LICENSE TO THRILL?: Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire (1996)

Rod returns to a galaxy far, far away for one of the most fondly-remembered tie-ins on the N64. 

Who made it?: LucasArts (Developer/Publisher), Nintendo (Publisher).

Genre: Action.

Platforms: Nintendo 64, PC.

Format: Cartridge, CD-ROM.

Released: March 1, 1997 (UK).

Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire was one of the launch titles for the Nintendo 64. It is basically a side story, or an “interquel,” with events taking place between those of Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back and Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.

Players take on the role of Dash Rendar, a smuggling friend of Han Solo’s who has a droid named Leebo, and is captain of the Outrider, a Corellian ship with a similar design to that of the Millennium Falcon. The main villain of this story isn’t Darth Vader but rather a prince by the name of Xizor, head of the Black Sun crime syndicate, who wishes to undermine Vader in order to take his place under Palpatine. In the novel, which was hugely successful and a New York Times best-seller, his character is revealed as being able to secrete pheromones, a trait of his race known as the “Falleen,” which he can use to attract females of any race. He even tries this on Princess Leia but is only partially successful.

The very first level is the Battle of Hoth, in which Dash Rendar pilots one of the snowspeeders in order to support the Rebels in defending the base and the generators (which they fail in saving, of course, like in Empire Strikes Back). You can even defeat the AT-AT’s using the tow cables and circling around their legs to make them trip, just like in the movie. Doing this will give you “Challenge Points” (they look like Rebel Alliance symbols), of which there are many throughout the game, mainly hidden in hard-to-reach areas or require a bit of exploration to discover. This level really makes you feel like you’re playing a game that takes place in the Star Wars universe, and at the time, it was a major selling point for the Nintendo 64.

The majority of levels are third-person platforming stages in which you control Rendar himself. While playing in third-person, there are a few different camera angles you can choose from, with one of these allowing a first-person viewpoint. The controls themselves feel a bit tight sometimes, especially when trying to manoeuvre Dash along platforms before jumping from one to another, and this may become a source of frustration, especially in the level on Ord Mantell, where you’re on train tracks and need to jump from one train to another at certain moments.

In these third-person platforming levels, you can find and use a variety of different types of ammo for your blaster – the regular Laser ammo, which is unlimited, though if you want it to fire at maximum power, it will require waiting for the ammo counter to reach 100. There is also Seeker ammo, Flamethrower ammo, Pulse ammo, Stunner ammo, and Disruptor ammo. It is important to conserve your stronger types for boss battles as some can be quite tough, especially when playing on Hard or Jedi modes (Easy and Medium being the other difficulties to choose from).

Other ship-based levels aside from the first is one where Dash and the Outrider must go through an asteroid field, similar to that which Han went through in Empire, and the final level where you must destroy Prince Xizor’s Skyhook. There is also a level where Dash rides on a speeder bike like those in Return of the Jedi, through Mos Eisley, the Dune Sea, and Beggar’s Canyon, in a race to get to Luke Skywalker – who is located at Obi-Wan’s home – before a gang of Swoop Bikers do. They were hired by Jabba the Hutt, under orders from Prince Xizor, to assassinate Luke as part of his overall scheme to undermine Darth Vader in the eyes of Palpatine.

There are a variety of enemies, including Stormtroopers, Snowtroopers, Wampas, Imperial Probe Droids, TIE Fighters, TIE Bombers, AT-ST’s (even ones you must fight when not in a ship!), AT-AT’s, Swoop Bikers, and many others. You will also face-off against characters from the films such as Boba Fett in or out of his ship, Slave 1, and bounty hunter IG-88, a droid seen in Empire Strikes Back, who is fought in a junkyard on Ord Mantell, a planet mentioned by Solo.

The game has great music with some “new” compositions composed by Joel McNeely, which are taken from the Shadows of the Empire soundtrack based on the novel. Of course, it includes those original compositions by the great John Williams, which are used in the majority of levels, and fans of Star Wars will easily figure out which movie and what scene the music being heard is actually from. For example, in the Hoth Rebel Base level, you have the same music that plays at one point during The Battle of Yavin in A New Hope.

Overall, the game isn’t amazing, but there is still a lot for Star Wars fans to find appealing, so it’s not a terrible tie-in by any means. It  does have some frustrating moments due to a combination of the controls and mastering them properly, causing you to make many mistakes in judgement as to how far you can actually jump without falling to your death. As with quite a lot of Nintendo 64 games, the graphics have aged, and it’s certainly not as aesthetically-pleasing as titles made nowadays, or on the follow-up systems afterwards. However, it’s not something that is distracting or ruins the gaming experience. If you really enjoyed the Hoth level, though, and are more interested in that kind of gameplay in an N64 Star Wars game, then you will definitely find that in Star Wars: Rogue Squadron.

Useless Trivia

(Via Wikipedia)
  • Shadows of the Empire was the third top-selling Nintendo 64 game for 1997.
  • While in production, Shigeru Miyamoto, Senior Marketing Director of Nintendo, suggested while viewing an early version of the game that the character of Dash be more animated. He suggested Rendar could become restless when waiting for the player to control him, and more animated in how he holds his weapons.
  • The game was originally planned to have nineteen levels, Nintendo Power reported a reduction to twelve levels, and the final release contains a total of ten levels. This game was unique among other Nintendo 64 titles for using a “real” orchestral soundtrack, instead of synthesised music like that in Star Wars: Rogue Squadron.

Rod Petrie

Gamer since 1988 at the age of five. First system was the Nintendo Entertainment System. Favourite retro systems - NES, SNES, N64, MegaDrive, PS1, and PS2.

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