Thinking back, I think the first Star Wars game on the Super Nintendo, Super Star Wars, might have been the first Star Wars game I ever played. I most likely played it a couple of years after its 1992 release, just as Lucasarts were beginning to ramp up production on multiple Star Wars games a year. It was part of a huge resurgence of Star Wars, with the Kenner toyline about to return as well as a reissue of the films on VHS which I remember being heavily hyped as the last time they would be released – and was technically true since the next VHS release was the new Special Editions of the movies.
Like most movie tie in games at the time, Super Star Wars is primarily a side scrolling platformer, though it does have some vehicle levels as well that make heavy use of the SNES’ Mode 7 technology. While it bends it in a few places, it’s actually surprisingly faithful to the plot of the movie. Most levels feature a short and lightly animated cutscene on completion that show fairly recognisable scenes from the movie.
You start off as Luke in the deserts of Tatooine, being attacked by thousands of enemies. A few actual Star Wars creatures turn up (such as the Mynocks from Empire Strikes Back and the previously only mentioned Wamprats) and they’re joined by giant sand worms and huge red scorpions that shoot acid from their tails and wouldn’t seem out of place as a type or Radscorpion in Fallout. Despite the deluge of enemies they all drop a small health pickup so as long as you fire constantly and grab any hearts you see on screen you should be ok. After killing a Sarlacc (which for some reason isn’t in a pit like it is in Return of the Jedi) you get the first of the Mode 7 landspeeder levels where Luke has to shoot Jawas while heading towards their Sandcrawler.
After reaching it and scaling the outside, you need to work your way through the interior and the game’s difficulty curve shoots up massively. While there aren’t quite as many enemies, a huge number of traps and sudden death areas meant I’d gone from not dying at all over the first three levels to dying over and over quite quickly. As you play you’ll pick up power-ups which make youe weapons more powerful. These persist over levels, but are lost whenever you die so losing a life ends up having a fair impact on how you play as you’re immediately weaker than you were before.
Then there’s more wandering through the desert and fighting Sandpeople, wolly Banthas and other Star Wars creatures and meeting up with Obi Wan to gain the Lightsaber, you finally make it to the Mos Eisley. At this point, all of the desert creatures are gone and Stormtroopers are everywhere and literally falling from the sky at every step.
When you reach the famous cantina you unlock Chewbacca as a second playable character, with Han Solo then available from the next level. Han plays much like Luke but without the Lightsaber, while Chewbacca can jump a bit higher and has a longer starting health bar. Aside from these differences the choice of character is largely cosmetic as each controls identically. While it makes sense for both characters only to be playable from this point in terms of story, from a gameplay perspective it seems a little odd to add two new characters over half way through the game.
After fighting back out of Mos Eisley, you then get a couple of levels on the Death Star, first making your way through the hangar bay (complete with dozens of TIE Fighters launching and risking making you plunge to your death) before getting to the prison block where Princess Leia is being held.
Princess rescued, you then need to destroy the tractor beam that has trapped the Millenium Falcon (and, this being a game, is covered in guns) before getting into the final couple of levels of Luke piloting his X-Wing. The first is on the surface of the Death Star, destroying TIE Fighters and turbolaser guns in much the same way as the earlier landspeeder levels, before being dropped into a first person cockpit view and flying down the famous trench run. I remember this completely throwing me the first time I got to it as all of a sudden the controls are completely different and it feels almost like it’s a scene ripped from another game. After a couple of deaths on my replay I remembered that the TIE Fighter’s weapons can be shot and that you need to focus on them instead of shooting the ships, before facing off against Darth Vader then shooting torpedoes to destroy the Death Star.
If playing as a purist, the game actively punishes death. A tricky area that kills you will often put you back quite a way, and without your powerups meaning you’re probably more likely to die again on your way back to where you’d died in the first place. Thankfully, the recent rerelease on the PS4 and Vita come with a save function to help minimise this – I tried to use it as little as possible just saving at the beginning of each level and loading if I made a complete hash of things. I do remember finishing it on the SNES originally however, so will most likely have played the earlier levels many, many times in the process.
In terms of enemies and design it takes huge liberties with designing new creatures, vehicles and other enemies though at the same time staying very true to the look and feel of Star Wars. The familiar locations that you visit are recognisable as the areas from the film which is always a big plus for movie tie ins of the time.
Most of the side scrolling levels feature a final boss, with many of them based on or inspired by creatures from the films (such as the Kalhar boss above, which is based on a piece from the Millennium Falcon’s chess board) to completely made up pieces of Imperial hardware. Much like the levels, the difficulty on the bosses is rather unbalanced, with some later bosses being much easier than ones before them. The Kalhar for example killed me a few times, while Imperial hover carrier boss of the next level I think only hit me twice.
Each level is accompanied by a midi style recreation of John Williams’ famous score and these are really well done. The first few levels each get a different track, though the variety sadly drops off after there with most of the last handful of levels having the same music.
Wonky difficulty curve aside, I had a lot of fun playing through Super Star Wars again. It was always a fondly remembered game and I was pleased to find that it’s still as enjoyable as I used to think and the recent re-release makes it once again easy to get hold of, and as an added bonus is also more accessible to gamers used to regular saves or checkpoints.