With a new Battlefront (and a new film!) on the horizon, Brian Schroeder begins his countdown of the greatest video games to bear the STAR WARS label.
With the release of Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire series on January 1, 1991, a little something called the Expanded Universe came into being. And while the EU was officially de-canonized and killed after the announcement of a new trilogy, the fact is that a large amount of the best things under the Star Wars umbrella would qualify as EU products, and a large percentage of those are video games.
Similarly, with the impending release of The Force Awakens, those of us who count ourselves among the ranks of Star Wars fans must prepare for an inundation of licensed books, shows, and games all bearing the Star Wars banner, all of questionable quality. One thing that doesn’t seem to be questionable is the new Battlefront game, which looks to be gloriously similar to the Battlefront titles of old — which made use of prequel assets and characters as well as anything ever has (and ever will).
With that (rather confusingly stated), I thought it appropriate to do a quick run down of the 25 Star Wars games released between 1991 and 2014 that I actually enjoyed: games that are worth remembering.
25) Star Wars: Droidworks, 1999. Lucas Learning
OK, so maybe this isn’t the highest-quality game ever released. Touted as a “learning game,” Droidworks puts players in the role of a rebel agent disguised as a Jawa, who must build a series of droids to navigate a series of physics-based puzzles, eventually finding and destroying a secret Empire droid factory on Tatooine. It makes great use of its setting and, despite a horrendously unfair difficulty curve (I never beat this, and I can’t imagine a pre-teen on the planet who could), it’s just charmingly simple enough to warrant fond memories.
24) Rebel Assault II: The Hidden Empire, 1995. LucasArts.
Here’s a game I remember just enough about to remember that I didn’t hate it. A weird sort of rail shooter/action hybrid with honest-to-goodness live-action set pieces, The Hidden Empire was probably too ambitious a game for its time, which is hardly a mortal sin. All I really remember about the gameplay was that it was HARD, which will probably end up being a running gag here.
23) Shadows of the Empire, 1998. LucasArts.
If you listen closely, you can hear the enraged screams of every 25-year-old in the world. Yes, the Hoth level of Shadows (pictured above) is great. One of the best segments of any Star Wars game. It’s the rest of the game that is left wanting in comparison.
Set in between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, a time frame always curiously neglected in the past, Shadows fits right into that strangely desperate late 90s EU niche, where nobody was quite sure what the prequels would be about and how they would affect the fiction as it stood. Combine that with the generic protagonist (Dash Rendar, who totally isn’t Han Solo, we swear!) and the generic gameplay, and you have…an okay game. Surely not the worst Star Wars game ever released, as there are well more than 25 to choose from. Just okay. There’s nothing wrong with that.
22) Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike, 2003. Factor 5.
For whatever reason, the third game in the Rogue Squadron series just felt more arcade-y than it should have, and not in a good way. Perhaps it’s the on foot segments that play like a licensed Nickelodeon game. Similarly to Shadows, it’s not a bad game, just probably not as good as you’d assume it to be.
21) LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga, 2007. Traveller’s Tales.
Not a whole lot to say. It is what it is. They’ve been making the same LEGO games for over a decade now, and this one is fine. Good, even.
20) Galactic Battlegrounds, 2001. Ensemble Studios.
GB is, without any insult intended, a very run of the mill RTS. Fortunately, Ensemble Studios was very good at making those. The Star Wars connections are thin and the game was hardly deep, but it was pretty good, and “pretty good” is more or less what this spot in the list warrants.
19) Star Wars: Bounty Hunter, 2002
There’s a Patton Oswalt joke pertaining to the excesses of the prequel trilogy that ends with “I don’t give a shit where the things I love came from, I just love the things I love,” and perhaps nowhere else in Star Wars games is this more apt than when discussing Bounty Hunter. Probably imagined as a grand companion piece to Episode II, Bounty Hunter fills in the hows and why of Jango Fett, the world’s least-energetic bounty hunter, became the template for an entire clone army. It works exactly how two lines of dialogue could have: Count Dooku recruited and tested him, and he passed.
Despite that, it’s honestly a fairly entertaining game, if one greatly hampered by its control scheme. Still, Bounty Hunter does something Episode II sure as shit couldn’t: it makes Jango Fett seem like a badass.
18) Rogue Squadron, 1998
Rogue Squadron rules. By today’s standards, it’s untenably difficult and occasionally tedious, but then again they don’t make rail shooters anymore, and this is one of the two or three best that ever existed. Also, it’s huge, and in a way that encourages full use of the game space. The general application and use of Star Wars assets is as well implemented as anything on this list, and it’s just damned fun. The sequel does everything the original did, better and more easily obtainable today, but that doesn’t mean the original isn’t worth playing.
17) Jedi Power Battles, 2000
This game manages to sort of waste one of the cooler premises in Star Wars gaming (if the prequel trilogy is full of badass Jedi, why not put them together and let players tear apart their enemies?). That being said, it doesn’t waste it entirely, and is also notable for being nearly as fun on handheld as it was on console, which surely separates it from most other Episode I-era games.
16) The Force Unleashed, 2008
The most recent game on this list (and the unofficial end of the Star Wars Video Game Golden Age of the early 2000s), Force Unleashed suffers from just about every cardinal sin a game like this could ever suffer from. A joyless, unlikable protagonist. Clunky, jittery controls married to an occasionally god-awful camera. A stupid, fan-fictiony story that manages to make the prequels and original trilogy dumber by comparison. Force abilities overpowered to the point of farce. QUICKTIME EVENTS. Heavy handed emotional beats. And so on, and so forth.
Then why does it rank higher than other, more earnest efforts?
Because picking up Stormtroopers and throwing them into passing TIE fighters is cathartic beyond measure.
15) Super Empire Strikes Back, 1993
Fun fact: no one has ever actually beaten a SNES Star Wars game. They actually weren’t even finished. There’s no final level. It just sort of ends. Developed in Japan, surprisingly, as re-hashes/cash ins/remakes of their NES counterparts, the Super Star Wars Games are famous both for their notorious difficulty and their generally exciting character abilities. Luke is an acrobat, Han is a gunman, Chewie is a horrifying monster who destroys everything.
That being said, of course I was putting these games on here. There’s a chance that they were the first Star Wars games you ever played, outside of X-Wing or that weird Arcade game they used to have in movie theaters.
14) Episode I: Racer, 1999
This is, unquestionably, the best thing to come out of the entirety of the Episode I experience, and it’s an overly simple, small, and easily defeatable racing sim. A racing sim that lets you drive jet engines strapped to tiny cockpits through giant ice caves and race tracks at supersonic speeds, mind you.
Also, Anakin was overpowered.
13) Super Return of the Jedi, 1994
Not much else to say that I didn’t say about Super ESB except that damn, do these games hold up visually. Just gorgeous.
12) Super Star Wars, 1992
Uhh, okay. Something else: Luke’s platforming missions were bullshit.
11) Rogue Squadron 2: Rogue Leader, 2001
One of the best launch games ever released, RS2 leaves arguably one of the most distinct and memorable opening levels in gaming history. With a hugely expansive vehicle list, a great re-telling of every major Original Trilogy battle from both the film and the EU, Rogue Leader excels on nearly all fronts. It’s taut, engaging, well designed and just smooth all around, and an excellent way to finish off this portion of the list.