May the Fourth be with you: Star Wars Retrogaming


Well, it’s that time of year again when we all suddenly become sci-fi nerds and amusingly misquote Star Wars for 24 hours, so to celebrate the geek in-joke turned global holiday that is Star Wars Day, we present a quick round-up of some unofficial (and frequently rubbish) Star Wars related retrogaming you may or may not be aware of.

A long time ago, in a galaxy without proper 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 even more copyright-ignoring references.

Another 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.

I can't imagine getting stuck in hyperspace forever being much worse than playing this...

And the advent of colour and hi-res graphics didn't entirely smash text adventures into an unexpected ASCIIroid field; no, the text adventure struck back, with prettier fonts and funnier(?) jokes, as the 1991 Spectrum game Star Flaws ably demonstrates.


Of course, the action and adventure of the Star Wars movies made them much better suited to 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 - but while the first of these (The Empire Strikes Back on the Atari 2600) didn’t come to home systems until 1982, Commodore 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.

Battle the evil ASCII Empire in Star Force!

The crucial attack on the Death Star 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, and later made the jump to the Amstrad CPC.


Another pre-emptive Star Wars clone, Death Star Interceptor, made a big deal of having licenced the Star Wars theme tune for the Spectrum's beeper. We'll spare you that though, here's the C64 game instead.


But there was a dark side to the popularity of the Star Wars movies and games; a dark side which led, inevitably, to The Attack of the Namedroppers, that sudden influx of arcade games to which a clearly Lucas-inspired name was attached despite the otherwise tenuous link to the franchise. The most blatant of these of course was 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 of 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 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.


And if you thought R2-D2 got a raw deal being linked to Jedy, 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.


Now, because those last couple were so terrible, let's finish on a high with some honourable mentions, without which no overview of Star Wars cash-ins would be complete. One of the greatest Spectrum games of all time, 3D Deathchase, consisted 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 last but by no means least, 8-bit legend Manic Miner was released that same year, and featured a level named ‘The Endorian Forest’.

So on that somewhat happier note, until next time, May the Fourth Be With You.

by Steve Trower
@SPTrowerEsq
(A version of this article first appeared at www.stevetrower.co.uk)

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