Dec. 15th, 2015

Star Wars has a surprisingly long and successful history with Nintendo. Many of you might recall the games designed for the Nintendo and the Super Nintendo, like Star Wars and Super Star Wars. However it was not until the 64-bit era that this epic collaboration really hit its stride. It was a time of turmoil within the video game universe, where even the mighty Nintendo empire needed the aid of powerful allies


The year is 1997 and the cd-based Sony Playstation is taking the world by storm. Not even industry titans like Nintendo feel their sales figures will be safe unless they can do something to surpass this rising threat. Desperate to show off the full potential of their own upcoming console, the Nintendo 64, they strike a deal with LucasArts to create three Star Wars games exclusive to their platform.


Star Wars: Shadows of The Empire was designed as a launch title for Nintendo 64. It was meant to be just as much of a tech demo as it was a game, and in this regard it succeeded masterfully. The very first level was a stunning recreation of the iconic battle on the ice planet Hoth, featured in The Empire Strikes Back. And even though most of the game was a third-person shooter, like Tomb Raider, this opening level alone was Star Wars as gamers had never before experienced it. Boasting a complete orchestral score, and cinematic visuals, Shadows of the Empire became an immediate hit.


Two years Later, LucasArts was back with their second title for Nintendo. Star Wars: Rogue Squadron was released  less than one month after The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time. This would have been financial suicide for a lesser game. But, Rogue Squadron's confidence was far from unwarranted . After listening to critical and popular feedback on Shadows of the Empire, LucasArts knew that gamers wanted as much star-spanning, dog-fighting action as possible. Working off of the opening level of Shadows, they developed a game that was exclusively focused on aerial combat, and the results were stunning.


In order to create its massive landscapes and stunning details on every starfighter, LucasArts became an early adopter of the Nintendo 64’s Expansion Pak technology. At the time, the Pak was considered by many to be a largely useless peripheral with no real possibility of enhancing the hardware. Rogue Squadron could be played using just the native N64 hardware, but the difference when using the Expansion Pak was stunning. Even professional critics were in awe of the advancement in graphics. To this day, Rogue Squadron is one of the best-looking titles ever developed for the N64 and proved there was still a lot of life left in Nintendo's console. It’s safe to say that LucasArts gave the N64 a much-needed second wind, midway through its lifespan.


By 2000, the Nintendo 64 was reaching the end of its life span. Developers were already working on games for the next generation of disc-based games, but LucasArts had yet to produce their third N64-exclusive game. Most speculators assumed that they had given up and that if a third game was released, it would be nothing more than a rushed mess, churned out simply to fulfill their contract. Yet nothing could be farther from the truth. Even though it was designed for a ‘dead’ system, no punches were pulled in Star Wars Episode I: Battle For Naboo. It was a spiritual successor to Rogue Squadron that enabled players to engage in land and sea based combat, in addition to aerial battles. What’s more, it succeeded where virtually every other game about The Phantom Menace failed.


Virtually none of the main characters of The Phantom Menace were present in Battle For Naboo. Instead, the game focused on various generals and soldiers who might have only had about  30 seconds of screen time in the actual movie. This decision gave the player a greater understanding of the actual war that Anakin and pals were trying to end during all those committee meetings. Battle For Naboo was all the action you only got hear about in the movie, and the fact that LucasArts decided to make the player the center of that action was pretty cool. It let you feel like you'd actually played a major role in the narrative of the Star Wars universe, instead of just reliving the exploits of its established heroes.


There are other Star Wars games on the N64, like the criminally-underrated Star Wars Episode I: Racer,but this trio are the only ones exclusive to the console. However, even after the N64's death, Nintendo’s partnership with Star Wars was far from over. Many gamers felt burned by "Battle For Naboo" because they were expecting a proper sequel to Rogue Squadron. What they didn’t know was that it was already in the works for the Nintendo GameCube. Rogue Squadron 2: Rogue Leader was released in 2001, continuing the legacy of great Nintendo-exclusive Star Wars games.

But, enough history. What were your favorite Star Wars games? Are you with me when I say that the N64 was the high-water mark for quality X-Wing action? Or do you think the Force is stronger in some other titles? As always, let me know in the Comments section.

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