Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Force Will Be With You, Always – Super Star Wars

A lot of you young whippersnappers might not remember this, but there was a time when video games were hard. Like, REALLY HARD. Oh sure, it's tricky to pick up Modern Warfare and do well, but what we're talking is a whole new level of hard. I'm saying controller-tossing, foot-stomping, expletive-hurling difficulty the likes of which you can't find nowadays. Super Star Wars is such a game.

To be fair, its sequel (Super Empire Strikes Back, for those of you keeping score at home) is even MORE difficult, but (as Brian Ferriter pointed out to me the other day) at least that game had a password system that let you skip to the level you got a Game Over at. In Super Star Wars, if you run out of Continues (a magical difficulty-enhancing device that has all but disappeared from modern games), you stared over. As in FROM THE VERY BEGINNING.

If you like Tatooine, you're in luck: you'll be seeing this place a lot.

The tradeoff for this stupid-high level of challenge is that beating the game becomes an achievement. Literally. As soon as I beat it, I seriously took a picture of the screen to prove that I did it. I guarantee that I will remember beating Super Star Wars (where I was, who I was with, when it happened, etc.) way more than I will for beating something like Pure or The Orange Box.

This is the screen of victory. Super Star Wars you got Testerman'd.

This is what victory looks like.

But more about the game. Super Star Wars is a pretty standardly-designed sidescrolling movie game that was prevalent up until sidescrolling games became unfashionable (and even then, they still kept making 'em for the Game Boy Advance!). It involves progressing from left to right and shooting everything that isn't you, all while traversing through stages that (rather loosely) follow the plot of the movie? Remember that part in the movie where Luke tears through a whole herd of Banthas before fighting a giant mutant Womp Rat? Well you'll sure get to play through it!

The shooting controls are reasonably tight; you can't aim and shoot at the same time, but you can aim in 7 different directions (you can't shoot down). Jumping is a rather tricky and hit-or-miss affair, making me long for the Mega Man games of yore (or in Mega Man 10's case, the Mega Man games of a few weeks ago). Also, the slide move, which is accomplished by pressing diagonal-down and either right or left is kinda fitful; it works well most of the time, but tends to get confused when used multiple times repeatedly (like, say, when you're in the middle of the hardest boss in the game, and instead of sliding, it makes you jump in the air… I'm not bitter).

Some of the bosses are pretty tough. And pretty fiction-breaking. What exactly is an "Imperial Defense Droid?"

These two aforementioned problems only exacerbate what is EASILY the most frustrating part of the game: the horribly unfair-feeling level design. Granted, a certain amount of repeated enemies and instant-death traps are to be expected in this kind of a game. But these places cross the line from "Oh, I Guess I Can Be Expected To Do That" to "How Was I Supposed To Know That Was There?!!!??!"

For example, in the Death Star Hanger level, I have to negotiate these pits that appear to be instant-death traps (which, they are). Fair enough. I also have to negotiate fighting Storm Troopers and little robots that push me into the pits. Also fair enough. But how am I supposed to jump over these pits if THE GAME KEEPS DROPPING STORM TROOPERS ON ME WHILE I'M JUMPING??? And they don't even fall in a pattern! They just randomly drop on me, more often than not right while I'm jumping over the pits! There's a fine line between challenging the player and just being a douche.

You can also expect to be hit by TIE Fighters. Which you can't avoid. What's this game got against me anyways?

So I guess the question that it comes down to is "How much frustration am I willing to put up with in my video games?" If you play games to unwind, do NOT touch Super Star Wars. If you enjoy video games periodically, you might get a curiosity point from checking out some of the levels (don't buy it on eBay just for curiosity, though, unless it's like $10 with shipping). If you're an old-school gamer who has likely played and beaten harder games than this in one sitting, go for it; some of the levels are fun, the shooting action works for the most part, and it's Star Wars. Just don't come crying to me when your Continues are gone and you have to start way back on Tatooine.

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