If you’re just tuning in, let’s take a brief moment to recap. JVC and LucasArts put out SNES platformers based on the Star Wars trilogy once a year starting in 1992. Super Star Wars looked great and was a fairly easy-going time, but lacked much depth and a purpose to the different characters. Super Empire Strikes Back added specific special moves to each character, a useful lightsaber and force powers to Luke, and upped the quality of the Mode 7 sequences, but was absolutely crazy-go-nuts difficult. After wandering between the two extremes, developer Sculptured Software finally brought balance to the Force, and made Super Return of the Jedi a technical feat, a fun challenge, and a fitting end to the trilogy.
Super Jedi offers 20 levels based on the final film. Luckily, and quite unlike Empire, the combat-heavy nature of Jedi‘s plot makes for plenty of obvious action scenes, none of which seem forced or drawn out. You’ll rescue Han from Jabba, travel to Endor, take out the shield generator, and then head up into the Death Star to finish off Vader and the Emperor, while fighting a space battle outside.
The character specials from Super Empire are intact, and two new characters join the fray: Leia and Wicket the Ewok. Leia actually comes in three forms. The first is the bounty hunter costume complete with a polearm good for wackin’ chumps over the head. Bounty Hunter Leia, though only available for a few early levels, is the most unique. Her other two forms, Gold Bikini Leia and Endor Commando Leia are nice, but mime Chewbacca and Han respectively.
Chewie still has his spin attack and Han still has his mildly-useful grenades, and both can collect weapon icons to power their blasters up as high as in the previous games. Each weapon powerup is a little different, aside from just being stronger. I personally found the highest level (Plasma) to be a waste of time, and preferred sticking with the homing missile option about three powerups earlier. It’s nice that the game doesn’t force these new powers upon you – if you get to one you like, you can simply stop collecting them. Another neat touch are expanded ricochets in some levels, so you can bank your fire off of floors or ceilings to angle at hard-to-reach bad guys.
Luke has gotten an overhaul as well, since he is supposed to be a Jedi Master by this time. In keeping with the film, his lightsaber is now green, but retains all of the power and blocking ability it gained in Super Empire. Luke will also start with all of his Force powers available, though the list has been streamlined to five. None are really redundant, and the shorter list means you can scroll through them much faster. Levitate has been removed and is sorely missed, but Heal (which trades Force energy for health) and Freeze (which instantly freezes all enemies on the screen) are pretty much all you’ll need. Rampant Force energy powerups also mean you can use these powers frequently without fear of running dry.
The only unwelcome character is Wicket the Ewok, who you are forced to play for two levels. He travels around, saving his little teddy bear village with a bow and arrow. Most of these levels are spent making your way up the trees and shooting angry critters, or sticking the arrows into tree trunks to make impromptu stairs. It sounds cute. It isn’t.
See, apparently he can’t swim – which makes you wonder why he and his friends built their village next to the raging river – but the point is there are a lot of log jumps with enemies that swoop out of nowhere, fly into you, and knock you right into the drink. His enemies are as plentiful as in other levels, but he has no special moves or Force magic to make up for his weak arrows, which now require three or four shots to kill enemies a blaster would slay in one. These levels are excessively frustrating, especially to be unrelated side missions.
They also highlight a serious problem with many of the levels. Nearly all of them are vertical in their setup, and all can be traversed freely forward and backward. This means that you can fall through one of the plentiful holes or miss a narrow platform, and land on a lower level from 15 minutes ago. I can’t decide if it’s better to simply drop in a pit and die, or to start from near the beginning of the level. They both make me want to give up. Flying enemies that bump into you and send you into these pits, or large leaps of faith you sometimes have to take that don’t always work out, only make matters worse.
The graphics are the sharpest in the series. For the first time, still images from the film are used for background elements, like the shield dish, or the Death Star hanging in the sky. The characters are redrawn to try and reflect this new look, with a greater emphasis on shadows or reflections off of leather. Sometimes it works; sometimes it lacks the charm of the more cartoonish characters from the earlier titles. There, they seemed to focus more on creating interesting characters with their drawings, instead of trying to render photorealistic characters here.
What cannot be questioned though, are the brilliant Mode 7 levels. Jedi involved copious action sequences around vehicles, so it gave the developers quite a bit to choose from for the game. All are skillfully replicated, from the speeder bike chase to the space battle around the Death Star. The final two levels even have you flying into the core of the Death Star, using the shoulder buttons to rotate the Millennium Falcon to fit through twisting, turning corridors, and then speeding to outrun the explosion at the end. Though all of these levels have been outclassed by more technically impressive renditions in later games, these are still a blast to play, and add a welcome amount of flavor between the platform levels.
Music and sound, a staple of the Super Star Wars trilogy, is in expectedly perfect form here. The themes are masterfully recreated, the explosions and blasters seem to be taken from the film, and the lightsaber sounds especially crisp. The digital voices from Empire have been removed, though a few digital sounds still exist – namely, Jabba’s chuckle, the Emperor’s cackle, and Wicket’s excited little “Niichaa!” shout. These sound dead on, and do everything the voice clips intended to do, without the obvious, sometimes embarrassing artifacts of Super Empire.
If you’ve already played one or both of the previous games and found something to enjoy, there’s no reason not to play through this one. The vehicle levels are the best, and the platforming strikes a good balance between challenge and difficulty. The ability to collect 100 Rebel icons for a new life may give it a bit of a Mario feel, but the game is far less of a cakewalk than the everyone-drops-a-heart style of Super Star Wars. If you’re new to the series, Super Star Wars might be a more enjoyable start, but will certainly be less polished all around. You can probably skip Super Empire altogether. But if you want to see the trilogy at its finest, this is the one to check out.
Better balance between ease and challenge on the platform levels. Excellent variety of Mode 7 sequences. Best sound around.
Vertical levels mean lots of inconvenient pits. Ewok levels aren’t cute as intended, and are more of an unwelcome distraction. Vader as a boss is still a bit of a pushover.