This fortnight Nick concludes his run of Sci-Fi retrospectives with a look at the challenging but ultimately rewarding SNES platformer, Super Empire Strikes Back.
SUPER EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
Release Year: 1993
Original Console Release: SNES (later re-released on Nintendo Virtual Console)
Developer: Sculptured Software, LucasArts
By Nick Murray, Videogames Contributor.
A long time ago (1993) in a galaxy not so far away, one of the most controller smashingly infuriating games of all time was released. Super Empire Strikes Back on the Super Nintendo was quite frankly the bane of mine, and many others, childhood. You think you know difficult? Think again - this game's Easy setting makes Dark Souls look like Pokemon Snap. And yet, like a battered housewife, after all the abuse and downright nastiness, we returned to the game and let the whole hellish cycle start again. Why? Because at the end of the day, Super Empire Strikes Back is just a big old Jabba sized barrel of fun.
Released in the west by THQ, it followed quite appropriately Super Star Wars, which kicked off this revamped, souped up series of Star Wars games. On the face of it, it's your standard side scrolling, hopping and bopping platformer, controlling Luke Skywalker for the majority of the game (Han Solo and Chewbacca are playable in the odd level). You have a series of commands that help you manoeuvre through each level, all of them recognisable to the genre; jump, double jump, attack etc. However, there is of course a Star Wars spin to them all, for example, when you're playing as Luke, you of course have his trusty lightsaber at your disposal, so your standard platformer attack is made infinitely cooler already. Combine this with the double jump though, and you'll find yourself somersaulting around the level, lightsaber spinning with you, cutting up everything in your path, not unlike the gymnast Jedis of the Prequel films. Sometimes an enemy is too far away for a lightsaber, in which case, to paraphrase a certain space scoundrel, there's nothing like having a blaster at your side. It's a half decent range attack, which is aided by the odd power up that can be found along the way, that will increase the intensity of the attack for a brief period of time. So with all these things to help you, why on Alderaan is it so hard?
Satisfying and deliberate difficulty is never an easy thing to get right in the medium, and so often is it that games are difficult because of poor level design, dodgy cameras or just bad programming. This is not the case with Super Empire Strikes Back though. In fact, it's quite the opposite. The level design is crafted in such away that it's sole purpose is to make your life a living hell. There are so many hazards in the levels, so many enemies, that the simple act of jumping from one platform to another is turned into a such an epic trial, that if you accomplish it, the sense of achievement can be almost overwhelming. There is so much stuff happening on the screen at the one time, so many enemies coming at you that you almost need Jedi reflexes yourself to get past them unscathed. It's all executed so expertly though, and so authentic to the Star Wars saga, that you get past the frustration and urge yourself on to complete the game. The face is, many gamers enjoy difficulty; people like a challenge. A lot of modern releases tend to ease off on their gamers because they want as many people playing as possible, and not just hardcore gamers. I've got nothing against the casual gamer market, but game such as these really recall a more satisfyingly rigorous gaming era, where if you didn't put the work in, you weren't advancing. Do or do not, there is no try. Or something like that.
Every Star Wars fan owes it to themselves to play this series if they can, and in particular Empire. The sound design is beyond expert, everything sounds as it should do, and the levels look and feel authentic to the film. It's a completely authentic package. Even gamers who aren't fans of the movies would find a testing yet wholly rewarding and ultimately enjoyable platformer here. It's truly one of the greats, and for me personally, one of my all time favourite games.
For now Friday Flashback will leave the realm of sci-fi. Three fortnights in a row talking about other planets, robots and technological wizardry can get a bit much for some people, so next time I shall turn my attention to something a lot closer to home... Well, Japan. But hey, at least it's on this planet, and it's set in the 80s, and I can assure you there aren't any lasers.
If you haven't guessed already, the next Friday Flashback will be Shenmue, the Sega Dreamcast melodramatic epic.
NEXT TIME: Nick turns his attention to cult Dreamcast favourite Shenmue.
Live on Friday October 26th.