Quality Control, Video games

Quality Control: The Empire Strikes Back (NES)

Box Art for Star Wrars: The Empire Strikes Back for the NES

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I previously reviewed the JVC Star Wars game that was made for the NES before the SNES came out. It wasn’t a good game. I’ll be honest–it was a very bad game. The shooting controls were bad, and some of the enemies were cheap as hell. However, now we have a game based on the second installment of the trilogy, and now I’m going to see what improvements they’ve made from the prior installment of the series. Now, I wasn’t able to beat the game, but I made it through far enough to get a fair cop about what the game would be like.

The Premise

If you don’t know the premise to The Empire Strikes back, go to your local library, video store, to Netflix, or even to YouTube. I’ll wait.

You’re back? Good. Okay, the game follows that plot, though it focuses entirely on Luke and pads things out a bit, but not by too much.

The Good

We don’t get any enemies which are as on-nigh impossible to beat as the Bounty Hunters were in part 2, at least in the portion I made it through thus far. Additionally, they’ve re-balanced weapon damage some, where most regular enemies go down with one shot from a blaster, a few tougher enemies (like mini-probe droids) take multiple shots, and for bosses they’re essentially a pew-pew gun. However, Light-Sabers can take down the tougher enemies in a couple hits, and they’re more productive for bosses.

Additionally, you can now shoot your blaster in 6 directions, like Contra, and you don’t have to hold the D-Pad (or an analog stick) in a particular direction to continue firing in that direction. Once you set your blaster to shoot to the lower right, upper right, straight up, or whatever, it keeps firing in that direction until you hit the D-Pad, this makes it easier to position yourself in a location where a tougher enemy (or a boss) can’t hit you, and you can keep firing until the enemy drops dead.

The game also includes a super jump, which you can trigger by holding down on the D-Pad until you flash, and then you can jump to greater heights. Additionally, the game has force powers, such as force jump and force run that let you do the hither jump without having to hold Down first, or move faster, while using up some of your force bar. The game also includes power-ups that lets you use your force bar to pump up your lightsaber or blaster’s damage, and you even have a power that lets you deflect blaster bolts, an ability that, at this point in the series, had only been used in the training scene on the Falcon in the first movie and hadn’t been used in combat, which was a nice touch.

The Bad

Enemies have an unlimited re-spawn. Since the levels in the game are very expansive, the endless stream of enemies can make exploration hazardous. Additionally, the game doesn’t have a “tutorial” as it were. Yes, formalized tutorials were a feature of more modern PC and console games, but games like Mario and even Zelda gave the player a “tutorial” of sorts by requiring the player to do simpler tasks at first, and then requiring quicker reflexes or more complicated techniques later on in the game, after the player had learned the ropes earlier on. However, Empire Strikes Back throws you in feet first and hopes you can float.

The Ugly

The game handles resource management poorly. In the platforming stages you have to manage your force points. You have a limited number of force points in each stage. They don’t regenerate during the stage. While there are power-up items in each stage that can replenish force points, enemies don’t drop items that replenish force points the way they drop healing items. So, once you’re out during a boss fight (since you can’t retreat during a boss fight) you’re out. This issue,  frankly, caused me the problems that kept me from continuing

Similarly, in the obligatory Battle of Hoth stage, they limit the number of Tow Cables you have to five. They put you up against 10 AT-AT walkers. You can’t re-stock on Tow Cables. Now, when you’re on foot, you can insta-kill a walker by running up to it and doing the climb-up-a-rope-and-toss-a-grenade-inside thing that Luke does in the movie. It’s done pretty easily, it looks kinda cool, but there’s a catch. While you’re on foot you’re swarmed with snow troopers. However, unlike the snow troopers from earlier you can’t kill them in one shot with your blaster. Additionally, you can’t jump over them. Hitting the jump button sends you into the background briefly, and doesn’t move you forward. Also, you have to be perfectly lined up with the AT-AT to do the ground attack. While when you’re in a snow-speeder you do have blaster cannons, they’re entirely useless against the AT-ATs. I was able to get through the stage, but doing so was pretty annoying.

The Verdict

This game has improved a lot from the first game in the series, and fixed some of the specific problems I cited with the first game, including the targeting problems. However, the game isn’t without it’s faults that prevent it from going from just a decent game to a great game. Hopefully, the 16-bit version of this game will have the necessary improvements.