Genre: Shmup Developer: Lucasarts Publisher: Lucasarts Players: 1-2 Released: 1994
For the longest time, it’s been an unwritten rule that virtually anything bearing the Star Wars label will sell like hotcakes. Some titles have fared better than others, but there have been relatively few stinkers in the line up. Just about every console has benefited from this golden touch of licensing, and the 32X was no exception, actually playing a major part in Sega’s fortunes during the 1994 holiday season. Having almost nothing with which to counter the sales juggernaut that was Donkey Kong Country, Sega’s decision to make Star Wars Arcade a 32X launch title helped soften the blow. As former Sega producer Eric Quakenbush put it, “Star Wars [Arcade] really saved their bacon that Christmas.”
Pretty powerful stuff, huh? I’d say it would take a pretty great game to have that effect on consumers, wouldn’t you? Then again, it could have been that prospective 32X buyers were looking for something…anything to really entice them into dropping $160 on the mushroom. After all, few people are willing to buy something that isn’t even a new console unless there’s a really good reason to do so. An arcade shmup set in George Lucas’ famous universe is practically a no-brainer under those circumstances.
That might be all well and good, as what we see on store shelves often has a magical effect on us, much like how the aroma of a thick steak drags us to the kitchen at dinner time. Sure, it may smell great, but how does it taste? The majority of video games are better sales pitches than they are enjoyable products, and a name means little if there’s no substance to back it up. Surely a game set in the classic trilogy of the movies would live up to the hype?
Sadly in this regard, Star Wars Arcade is hit-and-miss. What it does well, it does extremely well, and where it falls short, it does so with a dull thud. On the upside, the essence of the arcade original has been retained and the smooth, flat-shaded polygonal graphics show off the power the 32X had to offer at the time. I’m sure many people out there are simply cringing at the visuals now, but back in late 1994/early 1995, this was as good as it got on a console. When it dawned on you that you were playing a Model 1 game on your Genesis, it put things in perspective. LucasArts did an excellent job of bringing the experience home intact, even audio-wise. The voice overs are abundant and clear, and the much-maligned sound chip does a surprisingly good job with the audio overall. (I was surprised to find that the Genesis handles the opening theme, not the 32X. Leave only the stock Genesis connected to the TV and you’ll see!) More importantly, the controls have adapted quite competently to the Genesis six-button controller.
Though it puts on a good show, the dark side still manages to rear its ugly head. Most of the problems in Star Wars Arcade stem from the actual set up of the gameplay, which can’t be wholly blamed on the 32X. This is an arcade port, which means it was originally designed to swallow quarters with reckless abandon and not be played for extended periods. Obviously, such a tactic doesn’t work as well at home, and the “die before you realize you’ve even started” mentality’s shortcomings are readily apparent.
For this reason, LucasArts has sweetened the deal by offering an exclusive 32X mode in addition to the standard arcade game. Additional missions and objectives greatly extend Star Wars Arcade’s shelf life, giving you plenty of reason to come back time and time again. The gameplay is still identical, which means you can jump right in – a quality of the arcade version that was wisely included. Most missions (in either mode) require the elimination of a specific number of TIE fighters, both in space and over the turret-riddled surface of the Death Star. Of course, Luke’s classic run down the trench to the exhaust port is here, although Vader seems more intent on changing history this time around. Seriously, the man is relentless!
Like its 32X sibling Shadow Squadron, Star Wars Arcade has a cooperative two-player mode where the second player takes on the role of gunner. It’s always more fun to man the cannons than it is to fly, but I suppose split-screen play would be something we’d have to wait until the Rogue Squadron series for. Taken for what it is, the co-op mode here remains fun, and my experience is that it actually makes the game a bit easier. No more concentrating on several things at once!
As fun as it is to blow up TIE fighters and kick the Empire’s butt, Star Wars Arcade’s difficulties remain, in spite of all the additions. Even with the new missions, its arcade heritage causes big problems. It shouldn’t take you too long to plow through the whole thing, and the game tends to get very repetitive quickly. There definitely could have been more variety in the objectives, as all you really do is dogfight for a while in each stage. The timer makes things a bit more challenging, but not by much. And why can’t I take on those Star Destroyers in stage one? It seems like LucasArts wanted to do more with the game but was forced to rush it out for Christmas.
What you basically have here is a solid conversion of a title originally released on Sega’s powerful Model 1 board. Even the mighty Saturn had trouble doing the legendary arcade hardware justice, which makes this 32X release even more impressive. Though not 100% spot-on, Star Wars Arcade is close enough to the source material to do it justice and give hungry 32X owners another much-needed title for their libraries. Between this, Space Harrier, Afterburner II, and Shadow Squadron, you’re basically covered with shmups on the 32X. Yes, Rogue Leader does the whole X-Wing shtick much better, but that’s only natural, given that it’s on far superior hardware and released much later on. This is one of the only Star Wars game there is for Genesis owners, and it’s not a bad one at that. If you have a 32X, then there’s no reason not to pick this one up, just don’t expect a mind-blowing experience.