The Force is strong(ish) with this one - Review By Mad Carl
Okay, it's been long enough now that the wounds should have started to heal. But since we're all geeks here, the odds are that they haven't, so let's get all the gripes out of the way right here and now: when you walked into that movie theater in May of 1999, the ceiling did not split open and Christ did not come back to Earth to watch the new Star Wars movie. The plot lacked. Jar Jar was irritating. Jake Lloyd was worse. These are all things you and your geek friends still talk about at lunch to this very day. I know, because I talk about them with my geek friends too. But I take a slightly different stance. I take the angle that what we got was still a new Star Wars movie and I'll take new Star Wars any way I can get it, Jar Jar or no. Bad Star Wars is like bad pizza -- it's still Star Wars. Besides, my son is now the age I was when the first Star Wars film arrived in theaters. Watching this three foot tall spitting image of me at that age running around with a lightsaber and doing his best to defend the backyard from the forces of evil just makes me feel better about the universe.
This brings us to the new Lucasarts game Star Wars Episode I: Jedi Power Battles. This game gets the same reaction from me as viewing Episode I: "Damnit - they were just *this close* to getting it all perfect". The pieces for a great game are all here, and every so often, when all the power converters are firing, and the Force is well and truly with us, it rocks. At other times meesa finds meself a thinking they shoulda tried a weeeee bitsa hada.
Jedi Power Battles is basically a Reader's Digest retelling of the film, with a fair amount more action thrown in. It is also a good looking game most of the time. The lightsabers glow and the blaster shots look menacing. Characters are animated rather well and the framerate never seems to budge. In fact, the whole package is a fair sight better than the PlayStation version of the title. The designers have done a fine job of taking tradional 8-bit era platform-style gameplay and bringing it up to speed on the Dreamcast. Combined with the film-grade sound effects and the always spectacular John Williams film score, there's nothing technological that should stand in the way of this being an all around great game.
The ability to deflect blaster bolts is the distinguishing factor between l33t and non-l33t Jedi.
The coolest gameplay mechanic by far is the ability to deflect incoming laser fire with a quick flick of your lightsaber. If you just run around holding down the block button, the laser fire will only be deflected in random directions, making it a useless tactic. However, if you time it just right, your saber will send enemy fire streaking right back at the bad guys. Since there are many places throughout the game where the enemies are too far away from you to make it to melee range safely, this deflecting tactic is an important one to learn.
Level design is spot on most of the time. As I mentioned before, this game really is a throwback to the old school days of NES and Genesis gaming when Contra and Streets of Rage were kings of their respective domains. Some gamers will get irked by this, but I actually found it refreshing to play something so retro in its game design. Half the game is running and jumping while the other half is hacking and slashing with your lightsaber. If you were ever a fan of the games I just mentioned, odds are you spent a lot of time playing cooperatively with your friends. This mode of play is also included, allowing two of you to dish out Jedi justice at the same time.
The first boss has convenient storage space up top.
The boss fights can actually be a lot of fun. A couple are less than stellar (Darth Maul unfortunately being one of them) but there are others that give the Star Wars universe a new spin. My favorite in the entire game is a mercenary-type that is stalking you through your jaunt on Coruscant. The final battle with this shady character is far and away the coolest fight in the game as he beams about the arena, lobbing thermal detonators and shooting his wrist laser. Where was this guy in the movie?
Now comes the part you've all been waiting for... that one thing you wanted to know about more than anything else. Jar Jar is in the game. Dozens of him. All carrying these weird cattle prods. And your job is to lay into them with your lightsaber. This isn't something you can just do on a whim like running over pedestrians in your more realistic car sims. No, sir. The designers of Jedi Power Battles knew we all wanted a piece of that Gungan, and they have provided his brethren in droves.
Last of all, you can play as Mace Windu. Granted, he doesn't have Samuel L. Jackson's voice (Jake Lloyd and Ahmed Best are the only "real" voices present and accounted for), but it's still Mace Freak'n Windu -- a Jedi so badass that he gets to sit next to Yoda at all the important Jedi functions. You just know when he turns that lightsaber on in Episode II that he's gonna be one mushroom cloud lay'n Jedi. This just serves as a teaser for what is surely to come.
Next: The Bad and The Final Word