A long time ago – but somewhere in the North of England rather than a galaxy far, far away – I was a young kid with a SNES. I played a lot of games on that SNES. Some of them were great, some were bad, and there were some that I wanted to love but couldn’t for a variety of reasons. The difficulty level, usually. Today’s article is all about one of those games, so join me for a cathartic run-through of Sculptured Software and Lucasarts’ 1992 rebel-scum-em-up Super Star Wars!
Ah yes, that famed and fabled war amongst the stars. I don’t need to tell you about Star Wars, you already know about Star Wars. Good versus evil in space, magic powers, laser swords, thousands of inhabitable planets that all have precisely one type of weather, fish-men in positions of military authority. I love Star Wars, because of course I do. Not as much as I loved it when I was a child, because back then my love was more of an all-consuming obsession, but I’d still describe myself as a Star Wars fan. So, these days playing a Star Wars game feels like it might be a fun diversion, but in the early nineties Star Wars and videogames made up ninety-nine percent of my being so receiving a SNES retelling of the original Star Wars movie felt like a gift from the gods. And it was, in that most gifts from gods turn out not to be as wonderful as they first seem. We’ll get to that, though.
As this is an adaptation of Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope or whatever the movie’s official title is these days, it naturally begins with the famous Star Wars text crawl. It seems an attempt was made to use the SNES’ Mode 7 technology to recreate the text crawl’s fade into the distance, but as you can see it hasn’t worked out all that well. It’s the wrong colour, for starters, but more problematic is the blocky, jagged look that makes the text extremely difficult to read. It’s a good job everybody already knows the plot of Star Wars, huh? It all begins with young Luke Skywalker, distracting himself from the dull grind of being a desert farmer by running around the dunes and blasting the local wildlife with a laser gun.
Ah yes, just as I remember from the movie. Super Star Wars is a licensed SNES game based on a science fiction movie, so there are very few forms its gameplay was likely to have taken and it ends up being the most obvious of them all: a side-scrolling action-platformer where Luke gallivants across the desert wastes of Tatooine, blasting alien creatures and avoiding pits. He’s got a good blaster at his side and he’s going to be getting a lot of use out of it, because the second the game begins you’re swarmed from all sides by an endlessly respawning torrent of pissed-off critters.
We’re only a few screens in, and I’ve already been thoroughly reminded why I never enjoyed Super Star Wars as much as I wanted to when I was younger – the difficulty level. Enemies are always flying in from every possible angle, hopping into your character and pushing them around the screen, and simply getting anywhere feels like a chore. Maybe “difficulty” isn’t the right word, actually. It’s more like a constant feeling of pressure. You never get a moment’s respite, no chance to get your bearings, and it ends up being extremely wearying. It feels like there are a lot of way these problems could have been avoided, too. If enemies had to attack you rather than damaging you via collisions, that’d go a long way to making things more enjoyable. Or there’s the fact that for a game you’d probably describe as a run-n-gun, you can’t run and gun at the same time, forcing you to stand still while you fire and in Super Star Wars standing still quickly leads to death. Your health is constantly being chipped away, but the enemies do at least drop a lot of health-restoring hearts when killed.
The rest of the first stage plays out as you’d expect. Run from left to right, using your blaster to dispatch a host of famous Star Wars creatures such as scorpions, womprats, worms and large scorpions. If you’re lucky, you’ll pick up an upgrade for your blaster that makes it do more damage. Even for the first stage of a licensed SNES platformer it’s pretty dull, but playing as Luke Skywalker and hearing the iconic Star Wars music was just about enough to keep me going.
There’s a boss at the end of the stage, and this one is a famous Star Wars creature! It’s the Sarlacc, the huge, pit-dwelling monster that eats Boba Fett in Return of the Jedi after he’s knocked into said pit by a blind Han Solo. Yeah, Boba Fett might not actually be the incredibly skilled warrior that he’s portrayed as. Let’s chalk Boba’s lame death up to the machinations of The Force and focus on this fight against the Sarlacc. In short, it sucks. Most of the boss fights in Super Star Wars suck, but this one stands out as being particularly bad, possibly because it’s the first one in the game.
How it works is that the Sarlacc pops up out of the sand and either beats you with its tentacles if it’s close, or spits boulders at Luke if it’s further away. The problem is that if it does pop out of the sand right next to you, you’re trapped in the corner and are forced to take a large amount of unavoidable damage from its whirling appendages and I don’t think there’s a way to consistently bait the Sarlacc into appearing further away from the player. In the end, the fight is reduced to a race to the bottom of your respective health bars and there’s little strategy worth employing besides hammering the fire button as fast as you can. Not the greatest of starts, but at least the Sarlacc actually appears in a Star Wars movie.
After an opening stage that was pointless aside from establishing Luke’s lust for killing, we’ve reached some plot as he encounters C3PO in the desert. Luke’s clearly trying his best to ignore Threepio by pretending to stare into the distance with his binoculars, but eventually he succumbs to the golden droid’s nagging and off they go to rescue R2-D2 from the Jawas.
Oh look, it’s a vehicle section. The Mode 7 gets broken out again, although much more successfully than during the opening text crawl, as Luke drives his landspeeder towards the Jawa’s sandcrawler. As has already been established Luke is consumed by a terrible yearning for death, so instead of simply driving over to Crazy Jarbulark’s Used Droid Emporium and handing over some credits in exchange for R2-D2, Luke will only head to the sandcrawler once he’s sated his bloodlust by killing twenty Jawas.
Okay, sure, why not. The landspeeder has laser cannons, the Jawas speed around on little hover-pods and you just have to aim at them and shoot while avoiding the health-draining chasms that litter the landscape. It’s less straightforward than you might expect thanks to the unusual controls, though. The d-pad moves your landspeeder forwards, backwards and side-to-side but it doesn’t turn – to do that, you have to use the ship’s boosters. That lets you rotate, but it also consumes booster fuel. It’s an odd control scheme that takes a little getting used to, and you speeder feels very slippery as it slides across the sand like a greased… a greased… you know, when I was ten I would have been able to summon a list of fifty slippery aliens from the Star Wars universe but all that knowledge is gone now, lost to time. Anyway, what I’m saying is that the landspeeder section is fast-paced and responsive enough that it’s still fun even if it does feel a bit like Fast and Furious: Tatooine Drift at points.
Now we’re at the Sandcrawler itself. The Jawas are understandably reluctant to do business with Luke after the shooting gallery of the previous stage, so you have to break into the sandcrawler by climbing along its exterior, using your blaster to take out the multitude of turrets while hopping across the many moving platforms. I managed to collect another blaster upgrade that makes it fire homing missiles, which is helpful, but my childhood memories were accurate – I remember this stage as being where Super Star Wars begins to grate, and so it proved. The relentless barrage of respawning enemies wasn’t so bad in the first stage, because you could plod along slowly and collect lots of health-restoring hearts. However, when you’re being swarmed by opponents while trying to traverse a series of small moving platforms, where getting hit can easily see you falling right off the sandcrawler and having climb up the entire bloody thing again, the limitations of the game’s “platformer” stages becomes apparent.
Inside the sandcrawler is more of the same. It’s all enclosed metal corridors so at least you can’t fall right back to the start of the stage, but there are a lot more spike pits to contend with, so swings and roundabouts. It’s more enjoyable than the more wide-open stages, mostly because you don’t have to deal with the slightly awkward jumping controls as much – you have to press up on the d-pad while jumping to perform a “big” jump when simply holding the button down for longer seems like it would have a been a better solution.
This stage is completely redeemed by the inclusion of these Gonk droids. Who could fail to love the Gonk droids, those waddling mechanical marvels? Gonks are power droids, so they’re basically walking batteries, but at some point in the history of the Star Wars universe their creator must of thought “hey, my new power droid is useful and everything but what it really needs to stand out from the crowd is the ability to make a weird honking sound like a depressed goose every minute or so.”
The boss of the sandcrawler is Lava Beast Jawenko. Why is there a river of lava at the bottom of the sandcrawler? Who the hell knows, maybe it runs on geothermal power. I would have assumed it was molten metal – the Jawas are scrap dealers, after all – but that specifically says “lava” so one of the Jawas is going to be in deep trouble when his superiors when they find out he parked the sandcrawler on top of an active volcano.
This thing looks like a bad Metroid boss, huh? It’s not much fun to fight, either, because all it does is spit streams of lava at you. It’s very similar to the fight against the Sarlacc, with the added annoyance of, ha ha, the floor being lava. Just keep blasting away and jumping, you might get lucky.
Now that I’ve found R2-D2, I have to find Obi-Wan Kenobi who will then help me find Princess Leia. Oh, and I’ll need to find a pilot as well. Luke Skywalker should consider opening a private detective agency if this Jedi Knight thing doesn’t pan out.
You remember how in the first Star Wars, part of Luke’s characterisation was his yearning to escape the crushing tedium of Tatooine and explore the galaxy? I’m beginning to have a lot of sympathy for that viewpoint.
I wouldn’t mind so much if the gameplay was more engaging. It’s okay for what it is, or it might be if it wasn’t for the obnoxious amount of enemies, but it certainly never comes to close to stepping into “really good” territory. Super Star Wars' action feels closest to games like Contra III and Metal Slug, but it never feels as much fun to play as those games, largely because it lacks the same sense of speed or (a rather nebulous concept, I know) flow. There’s a lot of stopping and starting as you can’t fire while moving, plus if you want to crouch and fire you have to stop, duck and then shoot because otherwise you just shoot diagonally downwards, blasting a patch of dirt three inches from Luke’s toes.
The platforming doesn’t do much to spice things up, either. It hovers somewhere between perfunctory and frustrating, never getting bad enough to make me angry but definitely worthy of the occasional dissatisfied grunt.
Obi-Wan Kenobi has been located. Or Ben Kenobi, if you prefer. You know, with these people supposedly in hiding from the Empire, you think they’d change their surnames when creating new identities. Anyway, in the cutscene he’s referring to Artoo as “little fellow,” or at least I hope he is. It’d be a bit rude if he was talking about Luke. I think this makes Super Star Wars the only game I’ve covered so far at VGJunk to include Alec Guinness, so it’s got that going for it.
Oh good, more desert. This is the Land of the Banthas, apparently, and I’m sure you’ve already noticed the most important feature of this stage: Luke has a lightsaber now! That’s right, Obi-Wan chucked him the lightsaber and said “get out there and test it out on a few Tusken Raiders, I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it in no time.” The last time Obi-Wan tried training properly someone it’d didn’t turn out so great, so his laid-back new teaching style makes sense.
Naturally the lightsaber gives you a powerful but short-ranged melee attack. That’s fine, but more useful is the jumping spin attack pictured above. No longer will you have to shoot the enemies and then jump to the platform they’re standing on, now you can simply leap through them like Sonic the Hedgehog. You can switch between your lightsaber or blaster at the press of a button, which you’ll want to do when fighting these banthas because it’s a lot easier to defeat them by shooting them from the other side of the screen than by waving a glowstick in their faces. That’s right, Super Star Wars gives you a lightsaber and then immediately makes you fight a series of enemies where you’re better off shooting them. Way to really sell the power of the Jedi, chaps.
I’ll skip the fight against the giant mutant womprat (a large rat with bat ears) and another landspeeder section (shoot more Jawas) so we can get to Mos Eisley. It’s a famously wretched hive of scum and villainy, so Luke should feel right at home here after slaughtering most of the planet’s Jawa population.
Mos Eisley is where we first encounter Stormtroopers, so it’s only taken around fifty percent of the game but at last we get to fight the Empire itself. This really lifted my spirits, and not just because I’m finally out of the desert: shooting Stormtroopers just feels more Star Wars-y than the previous segments of the game. The Stormtroopers mix things up a bit by having their own blasters and even entrenched machine-gun nests, but they still act like most other enemies, in that they constantly appear at all sides of the screen and try to overwhelm you through sheer numbers. Mostly they just... fall out of the sky, with no effort made to make their arrival look natural. That’s what’s going with the Stormtrooper on the left. He might look like he’s squatting to relieve himself – perhaps his nerves got to him – but that’s just what they look like when they drop from the sky.
You can also ride on some barrels like a turn-of-the-century Canadian lumberjack. It sounds a bit daft at first but the more I think about it the more riding a rolling log sounds like something that absolutely would happen in a Star Wars movie.
After scrapping through the mean streets of Tatooine, which are my favourite stage of the game so far by a long way and not just because there wasn’t a lame boss at the end, I managed to meet Chewbacca! Everyone loves good ol’ Chewie, right? I can’t wait for him to get his own movie where he potters around the galaxy running a space haulage business and going out for Friday night drinks with Lando and Nien Nunb. I’m not kidding, I would love that movie.
Even better, you actually get to play as Chewbacca. I mean, you get a choice but obviously I’m going to pick Chewbacca over Luke here. The main difference between them is that Chewie doesn’t have a lightsaber (or any melee attack at all, sadly) but he can take a bit more damage.
This stage takes place in the famous Mos Eisley cantina, with your chosen character absolutely tearing through the bar's patrons for no real reason that I could discern beyond the general skeeviness of the place.
I’m really glad there’s a cantina level, because like most youthful dorks I was absolutely fascinated by the array of weirdo aliens that inhabit this location. Aliens that look like plague doctors, like hammerhead sharks, like drawings of the Devil from a Chick tract, they’re all here, and the cantina is probably responsible for triggering more feverish nerd imagining than any other scene in science fiction. Okay, besides Leia’s slave costume.
You get to shoot most of those aliens. Rodians, Duros, you name it Chewbacca’s ready to blast it. The whole stage is nothing more than a flat plane where monsters jump out at you and get shot, but the most important question is “does the cantina band music play while you’re doing this?” and the answer is yes, of course it does, and it’s great. There’s one element of Super Star Wars I can praise without hesitation, and that’s the sound. It’s full of fantastic, accurate sound effects from blaster bolts to Chewie’s roar, and all the music is the Star Wars soundtrack only, you know, on the SNES.
My biggest problem with this stage? You don’t get to play as Obi-Wan. Let’s not forget that Obi-Wan is a character who responded to a little bar-room argy-bargy by slicing a guy’s arm clean off with no warning. He seems like the ideal candidate for clearing out the cantina.
The bosses continue to be kinda rubbish, with this one being yet another large creature that traps you in a corner and swings its appendages at you. Apparently it’s based on one of the pieces from the holographic chess game they play aboard the Millennium Falcon, but the fact that it’s named “boss monster” really makes it feel like the developers were shrugging their shoulders with this one.
Han Solo has been recruited, which means we get to play as everyone’s favourite roguish smuggler. There’s not much to recommend him over Luke or Chewie, honestly, besides him being Han Solo. He’s good at shooting things, as Han Solo should be, but then so are all the other characters and while I don’t regret playing as Han during this “escape from Mos Eisley” stage I can’t help but feel that not having the characters be more different was a missed opportunity.
Finally, a boss that’s a bit different! Not fun, necessarily, but a nice change of pace as you dodge the Imperial equivalent of an SUV, avoiding its lasers and rolling around so you can get a better angle to shoot its variety of destructible segments such as the gun turrets and the engines. Like all the bosses in Super Star Wars, it does feel like there’s too much unavoidable bullshit going on and there’s no “correct” way to fight this thing. It’s never a satisfying feeling when a boss encounter comes down to luck.
Our rag-tag group of plucky heroes, space samurais and walking carpets have made it aboard the Death Star, where they must rescue Princess Leia from Darth Vader. Thinking about it now, it’s kinda weird that Darth Vader never realised that Leia was his daughter, what with him having magic mind powers and all. I assume this was all explained in some spin-off story. Leia unknowingly used the Force to block Vader’s abilities, or Vader did know and letting her get rescued was all part of a larger plan, or Yoda was hiding inside that torture droid and helping her out.
Gameplay here is a lot like it was on Tatooine, with platforms to negotiate and pits to avoid. Make sure you stay on the platforms. If you got down to floor level, those tiny mouse droids suddenly active their Murder All Humans (Also Wookies) subroutines and ram you into the pits, pushing your character sideways with greater force than a Sarlacc slap or a TIE fighter collision.
By the way, there are TIE fighters on this stage. They fly past with no warning every now and then, slamming into you and causing damage / knocking you down to the ground where the mouse droids can feast upon your broken corpse. The TIE fighters are a royal pain in the arse. This game was hard enough with huge, screen-obscuring spaceships flying towards you every twenty seconds, it’s like trying to play while your younger brother flicks rubber bands towards your face.
“Please put down your lightsaber. You have twenty seconds to comply.”
While Luke’s busy fighting ED-209, Han is searching the detention block for Princess Leia while avoiding the weaponised Roombas that patrol the floors. Given that droids in the Star Wars universe are much more sentient than in most sci-fi properties, it’s hard not to feel sorry for the robot that has to clean the floors of the torture rooms.
This stage is another pretty decent one, thanks again to the more enclosed layout of narrow corridors meaning that enemies don’t have quite as many angles to spawn in from. You can also avoid a lot of them by climbing up platforms, which I would recommend doing wherever you can unless you need to farm some health drops.
As per the movie, Leia’s just chilling in her cell like the stone-cold badass that she is. I have no doubt that in an alternate telling of the story where Luke was murdered in a bar-room brawl before ever leaving Tatooine, Leia would still have escaped the Death Star, figured out this whole “Force” business on her own and defeated the Emperor.
It’s a real shame, then, that you don’t get to play as Leia for the next stage. I chose Chewbacca, which was a mistake because it’s a vertical climb up a lift shaft and Luke’s spinning lightsaber attack would have been very helpful for slicing past the hundreds of laser turrets lining the walls. In my defence, I forgot about this stage because I never managed to make it this far when I was a kid.
At the top is a fight against, erm, the tractor beam controls. Okay, weaponised user interfaces, that does sound like something the Empire would use. Given that their bases are ninety percent elevated walkways without railings, this seems very much in their wheelhouse.
Spoiler alert: then Obi-Wan dies. In retrospect, the line “I was the learner” feels really awkward. Who calls themselves a “learner” unless they haven’t passed their driving test yet? “I was the student” makes more sense, but I guess George Lucas was still George Lucas, even way back then. “Only a master of evil,” Obi-Wan retorts; big words for someone who’s been hiding in a cave for twenty years.
It’s on to the climactic final battle of both the movie and the game, as Luke climbs into his X-Wing and we get to enjoy another vehicle section. I was definitely ready for another vehicle section, and that’s not sarcasm. I had fun with the landspeeder section and anything to break up the not-great platforming would have been welcome. Thinking about it, one of Super Star Wars’ big failings is that you never get to pilot the Millennium Falcon. You think there’d be a stage between leaving Tatooine and reaching the Death Star where you do just that, but instead you have to wait until the end to get behind the joystick again.
It works a lot like the landspeeder stages, although the controls have been changed so that you can turn left and right using the joypad now. Other than that, it’s the same very slidey-feeling action as you zip over the Death Star’s surface, your goal once again being to destroy a set number of enemies. In this case you have to eliminate twenty TIEs and twenty towers. You might think the laser-firing, highly manoeuvrable spaceships would be the main threat, but I definitely had more trouble with the towers. That’s because I kept flying into them, though, and (I think) that results in instant death.
Overall this is a fun little stage, though. As with so many parts of any Star Wars game, I’m getting more fun from it that I might otherwise just because it is Star Wars. There will always be a ten-year-old part of me that thinks any opportunity to pilot an X-Wing is the coolest thing imaginable.
After that, it’s into the Death Star’s trench for the final attack on its vulnerable exhaust ports. Thanks for that, Mads Mikkelsen. The action switches to a first-person perspective, but you don’t have to worry about flying, per se. You control the crosshairs and just have to shoot things. Not TIE fighters, though. They fly into the trench but you can ignore them entirely. Instead, you have to focus on the orange plasma balls they fire at you. They’re the only things that can damage you, so concentrating solely on shooting those down is the only way to survive.
Eventually Darth Vader will turn up in his own personal TIE. Much like not flying the Falcon, it’s kinda strange that you never actually see Darth Vader face-to-Face in Super Star Wars. I know Luke never meets Vader in the movie, but Luke also doesn’t fight a giant mutant womprat so the developers clearly weren’t afraid to go outside the source material.
As for Vader’s ship, much like the other TIE fighters you can mostly ignore it and concentrate on shooting down the projectiles it fires. You might be tempted to use your proton torpedoes against Darth’s ship, but do not do this. You only get a very small supply, and if you accidentally use them all you can’t refill them. This means you can reach the exhaust port and have nothing to fire into it, causing the rebellion to fail in the most spectacularly embarrassing way possible and also forcing you to do the stage again.
Pew pew, I used The Force – that’s what I call cheat codes, you see – and now the Death Star will explode. The galaxy is saved until The Empire Strikes Back, I’ve put a childhood trauma to rest by finishing Super Star Wars and we can all sit back and enjoy the ending sequence.
Thanks, Han. Nice of you to not bothering turning up to distract Darth Vader, that would have been mighty useful during the final stage.
And so Super Star Wars concludes in much the same way as the movie: the Empire suffers what turns out to be a temporary setback, there are celebrations and everyone gets a medal apart from Chewbacca, who gets shafted. Please take consolation in the fact that you’re the best Star Wars character, Chewie. Let the teenage space farmer and the space pilot who keeps losing his ship have their moment.
I’ve got a lot of mixed feelings about Super Star Wars. On one level, I know exactly what it is: a not especially enjoyable action-platformer that has some decent ideas and fun vehicle sections but is hampered by an obnoxious difficulty level, stiff, awkward gameplay and rubbish boss fights. Pretty much spot-on for a licensed SNES game from 1992, then. But I’m conflicted, because the Star Wars setting is definitely having an effect on me and I feel like maybe I’m cutting it some slack purely because it is Star Wars, but at the same time I also feel like I’m more disappointed and frustrated by it because it’s Star Wars and it all feels a bit of a waste. In conclusion, Super Star Wars is a game of many contrasts. Also non-canonical boss monsters and Imperial robots. And no boss fight in the trash compactor? One out of ten, practically unplayable.
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