Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

Atari 2600

Review by Rob "Dire 51"

Parker Bros.


Graphics: 8

Sound: 8

Gameplay: 9

Overall: 9

"That is the system. And I'm sure Skywalker is with them. Set your course for the Hoth system. General Veers, prepare your men."

Those words, uttered by none other than Darth Vader, Lord of the Sith, set in motion the events that led to one of the greatest battles ever captured on film: the Battle of Hoth in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. It was a crushing defeat for the Rebel Alliance, ending with the destruction of the main generator that powered Echo Base and sending the members of the Alliance scattering in all directions.

In 1982, when Star Wars mania was at one of its highest peaks, Parker Brothers released the first in a series of Star Wars games for the VCS, titled Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. For the first time ever, Star Wars fans were able to live that epic, desperate battle. Just like the in the film, you had to pilot a Rebel Snowspeeder in an attempt to stop the menacing Imperial AT-AT's (also known as Imperial Walkers) from reaching the main generator. Just like in the film though, it's a merely a holding action, as no matter what you do, the Empire will always triumph in the end.

Your mission (or yours and a friend's as you can select to play a two player game): destroy as many Imperial Walkers as you can to rack up a high score. One or two players could play, taking alternating turns. You start out with one Snowspeeder on screen and two in reserve. Unlike the film, all you have are your blasters - no harpoons and tow cables, unfortunately (due to memory limitations, those couldn't be implemented). To make up for that, there are weak spots that you could shoot on the Walkers, destroying them instantly. However, they only appear from time to time in one of three spots, and can be very hard to hit.

Your Snowspeeder is fairly durable. You can take multiple hits from the Walkers - one hit would change the color of your ship to a bright orange, and one or two more hits (sometimes more) would destroy it completely. However, you can land your Snowspeeder in one of the trenches that cover the ground. Once you do that, it'll be repaired, and you'll be able to take a few more hits. You can land the Snowspeeder a maximum of two times for repairs. For added difficulty, you can use the difficulty switches to reduce the size of the trenches. Position "A" makes them smaller, while position "B" makes them larger.

The Walkers are extremely durable. As you shoot them, they cycle through a series of colors. Once they turn yellow, a few more hits will destroy them. Every one that's destroyed is replaced by a new one that appears on the far left of the playfield. Your scanner, at the bottom of the screen, shows where the Walkers are in relation to your Snowspeeder and Echo Base. Once the Walkers reach the far right of the playfield, they'll destroy the main generator and the game will end. You'll be warned as to when they're getting close - an alarm will sound and the sky will start to flash. That's your cue to stop what you're doing and destroy the lead Walker as quickly as possible!

The Force comes into play here as well. If you survive long enough, your Snowspeeder will start to flash, and the theme from Star Wars will begin to play (the only piece of music in the game, and one that's quite well done at that). When that happens, you're invincible. Attack and destroy as many of the Walkers as you can while you're invincible. After a minute, though, your ship will return to its original color (if you'd been hit before you got The Force, you'll be fully repaired), and you'll be able to land in the trenches for repairs two more times.

Your Snowspeeder, for the most part, responds beautifully to commands. You can turn on a dime, but if you're going too fast, you will need to slow down first. The button fires your blaster cannons. I've found something interesting in my experiences with the game: if you plug a Sega Genesis controller into the joystick port, you'll find that you can control your Snowspeeder a lot more easily. The sound effects are quite well done as well, from the stomping sounds of the Walkers, to the firing of your blaster cannons, and even the sound of "skidding" the Snowspeeder along the ground. Graphically, the game looks as close to the movie as you can get on the VCS. The Walkers and Snowspeeders look reasonably like their cinematic counterparts, and the bleak, ice covered plains of Hoth were translated to the VCS admirably.

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back is a fantastic first attempt at a Star Wars game. It was also the very first game I ever owned in my life. Being a huge Star Wars fan, my parents bought the game for me for Christmas the year it was released, so I have a bit of a sentimental attachment to it. Just looking at the game objectively, though, I can say that it was one of the best third-party games released for the VCS, and one that's well worth owning, whether you're a Star Wars fan or not.


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Last updated: Saturday, September 25, 2004 09:17 PM