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!
I would like to start this review with a letter I wrote to Team17 some years ago (not really, but let’s imagine I did):
My name is DarkwyndPT (not my real name, obviously) and I’m a big fan of your work, especially the Worms series. Me and my friends have spent countless hours playing these games, killing each other’s virtual worms. I also enjoy the Alien Breed series, despite not being my cup of tea.
So when I’ve heard you decided to release an original fighting game just for computers, I was ecstatic. Buying a console is too expensive where I live and I’m tired to beg my rich friends to let me win every now and then at Street Fighter II. It’s not my fault I always get the shitty controller or that Miguel’s mom likes me best! Where was I? Oh yes! The Amiga version looked awesome and couldn’t wait to buy the DOS version. Last night, I played it for the first time and my experience with it prompted me to write this letter just to ask you a simple question: WTF?!
And years later, that question remains unanswered. So, which game made me swear worse than a drunken sailor suffering from Coprolalia? One of the few original fighting games released exclusively for computers, Body Blows.
Body Blows is a fighting game made by Team17 and originally released in 1993 for the Commodore Amiga and DOS. A year later, an enhanced AGA edition was re-released for the Amiga.
But before looking at the game, let’s look at the cover, shall we?
As you can see, the cover features the four main characters posing. Both the lettering and the art style are okay, but I wish it had more of a background instead of just black.
Well, it’s time to boot this sucker:
As you can see, the game starts by showing small profiles of all the characters involved, including Max, the first boss of the game, and then you get to the main menu. I wish I could tell you more about the game’s story, but there is none. The only thing that the manual and the profiles tell you is that Max is an evil underground boss with some dark secret and the rest of the characters are trying to topple him. It doesn’t even tell us if it’s a tournament or if they’re just kicking each other’s asses. Although if it’s the latter, it’s an original concept for a fighting game at the time, because back then it was always a fighting tournament.
In the main menu, you have several options available. If you’re playing on your own, you can either choose the 1-player mode or the arcade mode. In 1-player mode, you can choose any of the ten characters to play (except for Max) and face down the others, but you won’t get any ending whatsoever, not even a congratulatory screen. However, you can also play in arcade mode, which is the game’s story mode, but you can only choose between the four main characters featured in the cover: Nik, his brother Dan, Junior the boxer and Loray the monk.
However, if you are playing with friends, you can either choose the 2-player mode where you can face another friend in a simple duel or the tournament mode, where four to eight players can duke it out in duels and eliminate each other until there’s only one winner at the end. But it’s bad enough that I had to suffer through this on my own. I wasn’t going to put another human being through this, so I never played the 2-player or the tournament modes.
All the characters correspond to the typical fighting stereotypes, for example, Nik and Dan are the “Ryu” and “Ken” of this game (although Nik’s cap and winning pose is very reminiscent of a character from another fighting franchise). But you also get some interesting character designs: like Mike, a businessman and Kossak (very original name, but not as original as Ninja!), a character that mixes speed and strength. But the rest of the designs are very uninspired and some of the names are weird and silly (like a ninja named Ninja).
But it’s the control scheme that sets this game apart from the rest, meaning it’s crap! Like other fighting games, you have your eight directional arrows (in both the keyboard and joystick) but just one button to attack. That’s right, just one button to both punch and kick the opponent! How do you use different attacks then? By combining your attack button with any of the directions, for example, to block, you press the attack button and back (either left or right), instead of just the direction like other fighting games. But it makes it a lot easier to pull off some of the special moves (any diagonal + attack). Even with the stiff controls on the keyboard (I couldn’t configure the joystick).
The moves’ list is more or less identical between all the characters (Nik and Dan seem to get an extra special move, though) which consists of the typical punches and kicks and at least two special moves that do a little more damage and a charge move in which you need to press and hold the attack button until it fills the charge meter and then your character will perform that attack. The charge attack is usually a projectile but it can also be another type of attack (for example, Dug causes a small earthquake that damages any other character on the ground and Ninja turns invisible). And although the charge attack is the most powerful one in any character’s arsenal, it’s also the hardest to pull off. First, the AI always charges the meter faster than you, which means that it can use it more often than you and second, the character always does a short animation before attacking and during that animation, they’re wide open for any attack and any damage suffered during this animation, cancels the charge attack. So, I recommend sticking to the other special attacks and only use the charge attack when you’re absolutely sure you can pull it off.
But the controls aren’t the only problem with this game. Oh no, we have a lot more to discuss. The sprites are big but they’re ugly and the animation is awful. There are even some animation frames missing. The hit detection is hit and miss, with some attacks not connecting at all. The majority of the backgrounds are well detailed but static. The sound effects are also awful, with inaudible characters’ sound bytes. The techno soundtrack is actually cool, but it starts to get a bit grating after an hour or so. But for me, the game’s biggest problem is the balance.
This game is incredibly unbalanced. First, the AI is very unfair, even with the arcade skill off (easy mode), with the AI filling the charge meter a lot faster than we can. And second, the stronger characters; like Dug, Kossak and the bosses can’t be knocked back by the special attacks, which makes Dug automatically the strongest character because of this along with the fact that his charge attack has a wide range (as long the opponent isn’t airborne). For players with little to no experience in fighting games, I recommend choosing Dug (with mirror march off, so you can’t face him) because of this same reason. And Max, the first boss, suffers from SNK boss syndrome, being equally as unbalanced as Dug. The final boss has a rather pathetic weakness, if you can find it, though.
The vast majority of these problems were solved in the enhanced edition, but unfortunately it was only released for the Amiga. And us, the DOS players, got stuck with the messy original release. But however, this game had an enormous success, but only due to the lack of quality fighting games for the PC at the time. As bad as Body Blows is, it was better than the trash we had back in the day, like the original DOS ports of Street Fighter and Street Fighter II. We had to wait a bit more for a good PC fighting game.
Body Blows is just one of the several games that try to copy Street Fighter II’s formula and believe it or not, it stood out among several PC fighting games released at the time (mainly because the others were worse!). But I don’t recommend it, because it aged horribly and it was quickly surpassed by better fighting games, including the sequels, but those are reviews for another day. Also, if you’re interested in trying out this horror for yourself, then click here to play it in your browser.
So, what’s your favorite fighting game on the PC? Tell me by commenting below, in our Facebook page or on our Twitter feed. Next time, we’re going to follow what I hope it’s a new tradition here in Retro Freak Reviews. Until then, keep on playing and fighting.