Two years ago, a new tradition began around Christmas, but it doesn’t have anything to do with it. I’m talking about the new Star Wars movies, which are now released around this time. And I decided to review a Star Wars game along with them (I tried to review one last May 4th, but I didn’t had the time and my laptop was broken). Last year, I reviewed the first title in the Jedi Knight series, Dark Forces; but this year, we’re going to take a look at the first Star Wars game ever released for PC: the DOS port of 1983’s Star Wars (AKA Star Wars: The Arcade Game)
Star Wars is a rail-shooter made by Atari and originally released in 1983 at the arcades and ported for the Atari 2600 (by Imagic) and 5200 (by Parker Brothers) and the Commodore 64 (also by Parker Brothers). It was ported the next year for the ColecoVision (by Imagic) and the Atari 8-bit (by Parker Brothers). In 1987, it was ported for the Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, BBC Micro, Acorn Electron and ZX Spectrum, all by Vector Grafix (who would handle all the new ports from this moment on). In 1988, it was ported for the Macintosh and again for the Commodore 64. In 1989, it was ported for the Commodore Amiga and DOS. And in 2003, it was included as an unlockable feature in the Gamecube version of Star Wars: Rebel Assault III.
I know what you’re thinking: according to my own review guidelines, I shouldn’t review arcade ports, BUT, if you read them carefully, any game that was released originally in the arcades or consoles, had a computer port released right after (to a maximum of three months afterwards), is eligible for reviewing. And since the Arcade version of Star Wars was originally released in May 1983 and the Commodore 64 version was released in August 1983, that makes it just BARELY eligible for such. Why? Because it means that both the original version and the port were made roughly around the same time, not directly ported.
But before taking a look at the game, let’s look at some of the covers, shall we?
This is the original arcade marquee and it looks cool for the time, with the blue lines as a remainder of the vector graphics found on the game (I blame Tron for that association).
This the 1983 cover and while it doesn’t show much, it’s still very well designed and it looks like the Star Wars’ logo is flying towards the Death Star and the TIE-fighter in the distance.
This is the 1987 cover and it’s simply a recreation of one of the original movie posters. It isn’t bad, but all these characters don’t even appear in the game (well, you’re playing as Luke Skywalker, but in a first person perspective).
This is the 1988/1989 cover and it’s probably the best cover, with the X-wing and TIE-fighters in front of an explosion, and a picture of Luke on the side (implying you’re playing as him). This cover would inspire later covers featuring X-wings, be it books, comics or other games.
But before we get into the game itself, let’s just take a small look at this TV ad for the console ports:
(Video courtesy of Darth LeBeau’s Star Wars Game Chamber).
This has to be the most enthusiastic gamer I’ve ever seen. If he ever plays with a VR set, his mind might explode!
Now finally, we can actually get to the game:
First, I hate the title screen. It’s as unoriginal and uninspired as it gets. And second, there isn’t any scrolling text nor the Star Wars theme in it (in fact, there isn’t any music whatsoever). How can there be a Star Wars game without these two things?! And I hope you’re familiar with Star Wars (at this point, who isn’t?!) because the game just throws you into the action without any introduction or explanation. But then again, it’s just the Death Star battle from A New Hope.
First, you select your difficulty level (easy, medium or hard). The higher the level, the higher the points bonus you get. The game is divided in three parts (two in the first wave): the space battle with Tie-fighters, where you need to shoot them and the fireballs they shoot at you, the Death Star’s surface, which first appears at the second wave, where you need to shoot the turrets and the towers (that appear from the third wave forward) and the famous trench sequence, where you need to shoot the fireballs, avoid the obstacles (that start to appear at the second wave) and shoot at the exhaust port to finish the wave. However, if you miss the port, you need do to the trench all over again.
You start the game with nine shields, meaning you can only get hit ten times. However, every time you finish a level (or wave, as the game calls it), you’re awarded an extra shield (but never beyond nine) and the next wave gets harder and more complex (with more enemy ships and obstacles). Yes, the game is rather small and hard (since there aren’t any continues), but then again this type of arcade games were made specifically to munch quarters, but the difficulty could have been reduced while porting it to home platforms.
The graphics and animation are superb, even with the reduced number of colors. In fact, if it wasn’t for the lack of colors (and music), it could be mistaken for the arcade version. And the animation is very fast and fluid when playing on Dosbox. Reducing the number of cycles might be recommended for beginners, but in my opinion, this game plays better with an number of cycles from 1500 and above. However, in the surface section, if there are too many towers on the screen simultaneously, it tends to slow down the game a bit. But it still remains playable and enjoyable.
The control schemes available are by keyboard, joystick or mouse. The keyboard controls are okay and there are better options. The joystick and gamepad controls are better, although I recommend a joystick over a gamepad, because of the reverse up/down controls (the up arrow actually throws the crosshair down, like in a flying simulator), although you can always reverse them. The mouse controls are very fluid and tight, making it the best control scheme (and without any reverse controls). The biggest sins, as I have mentioned before, is the total lack of music and the remaining sound effects are mediocre at best.
But this is a very faithful conversion (except in the sound and music departments) and if you’re a Star Wars fan, then I recommend it. Although it was quickly eclipsed by other games, Star Wars is still considered one the best licensed arcade games of all times and would later inspire the X-wing and Rebel Assault series, among others. It not only left a mark in Star Wars history, but in videogame history itself. And you can enjoy it here, in your own browser.
I know that this was a very small review, especially with this thematic. But I promise you all that I’ll make an effort to review more Star Wars games from now on. Until then keep on playing and may the Force be with you!