Star Wars video games don’t get the credit and the respect within the community as I believe they should. During the “dark ages” of Star Wars, I believe video games helped keep the magic alive. Where else could you swing a lightsaber at an enemy or shoot down an AT-AT in a snowspeeder? Video games are a multi-billion dollar industry, and with over 150 games in 31 years, the Star Wars franchise has helped contribute to that. The games have been in nearly every genre and that includes side-scrolling, shooter, puzzle, racing and MMO. In this article I’m going to break down the years of 1982-1989. Now please remember video games were still new in the 80’s. While graphics, story, and game length are very different then they are now, these games were a product of their time. All of these are the foundation of the Star Wars games we enjoy now.
The first Star Wars video game ever to be released was Empire Strikes Back. Parker Brothers, yes the same company that makes classics such as Monopoly and Clue, put this game out in 1982 for Atari 2600 and Intellivision in 1983. The game was named after its movie counterpart, but only featured the Hoth battle scene. While flying a snowspeeder, you would shoot down AT-AT’s to protect Eco base. Your snowspeeder could only take on three blaster shots while the AT-AT’s could take more than 30 shots. Sometimes you are granted the ability of “the force” and this turns your speeder invincible for a limited time.
The only game released in 1983 was Star Wars: Jedi Arena. This is the first game to introduce a lightsaber. Two Jedi, one with a blue and the other with a red lightsaber, battle a training remote that shoots lasers at both players. You deflect the shots to your opponent and then outlast him to become the ultimate Jedi knight. Jedi Arena, in my opinion, is a game that is capitalizing on the mechanics of the very successful game Pong, but with a Star Wars theme to it.
In 1984, three Star Wars games were released. In Star Wars: Return of the Jedi-Death Star Battle you become the pilot of the Millennium Falcon with the task of destroying the half built Death Star. The first stage you take on waves of TIE fighters and make your way past an energy shield. The second stage involves shooting the Death Star until you reach the reactor core. Once you blow up the reactor you must make your way out of the exploding Death Star and then the game restarts at a higher difficulty.
The second arcade game was titled Star Wars. In this game you become Luke Skywalker and fly an X-wing. Taking on waves of TIE fighters in a space dogfight, you work your way towards the Death Star. When you make it to the surface, you will now face towers with laser turrets. In the final stage of the game, you navigate through the famous trench until it is time to launch your proton torpedo at the exhaust port target. Once the Death Star explodes you start all over again to rack up a higher score. This game could be played for hours upon hours on a single coin. The record for the longest single player is 54 straight hours. Because of this, the game was made harder for arcade tournaments.
The final game released in 1984 was Star Wars: Return of the Jedi the Arcade Game. In this game you take on a few different scenes from the Return of the Jedi movie. Luke on the speeder bikes, Chewbacca driving an AT-ST and Lando Calrissian flying the Millennium Falcon into the reactor core of the Death Star. While Chewy is working his way towards the shield generator in the AT-ST, simultaneously you are playing as Lando fighting off TIE fighters until the shields are shut down. In my opinion this is the best Star Wars game of the 80s.
In 1985, Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back was released for the arcade. This was an upgrade to the Star Wars arcade game from the previous year. The first part of the game you are Luke Skywalker flying a snowspeeder on Hoth. After patrolling the area for imperial probe droids you encounter AT-ATs and AT-STs. This snowspeeder is equipped with four tow-cables to wrap around the AT-ATs or you must shoot your blasters at the cockpits to destroy them. The Second part of the game is a space battle; you become Hon Solo while fighting off waves of TIE fighters in the Falcon. The final stage of the game you must survive and escape through the asteroid field. When you beat this level the game restarts at a higher difficulty. Throughout the game if you’re able to accomplish certain tasks you earn letters towards the word JEDI. Once you obtain all the letters, you receive invincibility for a short period of time and are rewarded with military stripes next to your name on the high score list.
While no games in 1986, 1987 brings us one of the hardest and bizarre Star Wars games of all time. The title was simply Star Wars and was exclusively released in Japan. The game loosely follows the story of the original movie but with bits of the other two movies included. You are Luke Skywalker, with black hair, fighting aliens on the planet of Tatooine with a lightsaber. Luke only has one life. If his body in any way touches an enemy it is game over. With only two continues this a challenging game for everyone. At the end of some levels you face off against Darth Vader. When you defeat him he turns into some strange creatures such as a scorpion or wampa. Star Wars Insider #135 says it is “intended as illusions representing Luke’s fears, like the Cave of Evil scene in Empire Strikes Back”. In the last part of this game you fly the Millennium Falcon as Luke taking on waves of TIE fighters. I have to say with all the research I have done, this to me is the most bizarre Star Wars game I came across.
Since I’m covering 1982-1989 in this article, Star Wars: Droids from 1988 is our last game for now. This game was not based off of the movies, but based off the 1988 cartoon Star Wars: Droids AKA Droids: the Adventures of R2-D2 and C3-PO. You become the two famous droids stuck in an imperial prison. Wandering the halls defeating enemies with bombs and trying to find your way out, is the goal. You come upon computer terminals that control elevators and laser beams. R2 must hack the computers to get you past the obstacles. Hacking consists of a memory game and you must re-enter the solution that just flashed before you.
The 80’s were the beginning of the Star Wars video games. While most of the games were classic side-scrolling or flight simulators, they were fun and challenging at the same time. A lot of the arcade games would continue to be re-released on different platforms throughout the years. In the next article I will cover the years 1990-1995. With a lot of the games coming to more recognizable home systems, these might feel more memorable to you. Until next time, turn off your targeting computer and let the force guide you.
History of Star Wars Video Games 1982 – 1989 review. For more gaming reviews, click here.