Star Wars Episode 1: Battle for Naboo (N64) Review
written by Matthew J. Keil on Tuesday, January 16, 2001
With the smashing success of Star Wars: Rogue Squadron in late 1998, a follow-up game was practically guaranteed. Not the ones to disappoint loyal Star Wars fans, Factor 5 has teamed with LucasArts once again to bring us Star Wars Episode 1: Battle for Naboo. Using an enhanced version of the Rogue Squadron engine, Battle for Naboo gives players a taste of life as a typical Naboo security officer caught in the middle of the Trade Federation's assault on the planet. As the game progresses, players experience the "home front" battle that was only glimpsed in the movie Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace.
The visuals are the most notable improvement over Star Wars: Rogue Squadron. Once again, taking advantage of the RAM Expansion Pak, Factor 5 and LucasArts have managed to extend the horizon line into the far distance on Battle for Naboo, and the results are spectacular. No longer is the player stuck monitoring the radar for nearby fighters, waiting for them to pop into existence. A quick visual scan will reveal any hostiles in the area and allow time for planning a method of attack. There is some draw-in, mainly of buildings that suddenly fade into view on certain levels. The transition of low-resolution textures into high-resolution textures that occurs when you get closer to a large geographical formation, such as a hill or cliffside, is a bit jarring as well. For the most part, however, the environments are extremely well done. The wide and expansive countryside surrounding Theed in the second level is particularly impressive.
Vehicle models are detailed. New vehicle designs created exclusively for the game mesh quite well with the existing look established in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, especially the Naboo Bomber, which sports a slick "flying wing" look. Everything moves at a steady and smooth frame rate, with only occasional flashes of slowdown or stutter, even with dozens of STAPs or droid fighters onscreen.
Factor 5's specialty is sound. Battle for Naboo is truly a showcase of their talent in this field. Sound effects are crystal clear and straight from the film. Blaster bolts whine as they whiz past your N1 starfighter, while droid fighters howl back and forth across the stereo speakers. After enough play, it was a relatively simple matter to predict how many fighters were coming up behind me or to the side by listening to their sounds. Radio chatter advances the story and clarifies objectives during missions, with voice acting good all around.
Chris Hulsbeck's original score blends seamlessly with the music taken from John Williams' Star Wars: The Phantom Menace film score. The musical cues throughout each mission highlight key events as you play, completing the Star Wars audio experience. Factor 5 has done an amazing job of replicating the sound of the original orchestrated film music on the cartridge, especially the "Duel of the Fates" piece. Music has never sounded better on the N64.
Fans of Star Wars: Rogue Squadron will be completely at home with the controls of Battle for Naboo, as they are virtually identical. The analog stick steers your vehicle, while buttons allow you to speed up, slow down, fire blasters, use secondary weapons, and make tight turns. Aircraft can also roll for more efficient banking turns and evasive maneuvers. There are quirks to some vehicles; the N1 Starfighter occasionally gets hung up when turning and climbing simultaneously, which can be frustrating in a heated dogfight. The lasers seem to travel more slowly than one would expect, and hitting your targets is tricky early on. It's important to learn how far you need to lead your targets to get a direct hit. Hunting STAPs in the Naboo fields of level 2 can be particularly frustrating for the beginning pilot.
There are numerous vehicles to choose from, and each has its own set of strengths and weaknesses. The Gian Speeder may have stronger armor than the Flash Speeder, but it certainly doesn't turn as quickly, so it may not necessarily be the wisest choice if you have to navigate narrow city streets. The N1 Starfighter may be able to gain more altitude than the Naboo Police Cruiser, but if you need to strafe a battalion of AATs, staying lower to the ground will likely help your accuracy rating. The first time through the game you're fairly restricted in your vehicle choices. After completing a mission, however, you're free to go back and try again with different vehicles, as long as it is appropriate for the task at hand (sorry, no using the water-based Assault Gunboat to attack the droid control ship in the final mission).
The reason to return to previously played levels is to collect hidden vehicle weapon upgrades and to earn completion medals. Medals are awarded for achieving pre-set goals for completion time, enemies killed, accuracy, allies saved, bonuses picked up, and lives remaining. Completing every mission with a medal of one color or higher will unlock hidden bonuses in the game. Bronze and silver medals are easy enough to obtain, but players who wish to see everything Battle for Naboo has to offer will have to hone their skills enough to grab gold and even the ultra-difficult platinum medals. For those who wish to unlock everything, replay value is high.
Battle for Naboo is not without shortcomings. Mission goals tend to be repetitive at times, as most levels involve escort duty of some type. It would have broken up the monotony a bit to perhaps actually be one of the commandos making the run to plant explosives on the bridge, rather than simply guarding their backs.
The game is incredibly immersive, and achieves the feat of putting you in the Star Wars universe even more effectively than Rogue Squadron. Screaming through space in the N1 Starfighter as dozens of droids swarm around you, frantically dodging blaster fire as you attempt to make your attack run on the control ship's shield generator is quite an adrenaline rush. Battle for Naboo is an objectively better game than Rogue Squadron in many ways. Players who enjoyed the ship combat in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace will love it just as much as its predecessor. Those who still harbor some doubts would do well to at least rent it, and shouldn't let any aversion to the newness of Episode 1 deter them from trying the game.
Star Wars Episode 1: Battle for Naboo Platform: N64 Developer: Factor 5 and LucasArts Publisher: LucasArts ESRB Rating: Teen