurts. Luckily, if you destroy a load of it with a lightsabre Super Jump, you’ll get some Force powerup canisters. Keep your Heal force power selected, use it when needed and grab Force powerups when you can, and you should be able to defeat Vader for the final time this game. Once his energy bar is depleted, he’ll fly away and you can enjoy the end sequence and credits.
Much like Super Star Wars, this sequel is far from without fault. The insane difficulty leap early on is incredibly demoralising. I actually found the game much easier the further I got, especially after earning the Force powers. Unfortunately, Sculptured Software learnt absolutely nothing about level design and enemy placement this time around. I finished the entirety of Super Star Wars in around an hour and three quarters. Meanwhile, Super Empire Strikes Back probably took me around 4 hours from start to finish, and I probably spend well over an hour and a half on the Ice Cave sections alone. I don’t mind difficult games, but this is one of those titles that rely on some real cheapness to extend its playtime.
And yet, when I wasn’t being battered by it, I enjoyed The Empire Strikes Back. The vehicular sections broke up the gameplay nicely, with the Hoth Snowspeeder section being a highlight of the game. While I missed being able to select between characters at various points of the game, it was good to see each of the three playable characters have new abilities since Super Star Wars. The controls feel a little tighter this time around, and everything feels slightly more polished.
All the moments you want from the film are there, and there feels like less use of artistic license this time around, with the movie’s more action-orientated events fitting better in the realm of a videogame. The visuals are notably better, with more interesting enemy designs, even if the Snowtroopers are used where they shouldn’t be, and even the cutscenes feel a little more detailed than in Super Star Wars.
Despite the difficulty, I’d say this is arguably a better game than the original – It feels a bit more complete, and at least the addition of a password system means that a Game Over doesn’t always feel like I’ve wasted my time.
That’s the end of my Empire Strikes Back SNES review, and there’s just one more game in the Super Star Wars Trilogy to play, so next week we’ll be murdering fat gangsters, playing as tiny teddybears with bows and arrows, and generally saving the galaxy in Super Return of The Jedi and Week 3 of Pug Hoof Gaming’s Super Star Wars Month. But, Week 2 isn’t done yet as I’ll be publishing my entire playthrough of Super Empire Strikes Back, a whole video of cheat codes, and more, so stay tuned!