Unlike the first game which I suspect that I played a bit back in the day, I’ve never really attempted to play Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. I didn’t see the point of playing a direct sequel in a trilogy that was closely connected, if I hadn’t had the chance to beat the first game. Well, I’ve beaten Super Star Wars already, so I finally gave the second game in the trilogy a shot.
Let’s talk about the game today!
Like it’s predecessor, Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back is a run-and-gun shooter with heavy platforming influences that was developed by LucasArts and Sculptured Software and originally published by JVC. Because of the layout of the title logo, people refer to this game as Super Empire Strikes Back. That’s a shorter title, so I’ll use that for the rest of this article too. This game is based on Episode V of the original Star Wars trilogy. Like the first game, this doesn’t follow the film faithfully, but it does cover the same beats.
You’ll get to play as Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Chewbacca. Unlike the first game, you aren’t given the option to choose your character. Instead, characters are pre-determined for each stage, based on the event from the movie that is being re-enacted. This makes sense, because Episode V split up the protagonists and gave them their own mini-adventures.
You have a health meter in this game, as well as a number of lives and continues. When the health meter is completely depleted, you lose a life. You’ve got a total of four starting lives (your current and three extra), and when you lose them all you’ll need to consume a continue, of which you have three. One major change for this game is the addition of a password system, so you can now save your progress. Finally, this game has three different levels of difficulty that you can choose from: Easy, Brave, and Jedi. I played this on the Easy setting and boy, the developers don’t know the definition of the word.
Moves and Abilities
Super Empire Strikes Back uses the same engine so the controls are similar. You move your character via the D-Pad. Pressing Down will make your hero crouch. If you hold Left or Right while crouched and you press B, you’ll do a sliding/rolling move. The B button makes your hero jump. They changed double jumping in this game. Now, pressing B in mid-air results in a double jump. Luke still swings his saber around when double jumping, which is one of the best attacks in this game.
To attack, you need to press the Y button. When you have the blaster equipped pressing Y shoots it. Holding down the Y button will make you continuously fire. Pressing the D-Pad will allow you to aim your shots in seven directions (except straight downward, even if you jump). Your blaster can be powered up a level by obtaining special gun power ups throughout the game. You can power up your blaster up to four times, but each time you die, your blaster level resets.
Han and Chewbacca are limited to the blaster, but Luke can toggle between his blaster and lightsaber by pressing A. Lightsaber attacks are done with an underhand sweeping motion. Pressing Up or Down will change this motion. If you hold the Y button and Down in mid-swing, Luke will attempt to block attacks with the lightsaber.
Han can now throw grenades in this game by pressing A. Grenades are consumable and you will need to collect them. Chewbacca does a powerful spin attack that makes him impervious to damage when you press and hold A. He can do this spin until his spin meter gets depleted.
I’m not sure if Han’s grenades and Chewbacca’s spin move are enough to offset the balance between the characters, because Luke also gains the ability to use Force Powers in Super Empire Strikes Back. When you get to Dagobah, there is a stage where Luke can pick up what seems like invisible power ups. Each one will unlock a different Force Power. I wasn’t able to find everything, and only a few of the ones that I found were really useful.
Once Luke finds his first power, a second meter is unlocked. This is the Force meter, which depletes whenever a Force Power is being used. To use Force Powers, you need to press Select to bring up the selection display. While this is up, pressing the shoulder buttons moves a cursor across your collected powers. Once you’ve selected your desired power, you can press Select or just let the menu disappear.
Pressing X executes your selected Force Power. The ones I’ve never tried are Mind Control, Freeze, and Saber Deflection. Slowdown is a power that you need to toggle; when its on, everything around you slows down slightly. The ones that I made heavy use of are Heal (heals a bit of health) and Elevation (makes you float while jumping.
The Force Power mechanic is nice, but how to obtain the powers wasn’t clear in my first attempt. And once you get them, you won’t get a lot of time to play around with them. Personally, I think there should have been fewer Hoth levels and more levels from Dagobah onwards. That would give Luke a lot more to do after he learns these Force Powers.
Additional Gameplay Modes
Now that I’m playing Super Empire Strikes Back, I’m starting to understand the design philosophy in this game. I think the developers were thinking about ways to recreate the events of the movies other than through action platforming. We got a few of those non-platforming moments in the first game, and in this game we get a lot more.
There’s a short side-scrolling shooter section with Luke on some sort of a hover bike. This happens just before he finds a snowspeeder, where we get to a longer section.
The snowspeeder section recreates one of the most memorable events of the movie, with Imperial Forces assaulting the rebel base. Aside from shooting down Stormtroopers in different vehicles, you’ll come face to face with AT-ST and AT-AT Walkers. To beat the larger ones, you’ll need to perform the maneuver that the rebels did in the movie.
There’s also a section with you in control of the Millenium Falcon. You need to make your way through an asteroid field while shooting down the TIE fighters chasing you. I would have preferred it if the perspective was outside the Falcon though. I remember than sequence involving a lot of asteroid dodging, and you don’t get the same feel here.
The X-Wing section near the end does a better job at this. There’s a layer of thick clouds in the middle of the stage and you have to alternate between flying over or under it. Cloudcars can appear above or below you, and they can shoot at you even if you don’t see them.
One of my complaints about the first game is the lack of known characters as bosses. For the most part, Super Empire Strikes Back is the same. You’ll fight giant monsters, giant vehicles, or giant droids as bosses. Except at the end, where you get to face two of the most famous characters in the Star Wars franchise.
Boba Fett is a boss in one of Chewbacca’s stages. He’ll fight you one on one first, shooting a bouncing projectile in an area with laser turrets. After you beat him, he’ll attack you in his spacecraft a few moments later. This fight was a pain, until I figured out his patterns.
Of course, this wouldn’t be an Empire Strikes Back game if it didn’t have the first Luke Skywalker-Darth Vader fight. The concept of the fight was amazing. You face Darth Vader in multiple short bouts all throughout. Then, you’ve got two longer battles, the first one ending with him tossing you out of a window. The last battle takes place with Luke cornered.
While Darth Vader still has only a few moves up his sleeve, they’re all that’s needed. He automatically deflects any blaster shots with his lightsaber. Whenever your lightsabers clash, you hear the classic crash sound effect from the movies. Even on Easy Mode, these battles are long and you’ll need to avoid taking damage while figuring out how to get through Vader’s defense.
Visuals, Sound, and Presentation
Like its predecessor, Super Empire Strikes Back has really good 16-bit graphics. Everything from the sprites to the stage backgrounds look great. When the game takes you to a planet or location from the movie, you can easily recognize it because of the details in the stages. And the visual effects that they use in the vehicle stages are quite impressive too. Nowadays, it’s easy to take something like this for granted, but we have to remember that this game came before 3D graphics was mastered.
In terms of sound design, everything in this game is great. There are a lot of sound effects and tracks taken directly from the movie trilogy. The Imperial March finally makes its debut in this series. If the gameplay weren’t good, the music alone would be worth playing this game.
The presentation of this game is also excellent. They carried a lot of the Star Wars iconography from the previous game, and continue to feature a lot of cutscenes that help tell the complete story of the movie.
One last complaint about Super Empire Strikes Back is that this game won’t allow you to choose characters. I understand why; Luke and Han had completely separate paths in the film. From a gameplay perspective though, you lose the benefit of choice. If you only wanted to play as Luke, you can’t. I wish they made Han and Chewie available during the sequences when the two characters were together. This is a minor nitpick though.
Similar to Super Star Wars, this game is a really good way to revisit the Empire Strikes Back film. Before playing this game, I had trouble remembering the events of the movie. Playing this reminded me of the film’s plot. This game is even more difficult than it’s predecessor, but having the Easy difficulty option makes it accessible to a lot of players. I couldn’t beat this on Brave difficulty – and that’s fine, because I was still able to beat and enjoy this game.
Super Empire Strikes Back is not just a must for any Star Wars fan who enjoys playing video games, you should really play this game right after a playthrough of Super Star Wars.