To celebrate the geek in-joke turned global holiday that is Star Wars Day, here’s a round-up of some unofficial (and frequently rubbish) Star Wars related retrogaming you may or may not be aware of.
A long time ago, before computers had realistic (or indeed any) graphics or sound, text adventures were a staple among home computer games. A notable early example from the pseudo-Star Wars oeuvre is Dog Star Adventure, in which you must rescue Princess Leya from the clutches of the evil General Doom and his Roche Soldiers before they launch a full-scale attack against the Forces of Freedom.
This barely-disguised attempt to rescue Princess Leia from… well, you get the idea – was first published for the TRS-80 in 1979, and later ported to the Commodore PET with more copyright-ignoring Star Wars references included.
A different variation on the theme was Spacewar, a text-heavy strategy game based on the Battle of Yavin . Released in 1979 for the Commodore PET, it resembled a really tricky maths exam more than anything we might now recognise as a computer game.
But the advent of colour and hi-res graphics did not smash text adventures into an unexpected ASCIIroid field; as Star Flaws (ZX Spectrum, 1991) ably demonstrates, the text adventure struck back, with prettier fonts and funnier(?) jokes.
3D Star Wars! Wow! A Star Wars game! In 3D! On the Speccy! We probably all thought when we saw this in John Menzies back in 1983. Pity then, that it wasn’t really 3D, and besides a token mention to the hero being called Luke Clearthinker, neither is it Star Wars.
Mastertronic’s The Empire Fights Back (ZX Spectrum, 1985), on the other hand, makes no pretence at being a Star Wars tie-in beyond hoping your gran will fall for the title confusion. The Empire are even the good guys – how could you possibly think they’re trying to jump on the Star Wars bandwagon?
Return of the Jedy… well, this should just return from whence it came, frankly. It starts out promisingly enough, with a nicely drawn R2-D2 and Darth Vader on the loading screen, but as soon as the game starts you realise it has peaked, and you wish your gran had just sent you a fiver and been done with it.
You might think R2-D2 got a raw deal being cast in Jedy, but he was at least as unlucky on the Acorn platform, with his name tagged on to unintelligible isometric maze game The Return of R2, a BBC/Electron game with no discernable point and no discernable R2 unit other than 7-Zark-7 on the cover.
Obviously the action and adventure of the Star Wars movies made them prime targets for arcade games full of spaceships and explosions – and of course there were the three official movie tie-ins, Star Wars Droids and Return of the Jedi: Death Star Battle for those whose gran’s got it right, but where’s the fun in that?
While the first official Star Wars game didn’t come to home systems until 1982 (The Empire Strikes Back, Atari 2600), PET owners had been enjoying the likes of Star Force, which involved shooting Tie Fighters, and Star Fighter, which involved avoiding Tie Fighters and blowing up the Death Star, since 1979 and 1980 respectively.
The same bit of Star Wars arrived on the Spectrum in 1984, three years before Domark’s official version of the Star Wars arcade game, and was called 3D Starstrike. It’s actually not bad – it even made the jump to the Amstrad CPC.
The Commodore 64 had another pre-emptive Star Wars clone, Death Star Interceptor – the Spectrum version of which made a big deal of having licenced the Star Wars theme tune!
3D Deathchase, one of the greatest Spectrum games of all time, consisted basically of a high speed chase through a forest shooting bad guys. Coincidentally it came out in 1983, as did a Star Wars movie with a high speed chase through a forest shooting bad guys…
And finally, friend of this blog Matthew Smith himself programmed a little bit of Endor into Manic Miner that same year.
Until next time, May the Fourth Be With You.