Star Wars Episode 1: Jedi Power Battles
On May 19th of 1999, millions of people gathered to watch a movie that would change their lives forever. Some of these people were normal, like you and me, while others were dressed as Darth Vader, Chewbacca and Boba Fett. As the theater lights dimmed, the anticipation grew. After around fifteen minutes of ads and trailers the famous words appeared on the screen: “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.” Around two hours later, many people left the theater feeling shocked, confused and/or disgusted. What was once a beauteous series of cinema was turned into a tech demo featuring wooden acting, annoying characters and juvenile humor.
Director George Lucas crushed the dreams of many with his opus of mediocrity. He had twenty years to write a decent script, but instead he failed miserably. Of course, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace was already a predestined massive smash. Even with the sheer awfulness of the film there was no doubt that the film would be a hit. When a movie is a massive hit the inevitable occurs: a game based on the movie. Usually there is only one game based on a movie, but Lucasarts decided that a slew of them should be made. A couple games were surprisingly good, but the others were more of the licensed garbage that gamers are accustomed too. Jedi Power Battles falls into the latter category due to a few problems.
Most Star Wars fans have fond memories of all the Super Star Wars games on the SNES. These challenging, yet fair, games combined plenty of 2D platforming with heavy action, and the occasional spaceship piloting thrown in for good measure. Jedi Power Battles tries to be the same, but updates the gameplay to the third dimension.
Choosing from one of five Jedi Warriors, you basically follow the same events that were in the movie. Each Jedi, whether it is Plo Koon, Mace Windu, Obi Wan and others, is basically identical when it comes to gameplay. The only difference is that each one has a different special move. Jedi Power Battles features a two player cooperative mode. Co-op is something missing in many games, and this is one department where the game has delivered.
The combat is one of the better aspects of the game. Slicing and dicing your way through various droids and aliens is incredibly satisfying, albeit a bit basic. Even more satisfying is deflecting laser blasts with your lightsaber into a bad guy. The only real problem with the combat aspect of the game is one grossly underdeveloped thing: the Force. The Force has always been a big thing in the Star Wars movies and games. The characters in the Star Wars universe that know how to utilize the force can do seemingly impossible things. People can jump multiple stories in the air, lift heavy objects with their mind, shoot lightning out of their hands, and choke people to death from thousands of miles away among various other things. In Jedi Power Battles all you can do is a measly push and occasionally a weak special move. One of the things that makes Star Wars so memorable is barely even featured in this game. Fantastic.
Another serious issue is the platforming jumping. I’ve always had a problem with platform jumping in 3D games thanks to awful camera angles. Occasionally a game actually features usable camera angles, but this is most definitely not the case with Jedi Power Battles. The levels feature an abundance of platform hopping and there seems to be more hopping than actual combat most of the time. Landing the jumps is especially tricky thanks to the awful camera angles. Even the simplest hop turns into an exercise of frustration since the camera is usually exactly where you don’t want it to be. In the cooperative mode the camera angles are usually worse because the camera cannot decide which person to focus on. Each time you fall you lose a life. Considering you’re only given extremely limited amount of lives regardless of whether you’re playing one or two player mode, you certainly won’t last long. I wanted to throw my controller in aggravation and slam my head into the wall after falling for the hundredth time on a jump that should have been simple to make. It was the first time I got that angry since I played Virtua Fighter 4.
Since the platforming ruins the game, I found the one level where you control a vehicle to be a nice change of pace. You race through the streets of Theed on a droid hovercraft while shooting approaching bad guys with your laser guns. However, even this level became aggravating at times, much like all the other levels. The stage requires too much trial and error in which you have to figure out the right path to take to avoid losing a life.
If you manage to beat the game without going insane, you’re given a couple bonuses. There’s a hidden character and a few bonus levels for you to play around with. The levels differ from the rest of the game greatly and provide an interesting diversion. There’s a quick race that harkens back to the day of all those NES Olympic games in which you have to hammer the controller like a mad man to go faster. There’s also a fairly amusing “stab Jar Jar with a stick and get him to run into the goal” minigame. While it isn’t really fun to play, it certainly is a delight to watch. The best of the three levels is the one where you have to control a battle droid and eliminate Jedi and various other good guys. It felt good to be bad, and I wished there was more of this innovation in the game. Sadly, there isn’t.
The graphics fail to impress, which is strange considering the special effects were the best part of The Phantom Menace. The character models of the Jedi and enemies are good, but the backgrounds are incredibly sloppy. They don’t mesh well with the characters, causing all sorts of collision problems and eyesores. You can’t help but feel that this game was inexplicably rushed. There are a few FMV scenes that are mildly impressive, but none of them last more than fifteen seconds.
While the graphics are disappointing, the sound is marvelously done, as it is in nearly all Star Wars games. John Williams’ score from the movies makes its way onto Jedi Power Battles and the results couldn’t be better. I kept on playing just to listen to the music most of the time. The sound effects sound the same as they do in the movies, which adds a touch of authenticity to the game.
Star Wars: Jedi Power Battles coincides nicely with the film it is based on. Both are lifeless, tedious ploys for money. The combat is fun, but all that is laid to waste due to the horrible camera angles which ruin the game. George Lucas continues to grow richer and richer by exploiting his fans with lackluster merchandise. I say we rise up against this fat man by not buying the stuff he profits from. I’ll start as soon as I finish the latest Star Wars comics…