In the early 90’s, JVC got the rights to publish action games based on Lucas’ most beloved films. Yes, this was back when LucasArts was more interested in creating creative, hilarious adventure games, and leaving the nickel-and-dime exploitations of the films to someone else. Sculptured Software out of Utah was hired to create an impressive platform game based off of the first film, and so they did. Here is that game, the superest Star Wars of the time, way more super than any previous Star Wars game, and only later games in the Super Star Wars trilogy could even hope to be superer.
Super Star Wars is a fast, gorgeous, but fairly standard action scroller. You know the deal – run left to right, shooting any and all creatures that stand in your way, and vacuum up all the powerups you can. The levels are all based on scenes or locations from the film, albeit with a few “creative challenges” thrown in. You probably won’t remember the scene where Chewbacca had to shoot his way out of a cantina full of hostile aliens, or the one where Luke had to shoot hoverbike-riding Jawas with his landspeeder, but you’ll at least recognize the deserts of Tatooine and the interior hallways of the Death Star when the mayhem rolls through.
You begin the game as Luke, but later missions will allow you to select control of Han Solo or Chewbacca. Han can roll and Chewie has a longer life bar, but that’s it for differences – the special character abilities invented for the later SSWs are absent here. Each and every character uses a standard blaster, which can be upgraded to more lethal variants by repeatedly collecting weapon powerup icons. About a third of the way in, Luke will also be awarded his lightsaber, though he is wildly inept at using it. It’s clearly weaker than the upgraded blaster, he swings it like a dumbass, and you’ll have no abilities to block, sweep, reflect shots, or any other fun tricks that are added later in the series.
The series is known for its batshit NES Logic enemies, and putting a steady amount of them on the screen at once. The first game doesn’t disappoint. Super Star Wars acts like there’s a money-back guarantee if you don’t have something to fight at all times, and any forward progress is slowed by repeatedly spawning enemies on land and in the air. The game sometimes gets choppy for this – but certainly not as often as you’d expect. It’s mostly smooth scrolling and quick blasting, until things get particularly hectic (or giant boss enemies arrive on scene).
It’s also extremely generous in its difficulty – a stark comparison to the later Super Empire – and just about every enemy drops a little heart to refill your life. You can get bogged down by enemies spawning from the top or right of the screen, but never completely overwhelmed, and simply running and hopping through trouble spots works pretty well when you know that a heart or two won’t be far away.
Graphically, the game is sharp and impressive. It couldn’t be considered a flagship 16-bit title, but it looks clean enough to add to a list of “reasons why you should own a Super NES.” Backgrounds look great, and scroll independently of the foreground action. Detail on the sand dunes of the early levels contrasts well with a beautiful blue sky. Later Death Star levels are slightly less impressive, with a lot of reuse of textures and colors, but I suppose that is fitting with the technological coldness of the film’s sets. The Death Star isn’t supposed to be a resort, after all.
The game includes a few early Mode 7 sequences, allowing for an adequate illusion of 3-D. The sequences themselves aren’t that exciting though. You will have a number of scenes where you must drive your landspeeder around and shoot a set number of Jawas on floating bikes before you can proceed – for no real reason at all. A section where you fly over the Death Star and must shoot a set number of enemy fighters is mildly more interesting, but suffers from some graphical bugs as towers magically appear in front of you and hit for damage. There’s also the final Death Star Trench Run™ level, which is straightforward, but looks neat.
Most of the music from the film has been recreated here, same as with every Star Wars game ever made. But for the time, the conversion here of the film’s orchestral score to a console system was quite an achievement, and impressed fans and critics alike. It’s sad now that these themes have become so commonplace and mundane (especially if you’ve played a lot of Star Wars games) that you probably won’t even notice how good they sound on the SNES. I know I didn’t at first. Yet the work is so spot-on, that I’m fairly confident many of these exact versions were reused for the background MIDI in Dark Forces.
Effects aren’t too bad, and each weapon does create a distinct noise. Many enemy noises reuse the same single sample (the Jawas and Tuskens stand out particularly) and this can start to get a little annoying. Checkpoints – which are rare – are also announced only by a simple chime, which can sometimes be missed if you’re holding down the blaster trigger.
By far, the biggest offender is that there are no passwords or level saves. You have to play through the entire game (16 levels) in one sitting, which feels like outdated design and artificial difficulty. No passwords means you can’t just jump to your favorite level, and keeps the final X-Wing action dangling like a carrot unnecessarily. The inclusion of points and time limits seem similarly useless, though this game does have enemies occasionally drop time-extension powerups.
No passwords plus a few tough bosses (that damn stretchy neck cantina guy) mean this stands to be a pretty tough game, but rampant health powerups balance this a little. As said, every enemy drops a heart, and very few offer truly cheap attacks. Weapon powerups carry between levels and across characters, so once you’ve at least collected to the rapid-fire homing missiles, you’re in pretty good shape. In fact, the game seems pretty easy when you’ve got the final (plasma) upgrade, though as a counter, it feels like some bosses expect you to have plasma to beat them. You lose all powerups when you die, and a few spots later definitely feels like you should just start over if this happens.
Some obnoxious precision platforming also shows up, complete with enemies nearby that can knock you around with their attacks. The instant-kill lava at the bottom of the sandcrawler level is a bullshit “gotcha” moment, and the third level – where you’re climbing the sandcrawler’s exterior – offers the best litmus test of if you’re going to be able to put up with this game. Repeatedly getting knocked back to the ground level, while time continues to run out, is just the start of the game’s occasional test of patience.
This game is a great introduction to what the series will become, and probably the most easy-going fun of the three. Even if you’re not a fan of Star Wars, it’s probably worth checking out just for the great action and controls, and the impressive look of the scenery.
Fast and frequently smooth. Rather laid back compared to the nightmare difficulty of a certain later Super Star Wars title.
Not much beyond the license to set it apart from other action scrollers, but even non-fans can appreciate how well-made this is.