NES Games – Star Wars

I remember playing a Star Wars game on my Nintendo Famicom back when I was a kid. It was in Japanese and GameFAQs wasn’t a thing yet (neither was the Internet) so I could never really get far into it. I knew it had an English translation patch released several years ago, so I decided to give it a try now that I’m older.

 

star wars - title screen

Star Wars for the Nintendo Famicom.

 

Let’s talk about the Star Wars game that only Japan knew about when it came out!

 

Game Basics

Star Wars is an action platformer that was developed and published by Namco for the Nintendo Famicom. I was really surprised to learn that this was never localized for English audiences (there was a completely different Star Wars game released for the NES). In this game, you take on the role of Luke Skywalker in an adaptation of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. In this game, Luke will have to rescue each of his friends on different planets, until he finally gets to take on the Death Star.

 

star wars - storm troopers

These Storm Troopers can actually hit you.

 

Similar to other 8-bit games of the time, you don’t have a health meter in this game. Any time Luke gets hit or touches an enemy, he immediately dies. Thankfully, you usually respawn quite near the spot where you died. You can choose to play Novice Mission which is easy difficulty, or Pro Mission which is a lot harder. Regardless of the difficulty, you start the game with two lives and no continues. There is a cheat that will allow you to continue the game for as long as you’ve got at least 30 Force.

 

Moves and Abilities

In Star Wars, Luke can walk to the left and right, crouch, and jump. Momentum can affect his jump – if you get a running start, Luke can jump higher and farther. He starts the game with his lightsaber, which he uses to attack enemies. While attacking has a two frame animation to represent swinging, the hitbox of the lightsaber is actually just in front of Luke. Its range is a lot shorter than Simon’s (Castlevania) starting whip, actually. Because of this, it’s very hard to hit fast moving enemies.

 

star wars - lightsaber

Luke’s lightsaber doesn’t reach very far.

 

In some planets, you’ll be able to find a Blaster power up. This is considered an upgrade (even though the lightsaber is considered a better weapon) because it allows you to attack enemies from a distance. You can only shoot one beam at a time, so you need to wait for it to disappear before you can shoot again. You won’t be able to take your Blaster in boss fights and to the next planet you go to.

 

star wars - blaster

The Blaster is very handy when you find it.

 

The Landspeeder is a power up that sometimes appears when you’re about to leave a planet. When in Landspeeder mode, you are constantly moving to the right. Pressing Left slows you down to almost a complete stop, while pressing Right speeds you up. You can run over enemies in this mode and their projectiles won’t harm you. But if you hit a wall or stage hazard, you revert back into regular Luke.

 

star wars - landspeeder

This Landspeeder seems to be a little small for Luke.

 

The number of power ups might be too few but for a game designed in 1987, I was impressed at how much the developers were able to incorporate in this game.

 

Force Powers and Crew Members

When you defeat an enemy, they’ll drop crystals which refill your Force meter. The amount depends on your chosen difficulty. In Novice mode, small crystals give you 2 Force, medium crystals give 4 Force, and large crystals give 10 Force. This is halved in Pro mode: 1 Force from small crystals, 2 Force from medium crystals, and 5 Force from large crystals. You can have a maximum of 99 Force.

 

star wars - force crystals

Gather Crystals to use Force powers.

 

There are seven Force powers in this game. Speed (first icon) makes you move faster and jump higher and farther. The Hourglass icon momentarily freezes regular enemies in place. The Lightsaber icon will let you shoot lasers from your lightsaber. Lightning kills all regular enemies onscreen. The blue circle is a shield that protects you from damage from regular enemies. The Wings icon will let you fly or levitate, and the last icon will teleport you to an earlier part of the level you’re currently at. These abilities all use up Force, and they are sorted in order of how much Force they need.

 

star wars - force powers

The seven Force powers.

 

I was ignoring the Force powers but later on, I realized that some of them were necessary to progress forward. There were some areas in the Death Star with fast moving enemies that I had trouble hitting with my lightsaber. But when I used the Hourglass ability, it became quite easy. There were moments when I used the Wing ability when the Speed ability would have worked at a lower Force cost.

 

star wars - flight

Flight will allow you to fly over obstacles.

 

Finally, some of your friends also have in-game functions. Avoiding spoilers, R2D2 communicates with tech and C3PO with living creatures. Obi-Wan has advise regarding Darth Vader and Chewie will open doors for you.

 

Vehicle Sequences

I was surprised to experience quick vehicle sequences in Star Wars. Every time you go to a different planet, there’s a Millenium Falcon shooting sequence where you need to shoot down regular and advanced TIE fighters while trying to dodge their return fire. In case you are unable to dodge enemy projectiles, you can use energy shields up to three times per sequence to block them.

 

star wars - millenium falcon

Fighting TIE fighters with the Death Star in view.

 

And we can’t call this a Star Wars game if it did not recreate the iconic Death Star trench run from the movie. The final stage in the game is a vertical scrolling level wherein you’re piloting an X-Wing. The objective is to get to the end of the trench within the allotted time.

 

star wars - trench run

Collect T icons to temporarily stop the timer from running out.

 

There are enemy TIE fighters present in this sequence and you can shoot them down, but they’re mainly there to annoy you. Your focus in this level is to avoid slamming into walls and enemy fighters while moving in full speed for as often as possible. There are T power ups that will stop the timer from counting down, as well as six check points where your timer will replenish for some amount.

Enemies and Boss Battles

Even if Star Wars is an older 8-bit game, I was surprised with the amount of enemies represented in the game. You’ll fight different creatures and droids, as well as the trademark Storm Troopers. I even saw a Storm Trooper that looked like Boba Fett. I was satisfied with the variety of regular enemies in this game.

 

star wars - underwater planet

Fighting fish in the underwater planet.

 

In terms of the bosses, I was disappointed at first. Essentially, you’ll have to fight Darth Vader clones that turn into different creatures. I thought this was absurd because this didn’t happen in the movie. But there weren’t enough characters in the film that were notable enough to be turned into bosses for a video game. With that in mind, I can respect what the developers were going for.

 

vs shark vader

One of the “Darth Vader” bosses will turn into a monster shark.

 

You will get to fight Darth Vader for real though. Both times, he is a pain in the butt. My biggest complaint about Star Wars is how difficult the boss battles are. I already mentioned the lack of a health bar and the small hitbox of your lightsaber. It’s tolerable in the platforming stages but there’s one major flaw in the boss design that is problematic.

 

vs darth vader

Luke meets Darth Vader.

 

All the bosses in this game don’t experience knockback upon being hit, and their stun animation is too quick. So when you hit them with an attack, you only have a split second to move away before they can retaliate. Simply touching a boss will kill you, the later bosses can suddenly charge at you or hit you with an attack almost immediately after you attack them. It is very difficult to defeat a boss without losing a life or two.

 

Visuals, Sounds, and Presentation

Despite being an older Famicom title, I loved the 8-bit graphics of Star Wars. All the sprites were easy to understand and a lot of them were good 8-bit representations of characters and creatures from the actual film. All of the main protagonists have their own 8-bit sprite and they even have a headshot too. And I loved how detailed each of the planets were. It’s so nice to see 8-bit representations of the Death Star, Tatooine, sand crawlers, and even Yavin.

 

Princess Leia

Princess Leia waiting for rescue.

 

 

I wish I could be as positive about this game’s sound design. It has a really good chiptune recreation of the main Star Wars theme and the film’s ending theme. There’s also a decent theme that plays during boss battles. And that’s it! I love the Star Wars theme but if it’s the only music that will play in all of this game’s stages, then it’s going to get old really fast. I wish the developers made one or two more themes just to break the monotony.

 

star wars - opening cutscene

 

As for presentation, this game delivers what it needed to deliver. It has a version of the classic Star Wars opening crawl that narrates the introduction of the story, and a quick scene depicting Princess Leia’s recorded message asking for help. The menu with the Force powers and Crew members is clear enough and this game really doesn’t need a HUD. There are quick moments where your rescued friends would give you a line of dialogue. It’s definitely a lot more than what Super Mario Bros. had.

 

Final Thoughts

I seldom enjoy 8-bit games any more. I don’t appreciate how they look and most of them have mechanics or systems that feel too primitive to me. However, I enjoyed my playthrough of Star Wars a lot even though I found the game to be very difficult, even on the easier difficulty. I had so much fun, I beat the game once on each difficulty!

 

vs Boba Fett

Is that Boba Fett?

 

If you know the Continue cheat then you essentially have unlimited continues for as long as you’re at an area where you can farm Force crystals, so that kind of helps with the game’s difficulty. I think, with enough practice and memorization, a skilled gamer can easily beat this game’s Novice Mission. Additional stage music and a health meter system would have made this an even better game, but I was happy with it especially considering that this was a 1987 title. This game definitely should have been localized for English speaking audiences. If you’re a Star Wars fan and you like 8-bit games, make sure to check this game out!

 

If you want to check out the other Star Wars video games that I played and wrote about, click here! Or click here to check out every NES video game that I’ve played!

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