Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire—Brilliantly Muted Shooter

Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire on the N64
Phwoar.

Here’s a strange one from the Nintendo 64 library. An occasionally riveting, frequently dodgy mishmash of gaming genres. Hurray!

Shadows of the Empire

Developer LucasArts was incredibly busy in the mid-1990s Launching this title in late 1996 in North America, a year later it had the masterpiece Curse of Monkey Island out.

But the world was in (another) Star Wars frenzy back in 1997, what with George Lucas relaunching the Star Wars films in a special edition extravaganza.

And, heck, then we had The Phantom Menace disaster in 1999. But what the heck, Shadows of the Empire is a standalone title.

It stars Dash Rendar in a side story to the official films. Although he interacts around the world of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo etc.

Work began on the idea in 1994 and LucasArts wanted to be on the Nintendo train as soon as possible. The former began work on the project before the Nintendo 64’s hardware was finished.

Launching at a time when the Nintendo 64 was cutting edge, promos of the game created an enormous amount of hype.

That’s primarily due to the Battle of Hoth section. It really had jaws dropping back in 1997.

It’s a bit tame now, but back then it was a “ZOMG!” type moment. A lot of people bought the game just to play this one short mission.

And at the time it was thrilling! Along with the quite outstanding soundtrack for the game (taken from John Williams, of course) it was amazing.

As if you were thumped into the action in the iconic opening scenes of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.

Unfortunately, most of the rest of the game was a bizarre hybrid of tedious third-person shooting and more flying missions.

Now, we really did hurl ourselves into Shadows of the Empire. It was one we completed 100%, despite the game’s frustrations and flaws.

The third-person elements are ropey as all hell. We can see what LucasArts was trying to do, but stages such as Ord Mantell Junkyard look like vomit. And don’t play much better.

One of the weird things about the game is you get a false sense of brilliance. Accompany that incredible music with a mediocre game and it adds a new dimension.

But that train level in particular highlights the issues with Shadows of the Empire.

The third-person controls are horrendous. It’s fiddly and difficult to get Rendar to do what you want, often leaving you to plunge to your death.

Then at the end of the level there’s the mandatory boss—a robot. Twice as difficult as it should be due to the nefarious control system.

And, by cripes, the bosses in this game are much more difficult than they need to be everywhere. It’s the control system and terrible camera. You’re never quite on it in the way you need to be.

Interspersed with the vast third-person stages (which make up most of the game), there are more flying sections.

Again, along from Battle of Hoth these are the best part of the game. Very enjoyable, if dated these days.

But back in 1997, it created this weird situation. Where that opening mission flagged up an outstanding title that was surely a classic.

And then it plunged into raging mediocrity. So, it’s almost like Shadows of the Empire was two games—one of which is ropey, the other good.

An odd state of affairs. LucasArts launched the game on the PC, too, but the issue remained the soon.

One outstanding level. The rest a bit mediocre. What’s a Wookiee to do?

2 comments

  1. I loved Shadows of the Empire as a kid, I assuredly didn’t have the refined taste in games I do now. I still enjoy the game, but sadly, it is very difficult to play nowadays, like so many other N64 games. Only having a Nintendo 64 and no pc meant you weren’t given too many options for Star Wars games…these spoiled kids today with all their Star Wars games. Back in my day I had to fight an AT-ST and later the Slave 1 all by myself! 🧐

    Liked by 1 person

    • I did enjoy it as a kid, more than I let on in the review. But it’s aged atrociously.

      But aye, back in my day you could convince yourself a game like this were dead good. Which I sure tried to do. Even though it was only ever mediocre, even back in 1997. Still, the SNES Star Wars games were pretty good.

      Liked by 1 person

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