Release Date: September 21, 2004
Buy 'STAR WARS TRILOGY: Apprentice of the Force': GBA
A long time ago in a place far, far away, a brilliant man dreamt up a story of monolithic proportions, a story that changed the way that I and likely everyone else in the world has lived in the years since. This same story has spawned a near-endless slew of franchising from comics to cartoons to toys to games, a franchise that has likely had its namesake on more assorted products than any other I can think of. If I have not dropped enough clues by now, I am going to spell it out for you, I’m talking about Star Wars and the newest Star Wars GBA game, Apprentice of the Force.
I would love to recount how many Star Wars-related games I have seen, but I don’t think I can count that high without help because there seem to be at least a half dozen each and every year. This one just coincidentally happened to be released at the same time as the re-release of the last three movies in the series (which also happen to have been the first three movies released).
The story is stripped directly from the movies and even condenses all of it into the tiny little plastic cartridge. Of course, when packing that much content into that little space, something is bound to be lost in translation. The problem with this is the fact that the story is really only told between the stages, and even then, it is told with a somewhat bland slideshow. The stages are generally built between the moments of storytelling, such as when young Luke is searching for his R2D2 unit. Still, it is a story that most of us love and enjoy seeing in just about any form we can get in our hands.
The stages breakdown into two distinct varieties; there are the generally straightforward side-scrolling platforming stages and then there are also the X-wing style flight stages. The large majority of the game is composed of those platforming stages, and mostly, that is a good thing, considering the mini-game stages are generally underdeveloped. While the others are underdeveloped, the platforming bits seem less than complete as well. Beyond that, they get a touch repetitive, as from early on, they all tend to blend together into one long, pit-laden mess.
There is the occasional curveball in the form of a bodyguard-style mission where you are saddled with the task of guarding the Princess/R2D2/miscellaneous feeble and defenseless object Y. These segments are, however, just the same as the rest. When you boil them down, you are still doing the platforming and still have to kill whatever antagonists you see. Having the added task of being a bodyguard really only manages to make the platforming a little more restrictive, as you have to constantly wait for the person to catch up.
The “mini-games” include X-wing moments which are similar to a shooter-style Asteroids-esque game, during which you have R2D2 healing you constantly so while being a little drawn-out, they tend to be relatively easy. The biggest problem, aside from the ease, during these events would be the unfinished feel, almost like there was a lot more they could have been that they just didn’t quite get to be. It makes me wonder if the developers were a bit rushed in order to make the movie re-release deadline.
Luke does manage to learn some new tricks as he makes his way through the stages, starting with a simple dash and moving on to things like double-jumps and Jedi Force Death Slashes. These special abilities are commonly required to pass certain segments of the game and also provide a bit of relief from the otherwise slightly repetitive gameplay. The boss encounters also help with the problem and are fairly fun, if not a bit easy in and of themselves, I did rather enjoy the Boba Fett and Darth Vader fights. Unfortunately, the boss encounters are somewhat few and far in between and are all pretty similar when you break them down.
The control scheme is easy to get a hang of and performs fairly well, and it is not often that I have played a GameBoy game without getting frustrated with the controls, and that did not happen with this title. In some ways, it brings back some remnants of old school happiness due to such a simple controller and layout.
The stage design is as could be expected and chock-full of platforms and pits; although they tend to be a bit repetitive, they are fairly well-designed, all limitations considered. The overall character design is what one could expect it to be, and there are no surprises: Luke is Luke, Han is Han and Yoda is Yoda. The representations of the characters are close enough that you should be able to tell who is who without having to read the names.
Graphically, the game reminds me a lot of Prince of Persia for the GameBoy, which had a similar style. The straight edges and hard lines give it a cartooned feel, and the excellent quality of animation really shines through. I was initially fairly amazed when I saw it, as I am not used to seeing titles look that nice on the GBA, but my amazement faded fairly quickly as I realized that the graphics grow stale. The stages frequently have very similar graphical components, and while the background changes, lots of other aspects remain the same.
The sound is a fairly mixed bag as well, containing acceptable sound effects that are about as good as one could expect coming out of the tiny little GameBoy speaker. The bad part is the score, which has been reduced to a set of moderately annoying midi tunes that convey only the most basic sense of what the music in the movies conveyed, and hearing those classic songs in such a stripped-down form is rather disappointing.
The game boils down to being a side-scrolling action title with a heavy dose (maybe even an overdose) of platforming and a whole lot of story condensed into a few dozen slideshows. The sheer amount of repetition in this title makes it seem longer than it already is, and considering that it spans three movies' worth of content, that is quite a feat. While the game is something that I would not go out of my way to play, I did enjoy it at least moderately, and it did make some of my holiday travel a touch more enjoyable. If you're looking for a good adventure title, I would check it out, and of course it goes without saying that if you're one of those Star Wars fanatics, you will be picking it up… right?