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Star Wars: Rogue Squadron (Nintendo 64)
MSRP: $39.99
Number of Players: 1
Developer: Factor 5/LucasArts
Publisher: LucasArts

Rating:
****
out of
*****

Ever since I saw the original Star Wars in a theater (in 1977, mind you, which should give you an idea how old I am), I've wanted to fly an X-Wing or TIE Fighter. Owning a PC gave me the chance to do both in the mid-1990's, when LucasArts released X-Wing and TIE Fighter, two simulations that allowed anyone to do just that. Still, a little work was involved getting the missions going and achieving your objectives. What would a game that had a more arcade-like slant be like? Enter Star Wars: Rogue Squadron to answer that question.

Rogue Squadron is an extension of the first level from the much-maligned N64 and PC game Shadows of the Empire, which was graphically exciting, but lacking focus. By focusing on the flying and shooting aspects rather than throw different types of levels at the player, Rogue Squadron is a much more enjoyable game.

Centered around the Rogue Squadron, a collection of the Rebellion's best pilots assembled after the destruction of the Death Star, the game casts you as Luke Skywalker and challenges you to complete various missions as commander of the squadron. Each of the missions requires you to fly Rebel fighters like the X-Wing, the Y-Wing and the Speeder (a modified version of the craft flown in the Hoth level on SOTE). Each craft handles differently and carries different weapons, so each is suited for certain tasks. (For example, while the X-Wing is fast and nimble, it doesn't possess the tow cable of the Speeder, which is essential for bringing down the Imperial AT-AT vehicles.)

Missions include escorting supply convoys through a valley, safeguarding a rescue ship as it plucks survivors from a downed shuttle, and stopping Imperial looters from ravaging a town. Each mission increases in difficulty over the previous one, going from easy to extremely challenging at a nice, steady pace. Unfortunately, for unexplained reasons, the action never takes place in deep space (in the standard missions, anyway.) All of the missions take place just above the surface of a particular planet.

Gold, silver and bronze medals are awarded based on the amount of time taken to complete a mission, the accuracy of your shooting, the number of people rescued and so on. If you win the gold medal on all of the missions, secret levels and other surprises await. (One being a certain smuggler's favorite ship.)

The action can be viewed from a third or first-person perspective. I found that the first-person view, with the cockpit display turned off, allowed for the greatest visibility and accuracy in both flying the different ships and shooting at the various Imperial adversaries that you encounter. In the third person view, your fighter occasionally gets in the way of your line-of-sight, causing TIE Fighters to slip through the targeting sight.

The graphics are respectable on a standard Nintendo 64, but they really shine with the addition of the 4 MB Expansion Pak. With the Expansion Pak, the visuals look as good as any 3D-accelerated PC game and move just as fast. When you blow something up, the explosions are satisfyingly realistic. If you can't find a Pak (and they've been selling faster than Nintendo can keep up), don't worry. The game still looks alright without it -- it's just a wee bit grainy. Still, with the Pak or not, the game does have a lot of pop-up and fog. Thankfully, the action is so engrossing, you'll have to force yourself to notice.

The Rebel fighters all handle rather well, even using the standard Nintendo controller. The controller layout may be a bit awkward at first, but after about a half hour, it becomes second nature. As I mentioned, each fighter handles differently and switching from one ship to another for the different missions provides some unique challenges other than fighting the enemies and completing the objectives. You have to re-adjust to the fighter's handling techniques, which ends up being fun not frustrating.

One of the coolest things about the game is the sound quality. Even from a cartridge-based game, Rogue Squadron boasts some mighty impressive voice acting and music. Although the R2 unit noise in the initial menus is a bit grating on repeat play, the rest of the game's sound is superb. Hearing the other pilots make comments as they fly along with you creates a fantastic atmospheric effect that eye-popping graphics alone can't do.

One thing that the game lacks, however, is a multiplayer option. It would have been fun to either cooperate on some of the missions in a split screen setup or duke it out with another player. Alas, neither is possible with the game as it is. With all the stuff that's crammed into this game, it's hard to fault it too much though.

I don't really have to try and sell this game to Star Wars fans, because they've either purchased their copy already or have made up their minds to buy it. Now, for the other five people who haven't seen Star Wars but are looking for an exciting arcade-style action game for the N64, run out and buy this game and an Expansion Pak right now. You won't be disappointed.

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