A Snow-bound Battle Across Hoth
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
It's easy to take for granted the fact that we have all of the Star WarsThe modern blockbuster: it's a concept so commonplace now we don't even think about the fact that before the end of the 1970s, this kind of movie -- huge spectacles, big action, massive budgets -- wasn't really made. That all changed, though, with Star Wars, a series of films that were big on spectacle (and even bigger on profits). A hero's journey set against a sci-fi backdrop, nothing like this series had ever really been done before, and then Hollywood was never the same. movies and shows available to us at our fingertips. Along with the countless home video releases we've seen over the years (VHS, Laserdisc, DVD, Blu-Ray, along with maybe a Beta or a HD-DVD in there along with) we have Disney+Disney's answer in the streaming service game, Disney+ features the studio's (nearly) full back catalog, plus new movies and shows from the likes of the MCU and Star Wars. where everything Star Wars (and more) is right there for us whenever we want to stream it. You want to watch Star Wars, then you can any time you want.
Back when the movies first came out, though, fans didn't really have much chance to see the films again once they left theaters. Home video wasn't the ubiquitous option it is now, and for many people they had to wait for a rare TV screening of the film (or the terrible Holiday Special) to be able to catch a glimpse of your beloved Saga from a Galaxy Far, Far Away. Thus, anything that could bring the look and feel of Star Wars to all the eager fans was a beloved and prized property.
While VCRs were still very much becoming a thing in the early 1980s, video games were also making their debut. Arcade games were all the rage and home consoles were starting to really pick up steam. It was a natural fit, then, to port Star Wars into the home. The chosen medium was the Atari 2600, then the big player in the American video game industry (with NintendoSince 1983 (with the release of the Famicom gaming system in Japan), Nintendo has proven to be a gaming company dedicated to finding what gamers want, even when the gamers don't know it themselves. From dual-screen systems, to motion controls, to convertible home console/portable consoles, Nintendo regularly proves that the weirdest innovation is exactly what the gaming community needs. still a year out from even having their first console out in Japan). There was a means and market, someone just had to make the game.
That someone was Parker Brothers (who hear remembers when parker Brothers used to be a real player in the video game industry?) and they kicked things off for official Star Wars media with Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Sure, there were a few unlicensed games that purported to play in the same universe -- an Apple II TIE-fighting flight sim, a few random cartridges, but it was Parker Bros.'s game that bore the distinction of being a real, licensed product, and it got to have all the bells and whistles and pretty basic Atari 2600 game could have.
In Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back you play as (an unseen) Luke Skywalker. Luke is tasked with piloting his (rough approximation of a) snow speeder towards the walking AT-ATs that are storming the snow of Hoth. You have to shoot them down, one at a time, to prevent them from taking over the planet. And, well, that's actually it. You're there to shoot AT-ATs and chew bubblegum and you're all out of bubble gum, Jedi Knight.
As far as the game play, this adaptation of the second original film is actually pretty decent. The game plays as an infinite scroller, viewed from the side. Your ship can fly in any cardinal direction, picking up speed and hitting the brakes, all while firing its laser at the ships as they come marching. The landscape is varied, with nooks and crannies along the bottom, and the sprites are all large and chunky. The ship has a solid feel to it and, after a few minutes, its pretty easy to hop in and enjoy flying back and forth as the AT-ATs slowly march towards you.
That marching is actually pretty cool. As the game plays you'll hear the deep beat of the steps of the AT-ATs, each thud landing, letting you know they're still coming. That beat of the AT-ATs is the only "music" you get for most of the game, at least until you last long enough to get "the power of the Force", an event that happens whenever you survive long enough. Then you get the jaunty Star Wars jingle, played in all the Atari's glory, before its back to the thudding of the ships (as they slowly speed up the better you do).
For a recreation of the Battle of Hoth this game is pretty solid. Anyone hoping for anything more than that, though, is sorely out of luck. In fairness to the devs the Hoth sequence is iconic and, for much of the movie, ,the only real action sequence we get. It's certainly the only thing resembling a proper space battle for the whole film (Empire is a far more dramatic film than its action-filled predecessor). This is the key sequence a programmer would pull out and whole could blame them?
Of course, gamers of the modern era expect longer, more developed adventures which is something you simply couldn't get from the Atari 2600. Those carts were tiny and most games amounted to a single style of play, looped over and over as the player went for a score attack. They were very arcade-style in that respect, and it worked well for what the Atari 2600 could handle. Still, the one major critique I have is that it would be nice if there was anything else to do than just battle AT-ATs. some faster speeders or TIEs would vary the combat some.
Or the game could have gone the route of Pigs in Space, an Atari 2660 game with three little combat mini-games. It's be nice to think you could get a recreation of Han's search for Luke across the snows of Hoth plus maybe a space sequence of the Millennium Falcon battling ships (and dodging asteroids). If Pigs in Space could do it, why not Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back?
Still, it's hard to deny the charm of this game. For a little Star Wars fan, opening up this box, plugging in this cart, and seeing the little ship taking on the AT-ATs, it must have felt so cool. This was the closest any fan could get to reliving those moments on film for some time and the game did deliver that. Considering the era it came out that is a pretty solid accomplishment indeed.