Monday, November 14, 2022

Star Wars - The Empire Strikes Back (1982)

Name:Star Wars - The Empire Strikes Back
Publisher:Parker Bros
Developer:Parker Bros
Time:15 minutes
Won:Not possible

For some reason I had this game under 1983. Did I make a mistake? Did Mobygames throw something weird at me? I'll never know.
Star Wars. Its been said that Star Wars inspired the direction of the early years of gaming, what with all the titles set in space. Thus, its surprising that I haven't had much cause to play Star Wars. I played the arcade game based on the iconic Death Star sequence from the original, but didn't feel like I had much to say about it. There have been some misc games I don't really play like on dedicated handhelds, or various unlicensed games I don't care about, but today is the first real game. What's interesting is that this is directly comparable to a different game released a year later, Advance of the Mega Camels.

The Empire Strikes Back is based off the AT-AT scenes from Episode V, the ones that got taken down with the landspeeders. Just think about the big walker things from that movie if you don't know what I'm talking about. As we saw with The Dreadnought Factor last time, we're starting to see games that are like isolated versions of particular aspects of games from the future. In this case, the AT-AT scenes would be done in basically every Star Wars game they could fit it in in the '00s.

Right away the game starts with a bad sign. The Intellivision rendition of the Star Wars theme is quite possibly the worst I've ever heard, and that theme has been covered everywhere. Its either too high for the sound chip or the dumbass who programmed it here put the volume up way too high.

The game begins and it isn't much better. You can't tie the legs of these things together like in the movie, so you just shoot at them. Its not a very good experience for one thing, because movement is awkward. It feels a bit delayed and at lower speeds it doesn't feel like you're moving much at all, which isn't the worst of it. At high speeds you're uncomfortably close to the edge of the screen. While you do get some safe hits, this is the kind of game where dodging is paramount to you surviving the game. Not off to a good start.
Fighting an AT-AT is of course, bad for those reasons, but it gets worse and slightly better. You can dodge shots easily, but they also shoot homing missiles. You have no way of telling which is which. You have to shoot these things something like 20+ times, more because my shots didn't always register. If you're lucky you can shoot a special spot, which instantly kills them, but owing to the shots not properly registering, I feel like I got robbed on some occasions.
At this point, I would have normally quit, deleted what I wrote and then started looking at another game. But I didn't since there's another game like this. So, I got to thinking, since there's another version. What if the Intellivision version is being emulated poorly, possible or they sabotaged that release...for some reason. This isn't Atari, so they don't necessarily have a reason to do this. More realistically, they screwed up porting the game to the Intellivision and nobody really cared.
And you know what? The Atari version was better. I'm not just saying that because when I first started I had collision turned on, and accidentally flew straight into an AT-AT, damaging it and destroying myself. That was the most fun I had all game, that realization. No, it genuinely controls and plays better. It feels smooth in a way the Intellivision version didn't. I still wonder what I'm doing playing this, because its not fun.
To save myself some trouble and to avoid repeating myself, let's also talk about Jeff Minter's unofficial port Attack of the Mutant Camels, AKA Assault of the Mutant Camels, on the C64 and other systems. Keep dodging that guy, but I guess he had to sneak in eventually. His games are basically the same as your usual shoot 'em ups at the time, except they're on home computers and control well. And they all involve weird animals like the llama.
Now I say that, and that's all there really is to this. Shoot a giant camel 100 times while dodging their shots. Unlike the actual game I'm supposed to be playing, you don't get any shortcuts, you just shoot this thing 100 times. Minter knows how much distance you should have, because at worse when you're accelerating, you're halfway through the screen, and when you aren't, you're on the exact opposite end of the screen. I had absolutely no problems dodging the enemy's shots. Its good for the kind of game it is, as in tedious as hell and something I want to stop playing right now.

Generic lasers. 1/10

I guess it was mildly clever in how you had to avoid their attacks, but they feel really disappointing. 2/10


Endless enemies walking towards a single point. 0/10

Player Agency:
While you do outrun the screen, it controls well enough that otherwise its okay. 3/10


It doesn't really feel like Star Wars. 1/10

Crude imitations of iconic vehicles. 1/10


Simple sounds that I have no strong feelings about. 1/10

That's 9. I would say for Attack of the Mutant Camels instead give 1 for enemies and 4 for player agency.

Interestingly, the infamous Harlan Ellison was one of the reviewers at the time, whose criticisms included that the game had no win state. Calling it a dreadful life lesson for children and an analogue for the myth of Sisyphus. That is the Greek mythological figure who was cursed to push a boulder up a mountain for all eternity. Yeah, that feels about right. I should use that one quite often. Feels like a somewhat apt metaphor for blogs about these old games sometimes. I'd hate to have been the poor kid who asked for this back in the day.

Apologies for the incredibly boring title, but I wanted to focus on Galactic Empire. Speaking of which, the next entry on that game is going to be very interesting. Very, very interesting.

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