Ahead of the release of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, LucasArts released a spin-off game for PC and PS1, and it turned out to be better than the movie.
George Lucas has always maintained a very close connection with the world of video games. In 1982, the director, feeling the juicy vein of video games, founded Lucasfilm Games, renamed LucasArts in the 90s, whose goal was to create adaptations and offer the public original creations. Between Star Wars and Indiana Jones games, Lucasfilms Games spawned gems like Maniac Mansion and The Secret of Monkey Island.
The company was especially prolific in the 90s, releasing a slew of Star Wars games, including the traumatic Superstar Wars and the excellent Star Wars: Jedi Knight. When George Lucas announced the launch of his prelogy with the release of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace in 1999, he also began work on titles based on that Episode I for PC and consoles of the time.
And if this Episode I produced a concussion effect on the audience, then its eponymous adaptation of the Star Wars video game. Episode I: The Phantom Menace made the same impression on some fans, especially among hapless PlayStation 1 owners. Back to the game with ambition too big for its own money.
From the title screen it makes you dream (no)
For SW The Phantom Menace, the instructions were clear: the goal was to offer the public an experience faithful to that offered in the film. The specifications required the developers to adhere as best as possible to the key sequences of Episode I. To fulfill this mission, the project was assigned to one of the LucasArts subsidiaries, Big Ape Productions. This studio made a name for itself with The Adventures of Herc in 1997, a very enjoyable Zelda-like movie that was supposed to take off after Disney’s Hercules hit theaters to grab some market share.
The first question that comes to mind is why the project was handed over to Big Ape and not developed inside LucasArts. The answer is simple: the LucasArts development teams were already very busy with several projects in 1999 and 2000: Indiana Jones and the Hell Machine on PC and Nintendo 64, Star Wars, Episode I: Racer, and Escape from Monkey Island.
Nice visit to George Lucas Garage
To best recreate the atmosphere of the film, Big Ape chose a gameplay that combines third-person action and platforming, puzzle-solving and research and investigation stages with an extensive dialogue system. The first three Tomb Raiders have been there, the Big Ape game has happily sunk into Lara Croft’s gaming system. SW The Phantom Menace featured large open areas to explore, giving players a nice sense of freedom.
The story follows the events of Episode I in chronological order. The peculiarity of the title was that throughout the adventure, gamers could play several characters, each of which had certain skills and weapons. The program managed to embody Obi-Wan Kenobi, Qui-Gon Jinn, Captain Panaka and Queen Amidala.
What image do we hear
The developers have tried to diversify the gameplay. Thanks to the Force, the Jedi possessed a double jump and could use mind control over their interlocutors. Then some specific answers appeared in the lines of dialogue. They could parry blaster fire with their lightsabers. As for Queen Padme and Captain Panaki, they only received blasters to protect themselves.
The software consists of no less than 11 levels, each attempting to literally capture the atmosphere of Episode I, thanks to art direction faithful to the film’s aesthetic, and especially thanks to the original film soundtrack, directly transferred here. into the game, pure delight. The title even alludes to the Rancor meeting in Return of the Jedi, with an unpublished clip showing Qui-Gon Jinn stranded on Tatooine.
There was some confusion about the game’s release schedule, as it was delivered before the film’s release in Europe and the US. The software was released on PC in Europe on June 4, 1999 and September 24 on PS1, while the movie was released on October 13, 1999 in France. Thus, the owners of the game already knew the entire plot of the film even before it was released in theaters.
The state of the players after this global spoiler
While Big Ape Productions’ desire to succeed is obvious, the title has been plagued by many technical issues. Firstly, the strange angle chosen for the development of the game, with an almost top view of the character, greatly harmed the gameplay. If that wasn’t necessarily painful in the action and shooting stages, it was a real challenge in the platforming stages. This vantage point crushed distances and distorted depths, sending nearly every leap straight into galactic void and death.
In addition, the semi-cartoon 3D models of the characters were rather implausible: the characters, whose arms were as long as their legs, gave them the most unsettling ape-like appearance. The animation was also not up to par, the characters moved unnaturally in 3D settings. Three years after the first Tomb Raider, the comparison hurt SW: The Phantom Menace.
What is this weapon?
Apart from these issues with 3D models and animations, the game has witnessed a war between PC owners and console players. Indeed, if on the PC version an episode of Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace was quite enjoyable to watch, flowing and fluid, on the PlayStation 1 the game was a technical disaster. Released three months after the PC version, the PS1 game smelled like a hasty port, just meant to take advantage of the console hardware’s market share.
In terms of its structure and gameplay, the application was identical to the PC version. But technically the PS1 version was terrible. The software has shown a particularly aggressive overlay (this ladder affects the limitation of 3D elements) even for a PS1 game from the very beginning of 3D on consoles. Compared to 1997’s Final Fantasy 7 or 1998’s Metal Gear Solid, SW The Phantom Menace pales in comparison.
Comparison of PC and PS1: the death of the retina on the PlayStation
The game struggled to reach 20fps and the gameplay suffered from lag in the controls. Added to this was a sense of constant heaviness that gave the impression of an ocean liner guiding the corridors rather than an overtrained Jedi. Passes that require a minimum of reflexes, such as the shooting stages with Captain Panaka and Queen Amidala, were a real nightmare.
In addition to technical issues, the game was found to have numerous design flaws on PC and PS1, including repeatability at a high level. On the combat side, the two duels against Darth Maul were especially hellish, with the bad guy using and abusing lightning projections, Force slams, and dodging thanks to his double jump.
The mission to escort Queen Amidala to Coruscant was a priesthood and must have been driving players crazy at the time, as the queen’s AI was ghostly. This one was so badly designed that it made Sheva from Resident Evil 5 look like a Nobel Prize in programming by comparison, with the Queen throwing herself under enemy fire or repeatedly getting stuck in walls. And yet, despite all its shortcomings, SW The Phantom Menace was a great success.
Not such an elusive success
The Phantom Menace, the game found 1.74 million buyers for its PlayStation 1 version. The only official figures for the PC version mention sales numbers flirting with 400,000 copies. The rating is more than honorable, considering that the game was fairly fair on the PC version, but disastrous on the PS1.
The fact is that the idea of launching a title before the release of the film of the same name in theaters was actually a brilliant idea. Eager fans flocked to the game to learn the story behind The Phantom Menace before it even hit theaters. Moreover, despite the obvious flaws, the title created an atmosphere very close to that of the film, and the music of John Williams was present in many.
Qui-Gon’s death shock, all in pixels
The game could have done better in terms of sales and critical acclaim if LucasArts hadn’t split their forces by releasing multiple games for Episode I release in theaters. In addition to an obvious lack of human and technical resources, The Phantom Menace suffered from competition from other LucasArts games. Between 1999 and 2001, six spin-off Phantom Menace games entered the market.
Viewers overwhelmingly preferred to drive the Pod Racers from Episode I in Star Wars. Episode I: Racer, a racing game inspired by F-Zero and WipeOut, featuring one of the film’s iconic scenes. Released on PC, N64 and DreamCast, the software has sold over 3.12 million copies.
This was followed by Star Wars: Racer Arcade on the Sega-AM5 terminal, Star Wars Episode I: Jedi Power Battles, a Jedi fighting game released on PlayStation, Dreamcast and Game Boy Advance, Star Wars Episode I: Battle for Naboo, a spaceship game on the Nintendo . 64 and PC, as well as Star Wars. Episode I: The Adventures of Obi-Wan on Game Boy Color. An overdose of a Star Wars game that drowned the Phantom Menace game.
When Star Wars Meets WipeOut
Unlike Star Wars Racer, which came out on PS4, Switch, and Xbox One in 2020, The Phantom Menace didn’t get the honors of a remaster or remake. Perhaps it is destined to remain an object of worship for some fans who have found there the perfect restoration of a George Lucas film, however broken the software may be.
Right now, the best way to immerse yourself in the events of Episode I is to still enjoy the great LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga game, which allows you to relive the best moments from the movie, including the module race, in a light and casual atmosphere.