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The Empire Strikes Back

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Reviewed by Patrick Niner Most hardcore Star Wars fans hate this title. They call it slow, and too hard, and too long. The movies storyline is butchered at the end of the game... Luke saves Han from Boba Fett and defeats Lord Vader in their lightsaber duel. The characters' dialogue, when not taken directly from the film, is inaccurate and ill-written. And I love it.

Graphics 9 out of 10

Gameplay and Graphics: I played this game when it first came out, after having played through the Star Wars game several months earlier. Although I enjoyed that title, The Empire Strikes Back is a far more moody, disturbing game that set a tone the original never seemed to establish. And it is so polished one can forget the occasional inaccuracies in story and dialogue. The sound effects, graphics, and control that you experience here are unmatched in any NES game I've ever seen. Luke is a small, undetailed sprite who undergoes one outfit change when he gets to Dagobah. The stormtroopers throughout the game are all snowtroopers, even on Bespin, but they look exactly as they did in the movie... and what's best, their blaster fire sounds like automatic weapons fire from an Uzi (I'd never heard anything like that before in a game, just bright, happy sound effects like Mario's fireballs). The background graphics are amazing, especially the trees on Dagobah and the Carbonite Pit platforms. There's a peculiar swapping of lightsabers, though... the programmers made Luke's weapon red and Vader's blue. Ah, well. Luke can be controlled easily... he moves when you want him to and he stops when you stop him. When he falls, he falls straight down, fast and furious... you can't maneuver him at will in midair. It's all utterly realistic (except for his super jump... play the game and you'll know what I mean). The levels are set up as complex mazes that must be navigated in certain ways to be most effective... for example, you can plow through Hoth in five minutes but if you don't detour several times you'll miss the lightsaber and three Force Powers that you'll need later on.

Music and Sound 9 out of 10

Star Wars has always been known for its music and sound effects. George Lucas himself has been quoted as saying that sound is half of the experience when you see a movie. The Empire Strikes Back features straight-from-the-film music that was presented in bits... a few notes of music cuts in and out every fifteen seconds or so as the action happens. What I like the most about this is how the Imperial March, arguably the most famous musical piece from the movie (who can forget the unmistakable dum dum dum dum dee DUM dum dee DUM), is presented to the player. Only on certain levels can you hear bits of the piece... until the final Carbonite Pit level, in which the song is played in its entirety as you search for and fight Darth Vader. The sound effects are awesome, and account for most of the game's spookiness... you can hear the weapons fire, the creatures rustling on the ground in Dagobah, the droning of the probe droids. These detailed effects are probably why the game doesn't have constantly-playing music... the only flaw in this is that when the background music cuts in, the individual sound effects are all drowned out. And best of all, there is actually digitized speech from the movie itself ingrained in the game's soundtrack. Yoda will occasionally pop up and urge you to "Use the Force." Vader observes (twice) that "The Force is with you, young Skywalker"... and it's straight from the duel scene in the movie, you can tell because you can hear Vader breathing and the carbonite gases billowing in the background. JVC didn't even take direct-from-movie recordings to the Super Star Wars Super NES trilogy, which is almost universally hailed as superior to this game.

Game Challenge 10 out of 10

I rented this game once and fell in love... at around $2 each time I think I spent about $30 over four or five months playing it at random intervals. Sometimes I'd get frustrated and want to shoot my NES, but that's the beauty of the game... you may get angry at it, but you'll want to think your way out of the situations yourself. I remember drawing a friend of mine a detailed map of Dagobah to guide him through unscathed... both levels. From memory.


This game will frustrate you on a couple of occasions. You'll ask yourself "Why can't I get past that praying mantis on Dagobah?" or "How can I possibly beat that cannon walker?" If all else fails, use the Force.

Replayability 6 out of 10

After a while, you'll be annoyed by having to play through every level over and over... the game lacks passwords or saved games. Fans will be annoyed that the story did get screwed in the end, but I attribute that to JVC knowing that the NES's days were numbered and they probably wouldn't get around to making a Return of the Jedi 8-bit game. So, in a fannish way, they probably felt the responsibility of completing the story in any way they could.

Game Value

This game is certainly worth the price that you'll pay at used game stores... it's rare, but I wouldn't pay more than $40 for it.

Overall 9.5 out of 10

Game collectors should pick this up for historical value, and to enjoy the inspiration for the Super Star Wars games. There were a few glitches in the game but overall it's a great value. It will take a while to master and does require time to play, and your undivided attention, so don't whine because you can't beat it the first time you play.

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