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Star Wars Bounty Hunter (GameCube) artwork

Star Wars Bounty Hunter (GameCube) review

"Let's face it - the Star Wars video game franchise didn't get the best start when they first began to appear in arcades and later made the transition to the NES. But like a fine wine, they got better with age. The unplayable travesties of the original Star Wars games on the NES and Gameboy were replaced by the Super Star Wars Trilogy, decent action games which were weighed down by tedious and difficult 'speeder chase' levels. The franchise finally came into its own on the Nintendo 64, thanks in ..."

Let's face it - the Star Wars video game franchise didn't get the best start when they first began to appear in arcades and later made the transition to the NES. But like a fine wine, they got better with age. The unplayable travesties of the original Star Wars games on the NES and Gameboy were replaced by the Super Star Wars Trilogy, decent action games which were weighed down by tedious and difficult 'speeder chase' levels. The franchise finally came into its own on the Nintendo 64, thanks in no small part to renewed Star Wars hype with the release of the Star Wars Trilogy: Special Edition. Genuinely good games like Rogue Squadron and Shadows of the Empire got the attention they deserved. Unfortunately, like the movies themselves the games got so overhyped they began to collapse under their own weight.

A series of lackluster Prequel games like The Phantom Menace, Battle For Naboo and Jedi Power Battles soon followed, seemingly heralding the decline of the franchise. But the series quickly got back on track with the release of the Star Wars Trilogy Arcade Game, a furiously difficult but fantastic arcade experience. A sequel to Rogue Squadron soon followed on the Gamecube, and the Star Wars Galaxies Massively Multiplayer Online RPG was up and kicking in cyberspace (which despite its flaws, had a lot of great ideas other MMOs would be wise to build upon). Knights of the Old Republic, widely considered to be one of the better RPGs in recent years, set a high mark for the franchise. The recent release of The Clone Wars, lauded by just about everyone as a vast improvement over The Phantom Menace, prompted the release of several Clone War-based games. One based on the film, and another on the mysterious bounty hunter Jango Fett. Which, in case you got lost in my pointless history of the franchise, is this game.

Star Wars: Bounty Hunter puts the player in the role of Jango Fett, a ruthless Mandalorian mercenary who accomplishes his goals with merciless efficiency. With an arsenal of toys at the player's disposal, the game does a good job of making you feel like a Bounty Hunter. With twin blasters, an electronic lasso, a flamethrower, deadly concussive darts, magnetically charged gauntlets, a jetpack, an armory of other weapons and a head-mounted scanning device, there is very little the hero isn't capable of taking on right from the go.

Most of the game is spent running around the many varied environments, dodging gunfire from marauding pirates, mercenaries, brainwashed slaves and enemy bounty hunters while returning fire with Jango's trusty twin blasters. Luckily this actually a pretty fun experience, oftentimes feeling like a good old-fashioned western showdown, and this isn't the only thing in the game to feel like a western (Jango's rival even sports a blaster which looks suspiciously like a Colt revolver). A fun experience, but it's nothing that hasn't been seen before. A decent targeting system which has been adapted (okay, ripped off) from The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time lets you target individual enemies at will, and for sharpshooting from a distance you can enter first person mode and use an on-screen crosshair.

The game's conspiracy-riddled story leads Jango from the seedy Outland Station, to the towering skyscrapers of Coruscant, the asteroid prison of Oovo IV, the swampy planet of Malastare, the desert planet Tatooine, then finally into the lair of your enemy to capture the ultimate bounty. Each area offers its own platforming fun, challenging the player to navigate many large areas using Jango's jetpack. Players who enjoyed Shadows of the Empire will already be very familiar with the jetpack, as it is virtually identical in function though it has been much reduced in longevity.

Bounty Hunter features an optional Bounty Hunting option, which is a great idea but sadly isn't implemented very well. Each level has a number of Optional Bounties which the player is challenged to meet, offering different prices for capturing the bounty Dead or Alive. Actually getting the Bounties themselves is a fun challenge, but there are a few slipups in the process which reduces the fun level significantly. First, you have to scan the opponents using Jango's visor. This wouldn't seem like that big of a deal, if there weren't sometimes dozens of enemies to fight at the same time and it is often virtually impossible to scan an entire room without being spotted and riling up the bees. The biggest problem with the visor, so big a problem in fact that I knocked a point off of the Gameplay score, is that moving and scanning your enemies at the same time isn't possible. Standing still trying to scan a room of enemies, especially in the later levels, is suicide.

Another problem with capturing bounties is the majority of them offer the best cash reward for capturing them alive. The twin blasters, while fun to use and by far the most efficient weapon in the game, have a mind of their own. While one of Jango's blasters will always attack the targeted enemy, the other will randomly attack the target and anything else who happens to be running around nearby. Civilians and bounties invariably get caught in the crossfire. Obviously the natural solution is to capture the bounties alive first, but running into a pack of PO'd convicts all gunning for your skull, trying to lasso a specific one of them and capture them alive is a great way to get killed. Luckily, the bounty hunting option is an entirely optional part of the game and the cash rewards do nothing except raise a title in the Game Stats menu, which in turn does… nothing.

Shadows of the Empire filled in the story of what happened between The Empire Strikes Back and the Return of the Jedi. Bounty Hunter serves a similar function here by not only covering the events that happened prior to the Clone Wars and Phantom Menace, but also finally gets around to covering the backstory of the Fett family. Clone Wars hinted briefly at Boba Fett's origins, but Bounty Hunter finally covers the Fett‘s relationship with the Hutts, the Sith, the battle armor, how Jango was selected as the progenitor of the Clone Army, as well as how the family obtained the famous ship Slave I.

The game opens exactly how anything Star Wars should (and usually does): With a shot of space, and the famous scrolling text and fanfare. Darth Tyranus, formerly the Jedi Knight Dooku, is aboard his solar glider, deep in conversation with his master Darth Sidious. The Sith Lord has two goals in mind. First, the creation of the clone army which will be instrumental in Sidious' political insurrection, and the death of a pesky Jedi-turned-outlaw who has been threatening the Sith's operations. Tyranus proposes a two bird, one stone solution: Send an open call to all Bounty Hunters across the galaxy, offering an absurd amount of money for the death or capture of the Bando Gora's leader. The one who succeeds will be the perfect candidate to create the Clone Army.

Cut to Jango Fett, on a job for the Toydarian Roz. Roz, the owner of Outland Station, has been having some problems with a troublesome alien who is cheating his way to victory at the local beast arena. After completing his mission, Roz presents Jango with a message from Darth Tyranus. Anyone who finds and kills the leader of the Bando Gora will be made rich beyond his dreams. Jango expresses his interest, despite Roz's insistence that he is already rich enough. Elsewhere in the galaxy, another Bounty Hunter - Montross, an old 'acquaintance' of Jango's - sees the same message. On some unconscious level, both Jango Fett and Montross know they will encounter each other on this mission.

One thing you've got to say about Bounty Hunter, the story is actually pretty good. Jango appears to be a bad guy in Clone Wars, working for the Sith. But in Bounty Hunter he is painted instead as an unwitting pawn, possessing a genuinely affectionate relationship with Roz, who often gives him downright motherly advice. Before long a very familiar looking shape shifter is introduced as well, who acts as a sort of love interest and friendly rival for Jango. The thing I really enjoy about the story in Bounty Hunter, however, is the way it takes the cold, almost emotionless Jango Fett from Episode II and recreates him into a sympathetic, tragic antihero. Much of the dialogue is very amusing, especially the banter between Jango and his love interest ('How do I know this Dug will ask me to stick around?' - 'You'll be charming.'). If the story has a flaw, it's the vague references to Jango's past which raise more questions in a game which was supposed to have only answers.

The controls are good, but not fantastic. The B button makes Jango jump, while A fires whatever weapon he happens to be using at the time. The Y Button performs a number of context sensitive actions, ranging from capturing bounties to cutting holes in gratings with Jango's laser cutter. Holding down the X Button will cause Jango to crouch. The R Button locks onto enemies, the L Button activates Jango's jetpack and the Z Button enters a first person mode.

The C-Stick offers limited camera control and the D-Pad is used to switch weapons. This is where the controls take a hit: The weapons menu isn't terribly intuitive, but you can tell the developer's at least tried. Pressing Up on the D-Pad will switch to Jango's visor scanner, while pressing left and right will switch through his sizable inventory. Pressing down will freeze the game and open a menu of all of your weapons. This is useful for getting to your weapons, especially when your armory gets unyieldingly large (which it will), but feels very strange in such an action-packed game for everything to come a halt and let Jango carefully pick through his weapons.

The graphics in Bounty Hunter are acceptably good, especially during the CG sequences. At first I didn't realize just how well animated the CG sequences were, since they don't hold a candle to the CG in the movies. But compared to other video games of this generation, the cut scenes are excellent. In-game as well, the graphics are detailed, though the color palette is a tad bland. This is understandable, however. The majority of the game takes place in sewers, jungles, alleys, factories and other generally unclean environments. Most of the enemies use the same general character model for each species in the game, which can make picking out individuals in a crowd all the more challenging, even with the frustrating scanning mode.

The sound is, of course, fantastic. Its hard not to have great music when you have one of the best soundtracks ever composed to draw from. The game uses the same score and musical stings LucasArts has had since the Phantom Menace video game, which probably will annoy people who want to see (or in this case, hear) some variety in their games. This doesn't bother me much, especially since I rank musical score as the least important thing a game can have. Sound effects in the game are good as well, again drawing from films. Jango Fett is voiced by the actor who portrayed him in Attack of the Clones (his name escapes me at the moment), but the other principle characters such as Tyranus and Sidious are voiced by decent voice impressionists. All of them do pretty good jobs, particularly Jango's voice actor.

The game offers a handful of unlockable bonuses. Completing levels in the game will unlock a number of 'outtakes,' which are manufactured bloopers from the game (basically the same thing Pixar did for A Bug's Life and Toy Story 2). Capturing bounties and collecting hidden tokens in each level will unlock screenshots of cards from the Star Wars card game, and completing levels in the game reveals pages from a Jango Fett-themed comic book from Dark Horse Comics (pointless side note: Dark Horse Comics is located in my hometown, and I'm proud to say I've been reading their comics since before they became successful). This comic tells the story of Jango Fett's and Montross' relationship, and while the panels are well drawn the text is rather small and difficult to read on some pages.

The game is disappointingly brief. I completed it in a little under seven hours for my first run through the game, ignoring most of the Bounties along the way. The game has its fair share of difficult spots, but overall it's only of average difficulty. Sadly, it only comes with one difficulty level. Despite the game's relative brevity and average difficulty, the game is a great action shooter. It's just fun to play in a way that hearkens back to arcade classics like Joust, Asteroids and Space Invaders.

Gameplay: 7 out of 10
Story: 4 out of 5
Controls: 7 out of 10
Graphics: 4 out of 5
Sound and Music: 5 out of 5
Extras: 4 out of 5
Game Length, Difficulty and Replay Value: 7 out of 10
Overall Score: 7.8 out of 10

The Good: The shoot ‘em up portions of the game are well conceived, with large and well designed environments. There is always lots of cover to hide behind. Platforming elements are well designed, and some levels devoted almost entirely to jetpack exploits was an excellent idea on the developer‘s part. The story is excellent as well.
The Bad: The game isn't very long, even for an action title, so players looking for the epic adventure usually associated with Star Wars may be disappointed by the length. An increased difficulty level would have been welcome. The story is alarmingly vague on some of the less relevant points.
The Ugly: Identifying and then capturing Bounties is annoyingly difficult, especially when they appear in large groups or in waves.

When George Lucas first conceived the Star Wars saga, it was a combination of story elements from the movie serials of the 40s and 50s. These serials detailed stories of intergalactic heroes, knights in shining armor, honorable samurai warriors… and old west shootouts. The western themes were only subtle at best in the original Trilogy, appearing most prominently in the form of the Bounty Hunters.

Bounty Hunting is one of the most fabled legends of the old west - a massive frontier, policed by a small elite task force of Rangers, populated by any number of crooks, thieves and criminals. The Rangers rely on the unscrupulous and vicious tactics of Bounty Hunters to capture the most nefarious of these outlaws. The irony is most of the Bounty Hunters were outlaws themselves, many of them having a price on their own heads. Star Wars: Bounty Hunter takes the legend of the Old West Bounty Hunter that appears sporadically throughout the series and brings it into sharp focus. Bounty Hunter is a solid, if flawed title to add to the collection of both Star Wars fans and Action gamers.

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Community review by mrshotgun (March 15, 2007)

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