Sunday, December 13, 2015

Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire (Nintendo 64, 1996)

Hoth is sweet. Everything else is shieet. ...okay, it's kinda cool. It's a side-story that takes place between Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.

This was the third major N64 game to launch, and it arrived at the end of 1996. While I never played it at the time, I still remember how much hype it got. Rather than play as Luke or Han, you play as dashing rogue Dash Rendar. He's basically Han crossed with Star Lord from Guardians of the Galaxy.

And speak of the Han, here he is! Ladies love cool Han. Unfortunately, I suspect this is his only appearance in the game.

He immediately takes a lot of Dash Rendar's heat by pointing out that Dash's ship, the Outrider, isn't as fast as the Falcon. Close, though.

Ever wonder why they're called Probe Droids? I do. ...ewww.

The very first stage is THE BEST STAGE IN THE GAME. For real. This stage is amazing. It's the Hoth battle from Empire Strikes Back. You fly around in the snowspeeder, firing at enemy probe droids and walkers. It's just like the movie; they got the visuals and sounds spot-on.

The final battle of this stage has you using a tow cable to bring down AT-AT Walkers. You can also blast them to death, but that would take a while.

It takes a bit of practice to perfect the looping, and the analog stick really shows its goodness here. Reminds me of Bowser-throwing in Mario 64.

As for Challenge Points... the game has a lot of these things hidden in the stages. Sometimes you get them for doing something tricky, other times you just need to look in the right places. Getting all of them is what you need to do to 100% the game, but there isn't really any driving rationale behind it the way there is with the stars in Mario 64.

...I'm comparing this game to Mario 64 simply because it was like the only other action game on the system in 1996.

And now, the game suddenly gets exponentially lamer as the plethora of on-foot stages begin. Roughly 85-90% of the game is like this, over-the-shoulder third person shooting. I definitely prefer the flight stages.

The dashing Dash isn't just confined to your standard laser blaster. He can pick up ammo for a number of alternate shots, like Seeker (the fireball-looking shot from previous games in this universe), and Pulse. For the most part, it's a good idea to stick to the regular blaster for these stages. It gets things done against stormtroopers. Seeker is better saved for the bosses. The other ammo types I'm not sure about; haven't really used any of them because there hasn't been a need.

This sorta reminds me of Doom. You have to hit a bunch of switches to open certain doors and finish the level. Except instead of fighting imps, you're fighting stormtroopers who have super-bad reaction speed.

After throwing a switch, the two walls of this hallway begin to drift apart. Not falling into the pit is tricky, especially before you figure out what the hell is going on. All things considered, it's a pretty cool section, and must have been even moreso in 1996.

The first boss is this AT-ST Walker. Given how many times I've fought knockoff-designs of this thing in games (it's almost as reused as the Xenomorph), it's always awesome when I get to fight the real deal.

At first, I had some trouble with this fight since my shots were doing almost no damage.

The key is to go up onto the balconies and shoot at it from up there where you can easily pummel the "head". It takes about 10x more damage than the legs.

Using Seeker shots can end this fight in no time flat, but it's best to save those for later, tougher bosses. This room is FULL of Seeker ammo, and it's good to run around collecting all of it after the fight.

These seemingly-indestructible yeti (Wampas?) show up in a bunch of levels. They're very slow-moving and it's best to just run on by.

 Finally, I reach Dash Rendar's ship, THE MILLENIUM FALCON the Outrider!

The next stage has you shooting down TIE-Fighters in the Not-Falcon. You don't control its flight, just the turret (and you have full range of motion in that regard). This stage is really cool, definitely the coolest stage since the first one. Yep, this game definitely should have been entirely flight stages. They're so much better than the on-foot stages that make up about 90% of the runtime.

 There are also asteroids to shoot down, and a Star Destroyer that unfortunately you can't fight. That would have been awesome.

We get our first exposure to the "villain" of the game, Xizor. I say "villain" because you never actually fight him, for some bizarre reason. The game seems incomplete in that regard.

He sorta reminds me of a Cardassian from Star Trek. In any case, Xizor is the head of Black Sun, a formidable space-corporation that builds military hardware for The Empire. He's trying to get a seat at The Emperor's table.

The next stage is, quite literally, a pile of junk.

Not only are you back in an on-foot stage, but it's also an on-rails stage. You ride around on top of this train for what seems like forever; there are almost no enemies, just the occasional obstacle to jump or duck. It's quite boring.

 Eventually, the train plows into a gateway and explodes.

"Ohh myyyy!"

The boss here is IG-88, who looks like a super-primitive proto-terminator. I shall call him... T-300.

In any case, he (it?) is easily destroyed by switching to Seeker and blasting him point-blank with it before the fight can get underway. The fight was over before I could get a good shot, so here he is falling over from point blank range.

Dash proceeds to be all handsome and dashing while T-50 over there looks on creepily.

The next stage is very N64. There's too much fog to have any kind of real background, and the somewhat polygonal platforms are very un-detailed. In 1996 these graphics were cutting-edge, though.

Jetpacks are fun-tastic.

This jetpack lets you soar over large gaps, as is jetpack tradition.

Just don't run out of Jetpack fuel mid-flight. AHHHHH!!!

The next stage is full of whirling fan blades. I don't want to talk about it.

IT'S BOBA! THE FETT!

Defeat him and he leaps into his clothesiron-shaped ship! This is a tricky boss fight, and it's definitely the coolest moment the game has had since the Hoth stage.

The next stage has you on a jet-bike, or a swoop bike, or a speeder... whatever these things are called. No guns, so you defeat enemies by ramming into them until they crash. The controls are pretty atrocious for this stage, but it's still kind of cool to speed through Mos Eisley like this.

Eventually, I crash my way through enough of the city to end up in the desert outside. The bar at the top indicates how close you are to the end of the stage, while the red dots are enemies that you need to take out.

Earlier, Dash Rendar hobnobbed with Han Solo. Now, he's namedropping Princess Leia and rubbing elbows with Luke Skywalker.

Who indeed, young Mark Hamill best known for being the voice of the Joker. Who indeed.

I wonder if this is why Luke isn't in any of the Episode VII trailers. He's busy helping Dash Rendar defeat Xizor somewhere.

The next stage is the interior of an imperial freighter, and it's the toughest stage yet due to all the ambush points with enemies lurking in them.

On that note, is it just me or do the stormtroopers in this game look strangely deformed?

There's a lot of platforming in this stage and it isn't fun at all. The jumping controls in this game are pretty bad compared to, say... Mario 64.

The boss here is the T-400. Another easy boss fight if you put on Seeker and just blast away at him. With Seeker on you can win point-blank slugfests with bosses; need to have the ammo to sustain it though. This is why it's good to avoid using Seeker at all on regular enemies during the stages.

Xizor was green, now he's grey. He's starting to look like Larry King.

Xizor is jockeying for the position of being The Emperor's top henchman. Well, we know he doesn't succeed since we never heard of the guy in Return of the Jedi.

I actually remember this from the short lived Shadows of the Empire comics in Nintendo Power. There was a whole episode where Leia (dressed pretty sexy, as I recall) has a drink with Xizor. He's enamored by her until he realizes that she isn't on his side, then he puts her in jail.

I'd be more into this, but I know that you never fight Xizor in the game. So there's very little point to his existence. He doesn't appear in any follow-ups, and has no significance to the Star Wars universe outside of this game. So why can't we kill 'em?

The next stage is likely the worst in the game... the sewers of the Imperial City. They're yucky, boring, dark, and depressing. Like Ann Coulter's vagina.

The sewer ultimately leads to Xizor's Palace. This is the second-to-last foot-based level, and it's my least favorite area in the game. I actually stopped playing for like a week when I got to this point. It's just THAT lame.

Fall into the water and you'll be face-to-tentacle with WTF IS THAT THING

Whatever it is, there are a lot of them in this place.

 Most of the level revolves around finding this damn security key so you can open a gate. Question is... does the gate exist to keep people out, or something else in?

 These underwater tunnels are like something out of Metroid Prime. I wonder what a Metroid game on the N64 would have looked like; for some reason Nintendo decided to skip that generation entirely when designing Metroid games. Hopefully they don't do that with the current Wii U. ...they're totally doing that with the Wii U.

At the end of the level is the most horrifying and memorable boss in the game. A gigantic version of whatever that thing was earlier.

Most of the tentacles instantly respawn when blasted; there's one that has an eye-stalk at the end and that's the one to shoot.

OH GOD IT HAS A SARLACC MOUTH

Well, that stage was a flat-out ordeal, and I'm glad it's over. The boss was the stuff of nightmares.

The final on-foot stage is Xizor's Palace. Unfortunately, Xizor is nowhere to be found. Actually, he's a total non-factor in this game outside of cutscenes, as I already pointed out several times because it drives me nuts.

Three bombs need to be planted to finish the level, and conveniently they're all located in the same room. All things considered, this level is quicker and easier than the sewers. At this point I'm looking forward to the game being done with...

But wait! There's one more thing to do here. Before our hero can make his escape, he must battle... the T-500!

Er, the Gladiator Droid. This is essentially the final boss of the game, with three forms and a ton of health. I don't know why Xizor couldn't have been the final boss.

Why do I care about Xizor so much? I don't know, I'm a villain-thusiast.

After blasting the droid a lot, the top half disengages and flies around. The floor also opens up. It's harder to land hits at this point, so it's a good idea to fight the first form with the standard laser and save Seeker / Pulse ammo for this form. The jet-pack helps a lot for lining up shots (would have made that first AT-ST boss a snap).

Defeat the second form and the head disengages and flies around. Obviously, this is the most difficult form to land hits on, but the Disruptor (smart bomb, more or less) does massive damage to it without needing to aim. Three shots of that and the fight's over.

After that hellish fight, we get... another flight stage! Awesome! This is the second-best stage in the game (after the very first stage, obviously) and I can only imagine how much better the game would have been had every stage been like these.

This one has you manning the turret of your ship, like the earlier asteroid belt stage. Difference is that you can actually control the ship's movement this time as you take on Star Viper ships. They're like Tie Fighters, just... more expensive? Makes sense, given that Black Sun is supposed to be this big galactic conglomerate. I actually like that this game incorporates a Military-Industrial Complex into the Star Wars universe in a way that I don't think the movies did.

The Empire arrives, and for some reason the Imperial forces seem to be at war with Black Sun's forces. The Rebel forces are also involved, making this a three-way war. Not sure what the deal is, and I feel like I missed a cutscene. That or they were in a hurry to get the game released and skipped finishing some of the late-game content.

The goal here is to take out the four turrets; each is at the end of one of the arms of the huge space station. That's Xizor's flagship, the Skyhook.  No relation to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

 I sustain my first and only game over here. This stage is very short, but it doesn't mess around. There's Xizor again, who I just can't take seriously as a villain given what a complete non-factor he is.

 After taking out the four turrets, you have to fly into each of the arms and land a missile shot on the reactor core. After shooting it from all four directions (which requires a total of seven treacherous hallway runs), the core is destroyed.

 The Skyhook EXPLODES, and that's all she wrote for this game. Presumably Xizor met his end on board somewhere.

Unfortunately... Dash didn't make it out before the station exploded. Not sure if I could have prevented this by rushing out after I fired the last missile, but it didn't seem like it. Perhaps on a higher difficulty level, or after collecting all of the Challenge Points, Dash survives. I'm not sure.

Regardless, the story comes to a neat conclusion. Dash and Black Sun are both no more, and the Alliance has an advantage in the upcoming battle with The Empire in Return of the Jedi.

So, final thoughts on this game? I didn't enjoy it much at all aside from the first and last stages. However, at the time that it released, it was a fan-favorite simply by virtue of being pretty much the only thing N64 players had to play after they 100%'d Mario 64.

8 comments:

  1. That giant underwater boss gave me nightmares as a kid and I never managed to finish the level. A friend did it for me. True story. This game was a lot of fun back then but it doesn't surprise me much that it doesn't hold up well today.

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    1. To this day I'm still traumatized by this and a little by Kirby 64. I kid you not, Wompa, IG-88 and the sewer monsters are still scaring me to this day as an adult. I'm not even fazed by most horror games but it seems this one traumatized me so much it's still scary to this day lol.

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  2. Heh, KOTOR does the "Not-Falcon" thing too.

    "Yep, this game definitely should have been entirely flight stages. They're so much better than the on-foot stages that make up about 90% of the game." - Sounds like I'm reading a Star Fox Armada review.

    I guess you don't fight Xizor because he gets taken down in the much-hyped-at-the-time book of the same name as this game with actual characters from the movie. At least I would think that's what happens.

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  3. There's a ton of Star Wars Extended Universe stuff, I've been led to believe, and the closest it ever came to the surface was this and Clone Wars, the brilliant animation feature. It would be great to see more famous fan-fueled lore in video games.

    I'm sure it must have been awkward for the whole team to play the completed version of the game and realize the flight battle crew did such a better job than the main game crew.

    How is Xizor pronounced?
    Bye Dash.

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  4. THE FLOOR LEVELS STYLISH DASH IS BADASS WANNA BE LIKE!

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  5. "Perhaps on a higher difficulty level, or after collecting all of the Challenge Points, Dash survives. I'm not sure."

    You mean you didn't even bother to look up this info on Star Wars wiki or on Youtube???? Just how lazy are you????

    The End of - Star Wars - Shadows of the Empire (N64)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=43KC8T1LA4c

    Dash Rendar (Legends) - Star Wars Minute
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6UjBLEv1EQ

    http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Dash_Rendar#Later_life_and_career

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    1. I don't feel like I need to look on Wikipedia to get the story of a game, unless the story is very engrossing to the point of making me want to know more about the universe. Otherwise I take the game at face value. In this case, I assumed there was a possibility he might have survived at a higher difficulty level since Good Endings based on difficulty frequently occur in old games, and left it at that rather than looking into whether or not that was the case.

      I will say that looking at the links you supplied gives me a bigger picture that I wish I'd included in the post. Glad Dash survived this, sorry he's done as far as the overall SW universe goes.

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