Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (more commonly referred to as Super Empire Strikes Back) is the second entry in the SNES’ Super Star Wars trilogy. Being the video game adaptation of the most critically-praised Star Wars film, Super Empire probably comes with the most expectations of the lot. And while it does bring a few cool additions to the table, it still suffers from some of its predecessor’s shortcomings.
Gameplay-wise, Super Empire follows the same basic formula as the first Super Star Wars. It’s still a tough-as-nails action-platformer that sees Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Chewbacca fighting hordes of enemies and giant bosses in levels that faithfully recreate events from the movie. But Super Empire Strikes Back does add a bit more variety to the gameplay.
While the 2D platforming stages make up the brunt of the levels, others work as horizontal shooters, and some even take on a quasi-3D perspective (the efforts being admirable for 16-bit hardware, though age has only made the graphical limitations more unpleasant to the eyes in these 3D stages). Even the traditional platforming stages have more variety, with even the first level seeing Luke mounting a Tauntaun for greater speed and jump distance.
Simply put, Super Empire Strikes Back finds ways to keep the action fresh as the game progresses, with players also able to find hidden Force spells for Luke and weapon upgrades for Han and Chewy.
The action is as fun as ever, with the Han and Chewbacca stages being satisfying for simply being able to blast everything non-stop, while Luke’s stages featuring trickier platforming and combat (though the fact that Luke starts the game out with his Lightsaber this time means he can use his ever-useful double jump attack from the get-go).
On the downside, Super Empire Strikes Back, like its predecessor, is not a game for everyone for the simple reason that it is insanely difficult. Once again, there’s no learning curve to speak of, with the earliest levels immediately throwing swarms of enemies at the player (including dreadful Wumpa Ice Beasts, which can freeze Luke with their ice breath, leaving him vulnerable to an onslaught of attacks for an overly-long period of time). You can still pick up hearts from enemies, but like the last game, the enemies are so frequent and respawn so suddenly that it hardly makes a difference.
The thermal detonator is just as disappointing of an item as it was in the last game. It has the ability to wipe out every on-screen enemy once it’s picked up, but it still has a small window of time to be used, not to mention most of the enemies it destroys will respawn seconds later, making it almost pointless.
The boss fights can also be a pain. Many of the bosses provide a good, fun challenge, with a notable improvement in consistency with the first few boss fights in this game as opposed to the first few bosses in Super Star Wars. Others, however, are just ridiculously difficult. One stage sees Luke ascending an AT-AT, with the AT-AT’s head being the boss fight of the stage, complete with three canons that fire ion lasers relentlessly. Supposedly, you’re supposed to deflect the ion lasers back at the canons, but that’s incredibly hard to do when jetpacking Stormtroopers are constantly raining fire down on you as well. The only way I managed to defeat this boss was because I happened to get lucky and one Stormtrooper dropped a Thermal Detonator, making this just about the only time said item really came in handy.
What’s most aggravating about the difficulty, however, are the more unfair aspects of the levels. One blind jump in a platformer is one too many, but Super Empire Strikes Back houses a good few of them on the first stage alone. There are just too many instances where it’s unclear what you can jump on and what you can’t, and too many areas where you can’t see where you’re leaping to. It makes an already difficult game downright frustrating.
To make matters worse, you only have so many lives to start with, and only three continues. If you run out of these, you have to go back to the beginning of the game! Thankfully, Super Empire features a password system, which makes progression more bearable.
Still, there is fun to be had with Super Empire Strikes Back. The action is fun a lot of the time, the graphics are very detailed and quite impressive for the time. The synthesized version of Empire’s iconic score is another highlight, with the title screen’s version of the Imperial March giving you a sense of the game’s faithfulness to its source material right out the gate.
It’s just that, for everything Super Empire Strikes Back gets right, it still suffers from the alienating difficulty of the first title. Star Wars diehards who are up for a heavy challenge may feel welcome to Super Empire, but everyone else might get fed up with it quickly.