The marriage of Star Wars and video games goes back as nearly far as the films and has been a much more constant companion. Like the films, the games have had their share of ups and downs, but at least there was volume. If the one you were looking forward to playing bombed, you didn’t have to wait a decade or two for the next one to come out.
The best of these games almost always looked at Star Wars in a vacuum, focusing in on specific moments from the films like piloting an X-wing in the battle of Endor, podracing on Tattoine, being a Jedi or fighting as a clone trooper. Other times, they have little do with the films, exploring characters never seen on the silver screen or perhaps taking place a thousand years or so before anyone knew the name Skywalker.
That’s what makes video games such an intriguing medium for Star Wars: the possibilities are endless. Devoted fans aren’t just going to talk about the movies when it comes to their favorite Star Wars moments, gadgetry, planets or even characters. And why would they with the wealth of games out there and the countless hours spent playing them? Personally, I don’t know what Star Wars would mean to me with out KOTOR, Battle Front, Shadows of the Empire or Rogue Sqaudron.
But with all the originality that developers showcased since the first Star Wars game in 1982, the past few years have been a disappointment. Ideas are being recycled, the best projects canned and the titles that are seeing the light of day are merely cash grabs on the Star Wars brand in the form of uninspired mobile games.
In the wake of all of this, there is still hope for the long-time, dedicated Star Wars gamer. Back in October, it was revealed a new Star Wars game was being developed by Bandai Namco. This was great news for me after having to deal with the deflating realization that Star Wars 1313, the mature, dark, Boba Fett RPG game every fan was asking for would never ever come to consoles. So what kind of game would this third party make? Would it take advantage of new gen consoles to do something no one has done before?
Nope. It was going to be an arcade game.
An arcade game called Star Wars Battle Pod (Panoramic Optical Display) based on the Gundam Battle Pod game made exclusively for Japan. In terms of gameplay, it’s a rail shooter that lets you pilot at least three different ships including the X-wing, the Millennium Falcon and Darth Vader’s TIE Advance. You get to replay all the classic Death Star scenes from Yavin and Endor and Hoth, in addition to a Vader’s Revenge mode, which is definitely a cool twist.
It seems crazy that the next big Star Wars game would be an arcade game, considering the growing fervor of fans for The Force Awakens and the lack of games in a not-so-crowded console marketplace. But I am excited to be able to blow up the Death Star again, like myself and so many others have done before.
The release of Battle Pod, where you can find at your local Dave & Busters, calls to mind the long history of Star Wars arcade games, including a few of my favorites that you should play if you have a chance. They’ll help you see just how far technology has come and may even increase your appreciation for Battle Pod.
Star Wars: The Arcade Game (1983) Atari, Incorporated
A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, you played Atari’s Star Wars: The Arcade Game. It blew your mind, completely and utterly. It had state of the art 3-D vector graphics, digitized samples of voices from the movies and it let you blow up the Death Star for the first time in Red-5’s X-Wing.
The game is played in three phases: in the first phase, you engage in a dogfight with enemy TIEs. Your job is shoot as many of them as you can. To make it more challenging, the TIEs shoot fireballs at you instead of the typical lasers you see in the films, which could be shot at to prevent from dealing damage to your X-wing. You also encounter Darth Vader’s TIE Advance, which can’t be shot down. Shooting up the TIEs must have felt fantastic, the way they fall apart into multiple sprawling pieces before they fade away.
In the second phase, you make your attack run on the Death Star trenches where turrets alongside the walls fire more fireballs at you, which you can, again, either dodge or shoot at. Shooting down the fireballs and turrets will increase your score, but isn’t necessary to continue on. When you finally make your way to the end of the trench, you have one shot to send proton torpedoes into the exhaust shaft. Hold up, that’s not quite accurate – you really are just shooting your lasers at the shaft and as long as you don’t miss, you’ll get to blow up the Death Star. If successful, you get to see the Death Star blow up in a spectacular array of colors.
For its time, Star Wars was a remarkable feat in arcade gaming: It looked good, with the vector graphics (a technology still used today) that were difficult to pull off in any of its home console ports. It sounded great, with the original soundtrack and Obi-Wan’s voice digitized adding authenticity to the game. And most importantly, it was fun, recreating the feel and the excitement of the films.
In terms of its reception, critics raved about it – “Playing the game is almost as good as watching the movie!”, one Computer and Video Games review claimed, and it seems people were pretty excited about the console version as well.
Star Wars Trilogy Arcade (1998) Sega, Lucas Arts
If you haven’t played this one, and you’re in your 20s, then I’m sorry for you. I know that sounds sort of douchey, but it’s my favorite arcade game of all time (though that could change soon). There was nothing cooler to me than Star Wars when I was a kid. I used to have this friend in my neighborhood who I actually wasn’t the biggest fan of, but he had the original trilogy remastered on VHS (this was before the prequels), so if he ever asked me to hang out, I’d say yes. When I’d get to his house he’d ask me what I wanted to do and I always said we should watch Star Wars.
Every. Single. Time.
Sorry Jason, the truth hurts sometimes. I guess I didn’t have much reason to go over there anymore after I finally got the trilogy for myself for Christmas. Since Star Wars action figures, books, Legos and the movies weren’t satisfaction enough, I had to add video games to the list when I first experienced my favorite arcade game of all time. When I was in 2nd grade my parents took me to Chuck E Cheese’s, so that I could learn the basic principles of capitalism at a young age. However, unlike all the other ticket-greedy kids, I was concerned with one game, and one game alone: Star Wars Trilogy Arcade. Yes, they had the game at the Batavia location and it ate my coins like a Sarlacc pitt (sorry couldn’t help myself).
The on-rails shooter has three main levels – Endor, Hoth and Death Star I, and a fourth you could unlock, Death Star II if you played well enough. On Endor you drive a speeder bike in pursuit of enemy troopers on bikes of their own. You move pretty fast and have to avoid trees and AT-STs while also gunning down those troopers. You then go on foot until you reach the shield generator where you have a showdown with an AT-ST.
On the Yavin level, it’s a classic revisiting of the Rebel attack on Death Star I. You make your approach with the X-wing, shooting down TIEs and Star Destroyer guns, then on down to the Death Star surface to shoot at more TIEs and gun towers until you eventually make the trench run to blow up the thing, something video games have never really gotten tired of doing.
Action sequences like getting bailed out by Solo during the trench run, or being called in to help fend off a TIE in pursuit of a squad-mate are nice touches.
Two bonus levels let you play as Luke Skywalker. In the first, you get to wield Luke’s bright green lightsaber in a battle against Boba Fett on a turbo lift on Tattoine. The fight gives the galaxy’s greatest bounty hunter a battle with Skywalker the films never gave you. The Mandalorian lays several barrages of lasers down on the Jedi while the player receives split second warnings of each blast to come which you can block, and at times, even deflect back at Fett. In the second bonus level you face Vader himself in a duel. The same rules apply where arrows point the direction of Vader’s next swing of his lightsaber. After making consecutive blocks, you can strike back by bringing the joystick from one end to the other.
At its core, Trilogy Arcade is all about piloting ships and shooting at other ships, but an unexpected result of this game is possibly the best realization of lightsaber-play ever. So many other games have tried, but never has swinging an elegant weapon for a more civilized age felt so good, and so real.
You can still play this one at Galloping Ghost.
Star Wars Racer Arcade (2000) Sega
Between the ages of nine and ten, I had a major growth spurt which helped me learn the literal definition of growing pains. My doctor told me I grew a whole foot in a year. And because of that fact, whatever muscle I had in my body at that time wasn’t exactly filling out this freakishly skinny, cartoonish preteen’s body. This, of course, wouldn’t stop me from doing normal kid things at all, like challenging my older brother in a bike race around the nearby cul-de-sac. Pedaling as fast as I could around the curve, I took too sharp a turn which flung me from my bike onto the unforgiving concrete with a loud crack, quickly followed by unimaginable pain. That ‘crack’ being my femur bone breaking for the second time in my life. Bummer.
After a three week luxury stay at Delnor Hospital, and another extremely fashionable six weeks in a waist-high cast, I distinctly remember one of the first things I did: play Star Wars Racer Arcade.
A girl from grade school thought it would be nice to treat me to a fun day at Oddysey Fun World after all that I’d been through. And hey, I wasn’t about to turn down a pity play-date to Oddysey Fun World of all places! Even if she did have cooties (she definitely did).
The cabinet was hard to miss as this particular one seated you in a replica of Annikan’s pod racer from The Phantom Menace. As a 10 year old, I didn’t really comprehend a lot of the movie’s unnecessarily complex plot, but one thing I did understand – pod racing was really, really cool.
Besides the fact that you’re sitting in a miniature pod racer, Racer Arcade separated itself from other racing games for two main reasons: first, the control scheme. Instead of a traditional steering wheel, Racer Arcade features two separate handle bars to mimic how Anakin’s pod was propelled by its two turbines. You need to push the right handle forward and pull the left handle back to left and vice-versa. The second reason: the near blinding speed of yours and all the other competitor’s pods. A lot games like to tell you how fast you’re going, over 600 MPH in this case, but rarely does it feel like you’re actually going as fast as it does in Racer Arcade. This was evidenced in the ferocity at which I collided with way too many walls and other obstacles. And it also proved that Anakin was indeed the only human to have ever finished a pod race, at least that’s the story I’m running with.
Key Differences from N64 Version:
- Besides Anakin, there are three other playable characters: Sebulba, who’s also playable from the onset, Gasgano, who could be unlocked after 700 races, and Ben Quadinators, who was unlocked after completing 50 expert courses.
- You could race on only four different courses, a major difference from the N64 version which had over 25
- There was no in-race repair feature
I’ve been lucky enough to have played the former games listed on several occasions, but this one I’ve only ever experienced once. 14 years ago. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen it since. And according to the International Arcade Museum, it’s one of the harder arcade machines out there to find, rating it 3 on a scale of 1 to 100 (1 being most rare), so if you’re trying to play this one, you may have your work cut out for you.