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Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (Atari 2600) artwork

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (Atari 2600) review


"Over the past handful of years, Iíve had to repress a cynical chuckle more than once. With the birth of the most recent Star Wars trilogy came a slew of video games designed to capitalize on the popularity of the revered movie franchise. As can be expected whenever consoles and computers try to recapture cinematic magic, the results often were less than stellar. "



Over the past handful of years, Iíve had to repress a cynical chuckle more than once. With the birth of the most recent Star Wars trilogy came a slew of video games designed to capitalize on the popularity of the revered movie franchise. As can be expected whenever consoles and computers try to recapture cinematic magic, the results often were less than stellar.

I wish I could feel bad for all those who felt ripped off by any of those games, but I just canít. When I was a boy, I had it far worse than any youngster of today. I OWNED the Atari 2600ís Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.

This 1982 disaster by Parker Brothers ignores roughly 99 percent of the actual film, preferring to completely focus on the early scenes where the good guys attempt to hold off the Empireís dinosaur-like walkers. Itís easy to understand why Parker Brothers made such a simplistic game -- after all, itís not like the Atari 2600 had the ability to handle anything much more complicated -- but itís not so easy to understand just how badly the company botched up something so routine.

I honestly canít remember the instruction manualís plot synopsis, but I can assure you that you arenít controlling Luke Skywalker or any other name character from the movie. After all, Luke and company survived this attack. Your character is destined to die in one of two ways. Either your ship will take enough damage from shots fired by the enemy or the walkers will reach the far right side of the screen and conquer your stronghold. Your character will never meet up with Yoda in a desolate swamp or find out that heís the son of his black-garbed antagonist -- heís destined to either slam into the ground in the flaming wreck that was his ship or helplessly watch the walkers leave him homeless.

To make your characterís failure even more of a bummer, itís a safe bet he wonít even enjoy his last few minutes of existence, as this is one boring game. Your arena is a horizontally-scrolling plain with an unending supply of walkers slowly moving from the left to the right (as you destroy one, a new one appears on the far left side of the map). You start at the right and are expected to move left, destroying each and every walker in your way. If you go too far to the left, you wrap around to the far right side of the map. Fortunately, the walkers never figure that little trick out, or your mission would be over the second it begins.

Depending on how lucky you are, these dogfights with the walkers are either slow and boring or quick and boring. Most of the time, you flit around the mechanical monstrosities, peppering them with bullets until they finally go down (while taking care to avoid their shots). These foes are quite durable, so youíll have to blast them a ton of times before destroying them. Of course, if this is the only way you destroy your opponents, your game isnít going to last too long before you get overwhelmed and things get ugly.

As you fight each walker, you likely will notice tiny parts of their bodies temporarily flash for a few seconds. If you can hit one of these flashing parts (not the easiest thing to do), youíll instantly obliterate that foe, buying you a little extra time before the next walker gets too close for comfort.

And thatís all there is to it. Sadly, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back offers next-to-nothing else. You never get any upgrade to your shipís offense and the enemies never change. The walkers never move faster, attack more aggressive or do anything to ever make you think youíre doing anything different with each successive fight. You just do the same thing over and over until you lose.

Sure, itís kind of fun to play initially, but when youíve figured out this gameís mechanics, it becomes a boring test to see how many walkers you can destroy before the inevitable happens. Parker Brothers did a fine job making a game that looks and sounds good by Atari 2600 standards (the walkers look like walkers, which is always a positive on this system, and you get some nice, if simplistic, Star Wars music here and there), but they were unable to capture even an iota of the movieís charm.

Rating: 2/10

overdrive's avatar
Community review by overdrive (August 08, 2005)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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