Top 100 N64 Review: #87 – Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire (1996)

The Collective Consciousness Does Exist.

Otherwise, how could we all agree precisely about this game?

Shadows of the Empire Title Screen.png

LesLites’ Ranking#87/100
My Rating: cropped-smooth-star-e1545863035586cropped-smooth-star-e1545863035586cropped-smooth-star-e1545863035586

Reading other people’s reviews for this game is like looking into my soul: every cantor, every take, every turn of phrase a perfect reflection of my thoughts. We must have collectively played this game together on Christmas morning of 1996; little did I know 23 years ago I would begin a journey with 2,599,999 other people as we inserted that cartridge and began the Battle of Hoth.

It was an unbelievable high: an engrossing, faithful, and believable mimicry of the Star Wars universe. We finally left behind the clunky and ridiculous SNES interpretations…until we got to level two.

Battle of Hot Shadows of the Empire
The alpha and the omega.

[STORY]

You play as the character of Dash Rendar. Providing the blue print for The Force Awakens (aka copy everything good from the originals), Dash is just a clone of Han Solo: rouge smuggler looking for a pay check that likes to help the rebellion and has his own unique ship. The events happen between The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi. Dash gets caught up in the Battle at Hoth, but goes on his own adventure to track down Boba Fett to hopefully save Han Solo. This leads to another plot within a plot as he works with Princess Leia and Skywalker to stop a crime syndicate’s evil plans.

Movie View The Shadows of the Empire
Somehow the cinematic movie angle (that randomly bounces to long distance shots leaving you completely unable to navigate your character) might not be the most worthless feature in the game.

[GAMEPLAY]

The game is so convincingly Star Wars: the music, settings, and graphics all reek of what we expect. This was the first time that it was realistic enough to really live out your fan boy dreams. The Battle of Hoth recreation was so good that it surpassed watching the movies — no longer did we have to watch the same roll of cinema, ossified and never changing.

This excitement doesn’t carry over. I still enjoy this game (it’s hard to screw up Star Wars), but the game has many supremely quirky parts that are buttressed by a John Williams-esque score.

Platforming Star Wars Shadows of the Empire
Good luck timing this as Dash jumps like he’s under an ocean on one of the moons of Saturn.

Aiming & Jumping.

For a first-person/third-person/top-down/cinematic-view shooter, there was little thought given to how the character…shoots.

You don’t aim as so much as scatter your blaster fire in a 90 degree arc in front of you. By pressing the Z-button, you do a more concentrated blast, but Dash takes his time lining up to fire as he slowly twists his body to blast away enemies. In the interim between Dash’s slow yoga poses, you get riddled to death with incoming fire. Good luck avoiding it because this button also cements his feet to the ground.

There are quite a few platform elements, too, and these don’t fair any better. Jumps you think you nailed will send you careening into oblivion while others that looked stupendously horrendous are landed. Nothing compares to the junk yard stage where the forces of relativity are ignored; you literally get to do all the things Einstein says are impossible.

Shadows of the Empire Star Battle
This game excels at doing every format poorly.

Different Genres, Same Results.

This game does not have a lack of variety: there are 3D ship fights; first person shooting; platforming; motor vehicle racing. While the first person shooting and platforming has been covered, be assured the rest also suck in their own ways.

One stage has you fight off T.I.E. Fighters and T.I.E. Bombers as you blast away from Outrider. The problem here is that you are stuck on a spit in the center of the stage. You don’t so much as steer as you swivel. From here, you blast away with clunky controls and missiles at easily poached prey making you wonder if you are just playing a demo.

Another level where you have to drive a “motorcycle” while running enemies into walls is a navigational nightmare. Pressing the gas sends you into lightspeed, so you must gently tap the accelerator as you gently negotiate the close quarters of the city. This start-and-stop technique works wonders as you gently cause your opponents to crash in a fiery explosion as you travel at the speed of lawn mowers.

Scary Bosses Shadows of the Empire
The bosses still scare me…until I start playing (except that last one).

Scary First Impressions. 

Thinking you have reached the end, you find yourself in a room with an AT-ST — an impossible mismatch. This boss fight legitimately scared me as a kid requiring me to pause and think about it. The same happens on numerous other occasions as this game is SO GOOD at setting the stage.

After you stop peeing your pants, you realize something. THEY ARE ALL STUPID. Every fight is essentially running in a 360 degree circle as you light up the boss. Boba Fett’s ship looks like a complete nightmare until you realize the gun blasters don’t turn but instead can only shot forwards and backwards. Stay off to the side and you can retrowalk your way to victory.

*Except the last boss. He’s Dark Souls worthy.

Empires of the Shadows cut scene
Don’t worry about the antagonist — you never actually meet him…or anyone.

[CONCLUSION]

I’m glad we could all experience this disappointment together separately (but secretly I still like this game).

Other People’s Takes:

  • Extra Life: It’s a shame that time has not been kind Shadows of the Empire because it captures all of the superficial elements which made the original trilogy so memorable.”
  • Savior Gaming“Shadows of the Empire isn’t a bad game, regardless of how it aged, but damn it’s flawed.”
  • Comic Games Assemble: “Is Shadows of the Empire really that bad? Not really. It’s not exactly unplayable but it certainly doesn’t hold up either.”

Author: Casual But Smart

I review the top 100 books, movies, albums, and games of all time.

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