So, when we last visited a Galaxy far far away, the console crash had killed the home market, and the arcade boom was slowly dying out. So where do we go from there? How about attaching themselves to the Nintendo boom and then some of the best PC games ever? The Force was still strong…
First off, there was the Star Wars Nintendo games, first on the Nintendo System (the original movie)
and then the “Super” Star Wars games (Super Star Wars, Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, and Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi) on the SNES/Super Famicon.. I actually played the Super Star Wars game as part of researching this retrospective, and while it was good to jump through a sandcrawler on a Jawa Genocide Run to steal C3PO and R2D2 instead of you know, just buying them like you did in the movie, I have to admit, about the hundredth time a jawa was blasted into digital bits with a semi-Jawaish “Tee hee!”, I was about ready to turn to the Dark Side myself.
Yes, the games packaging thought it would be cool just to scrawl the word “Super” on top of the classic logo. Because. Um.. it was super and everything.
Hold on. I just noticed something in that photo of the Return of the Jedi (sorry, SUPER Return of the Jedi). Did this game’s packaging promise light saber duels with the Rancor AND Jabba the Hutt? I’m.. I don’t remember this. I wish there was an epic battle where Jabba the Hutt bounced around your screen like Yoda in the prequels with a light saber. It would have been the comedic moment of my lifetime. It was nice though that these games didn’t focus on Luke only.. throughout the games, you played as Luke, Han, Leia, and even Chewie.. (we’re not going to mention the Ewok you play as in Super Return of the Jedi. Ever.)
Then, someone at LucasArts noticed the popularity of the Wing Commander series (1990-1991 for the first two games in the series), and said “What our fans would love to do is control an X-Wing in battle and battle the Empire instead of the Kilrathi!”. Well, now that qualifies as the “Captain Obvious” award of the year candidate, but yeah, we really wanted to do that. And they gave it to us. And we’re still grateful, 22 years later.
Star Wars: X-Wing was originally released in 1993, and allowed you to pilot three different types of Rebel Alliance warships. The X-Wing, (of course), Y-Wing, and A-Wing fighters, and featured nearly 40 separate missions set in three separate tours of duty. (you could choose the tour of duty to be played in any order, but you had to do the missions in that tour linearly, you could not skip missions.) The missions were tough, and you had to not only be an excellent pilot, but manage your starfighter’s systems as well. Your ship did not have enough energy to simultaneously go full speed, recharge the engines AND the turbolasers at the same time, so, you had to manage power levels, for example, to catch a group of enemy fighters before they overwhelmed a medical evacuation shuttle, then bring the throttle down, and manage power to the shields and lasers.
The game was an instant hit, and won several awards, (including Best Simulation and Best Game from the gaming press). It spawned two expansion packs (Imperial Pursuit and the B-Wing expansion, which added the B-Wing as a fourth playable ship.). The expansion packs also added a new tour of duty to the existing game. They also offered the Collector’s edition the year later, that came with the expansion packs, an upgraded engine and updated cutscenes. They offered cheaper upgrades to anyone who had bought X-Wing previously, but you had to send them your disk as well as payment, which teenage me though was completely bogus. (yes, we actually talked like that at the time).
So, having used up the plot to the first movie and the lead up to the second movie in their base X-Wing game, and the expansion packs, where do you go now? You flip the script, and you get to fly the for the enemy!
Star Wars: TIE Fighter (1994) featured you as a pilot for the Imperial Navy, protecting the Galaxy against rogue elements of the Empire, and of course, destroying the Rebel scum who desperately want to overthrow the Empire, and restore the Empire’s peace and order to the galaxy. There was an interesting secondary objective system added, as you still needed to do certain primary goals to complete a mission (defend your capital ship, or eliminate enemy fighters on patrol, for example), but in most missions, secondary goals were given to you by a member of the Emperor’s Inner Circle. Completing these missions advanced you in the Emperor’s favor, and unlocked new variants for you to use. The game’s main storyline had your ship try to prevent an inter-Empire coup, and being rewarded by the Emperor personally. (No he didn’t zap you with force lightning, or seduce you to the dark side).
The game’s expansions (Defender of the Empire and Enemies of the Empire) advanced the storyline, and ended just before the battle of Endor that wrapped up the original trilogy.
The game series laid dormant for several years, but there was only one other place the series could go, and that was into multiplayer.
X-Wing vs Tie Fighter (1997) was quite possibly the most controversial game in the series, as on release, it was multiplayer only, featuring up to eight player play in free-for-all, team based, and cooperative mode missions, but not a singleplayer storyline. You could do battles against the AI, but there was no overarching storyline, so it was more of a sandbox “what-if” game.
The expansion pack to X-Wing vs Tie Fighter, Balance of Power, rectified the lack of a storyline (offering 15 mission campaigns for both Rebel Alliance and Empire), and added a bunch of new flight craft to the game. One of the funnier codas to this game is an article by one of the developers on how difficult it was to make this game, not least because the license did not allow them to allow folks to set up a dedicated server, so it all had to happen in a peer-to-peer network. (one thing that the developer kept repeating in the article is “The Internet Sucks”, which made me laugh.. But they learned their lesson with X-Wing vs TIE fighter, and the final game from Totally Games (who had produced all the previous games in the series), was the big one.
Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance (1999) added some things that were missing from previous games in the series, including multi-seat vehicles (the character starts learning how to fly one of their merchant family’s Corellian freighters). The game offered simultaneous storylines featuring your main character’s merchant family at war with a rival merchant family, and the Rebellion’s attempts to find out about the Empire’s plans to build a second Death Star. In the appropriate vehicles, you could switch seats (say, from pilot to gunner), and the AI would take the positions that you couldn’t be at that moment (although you could give the AI orders).
The game built up the storylines until the climactic battle of Endor, and unlike all the other games in the series, never had an expansion pack, or an enhanced remake. But it didn’t need one, as the custom mission builder was far ahead of previous ones, allowing large scale space combat featuring just about every model in the game as a playable fighter. The game’s multiplayer was shut down in 2004, but third party solutions are still available to play this game online.
The best news? All the Star Wars X-Wings games, above? You can still buy them, updated to play on modern systems, at GOG.com (Formerly Good Old Games), for about $10 each. They also have many other Star Wars games that we haven’t got to, yet.. including the Jedi Knight series, and Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds and.. *sighs wistfully* Knights of the Old Republic.
I’m going to lose so many hours of my life playing KotOR when we get to that part of the series, aren’t we?
David "SirFozzie" Yellope is the operator of the "An 8 bit mind in an 8 Gigabyte World". (an8bitmind.com) While not QUITE yet at the stage of waving his cane and telling the kids to "get off his lawn", he does admit he owns three canes.