Star Wars Episode I: saluting the superb games

The Phantom Menace had some surprisingly awesome tie-in games. Here are the best...

An article that opens with “good” and “Star Wars Episode I” isn’t something that occurs too often on the internet, although we did find a few things to love when we looked back at the movie recently. Putting Jar Jar Binks and the film’s clunky plot aside for a moment, though, there was something undeniably good that came out of The Phantom Menace: all the excellent tie-in games.

In the late nineties, it was more surprising if there wasn’t a tie-in game to a movie. Alien Resurrection had one, Tarzan had one, Toy Story had a fantastic Buzz Lightyear entry on the original PlayStation console. But with this being the first Star Wars film to be released in 16 years, LucusArts went all out – there weren’t many genres that the gaming wing of George Lucas’ empire didn’t try to reach.

From racers to shooters to third-person games, there was a high calibre of titles between the releases of Episode I and Episode II. Some of them have unfortunately been forgotten in the last 20 years, but no more! 

Here are a few games that we still regard to be very good fun, which are based on Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace….

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Episode I

Imagine Zelda, mixed with the Wand Of Gamelon CDI entry, mixed with Star Wars, topped off with a terrible Scottish-voiced Qui-Gon Jinn and you have this game.

It was released for the PC in the same month that the film came out, while the PlayStation 1 version came out in September. It had a top-down view where you could interact with droids and townsfolk, while also being a cold-blooded murderer if you wanted to.

It had an RPG focus where you would trade items with townsfolk in Mos Espa, for example, or destroy random droids sadistically with your decades-trained Jedi skills. You could walk up to random characters just to see how a conversation would go. There’s also a certain satisfaction in holding down the attack button and watching Obi-Wan deflect all the blaster shots in the opening level. There’s still a thrill to running out of the poison-fog and deflecting blasts back at the battle-droids. Across 11 levels you couldn’t help but explore every aspect of them, including making many fans’ wishes come true by killing Jar Jar. Or creating a paradox by accidentally killing Anakin.

It’s a fun experience with lots of depth, and the freedom to do what you wish up to a point – even changing Star Wars history – was a nice touch.

Episode I Racer

Before Burnout 3 made ‘boosting’ and ‘takedowns’ the normality, this game started it all. You can play a variety of characters who you will only choose once. You mainly play as ‘Yippee!’, or as he’s also known, ‘Anakin’.

Released on the PC, Dreamcast and Nintendo 64, you could have multiplayer races against one another on Tatooine, and upgrade parts of your pod-racer to be the best in the game.

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Every track has its own identity, and the game features parts where you can go on a ramp and find yourself in a strange vortex trying to avoid asteroids. There’s a little-known ability where you can press the Accelerate button and you will go into a boost mode. Going at 88 ‘YIPEEE!’ an hour, and 90% of the time crashing into said objects on the track. There’s a strange Pringle effect with this game, where if you complete one track, you’ll find yourself wanting to complete the ‘Tournament’ mode. You can unlock Sebulba once you’ve completed enough tracks, but you’ll find yourself mainly on Tatooine.

It’s a fantastically fun game still, and it emulates the feeling of speed from the movie very well. There was an arcade port with actual Pod Racer controls lifted from the film, sans googles and helmet. But this entry, and the PC port especially because of its 8-player multiplayer mode, holds a place in many a heart. Now this is podracing. 

Episode I: Jedi Power Battles

This is it. The best of the bunch. An underrated classic. A game that has a stage where you can be a Destroyer Droid. Essentially it’s Streets Of Rage but with lightsabers, in a 3D environment, and with so many Gungans to slaughter.

You had a choice of Jedi from the Jedi Council to play as, and 10 levels to play through that follow the movie. You would run through a huge area from A to B, fighting against droids, alien gangsters and Tusken Raiders, while collecting power-ups to enhance your lightsaber, or points to improve your health and Force bars. Or even being able to select combos. It was very varied and it made you want to replay the levels to better improve your chosen Jedi.

The most satisfying moment is when you press ‘L1’ as a droid shoots at you, and a deflection is perfectly made back to them.

Two-Player mode is fantastic, working together throughout the levels and sharing the power-ups when needed, you just had to make sure to not kill the handmaidens in level three. A perfect Saturday evening game.

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There was also a Dreamcast port which ran at 60 FPS, and fleshed out a playable Darth Maul character with more force powers and a dual-lightsaber. Its only minus was the worst UI and menus ever to exist in a game.

What sets this game apart from the rest is the control and the replay-ability. It ties into the movie but keeps you engaged with how you interact with the enemies. There’s even a lone stage where you control a speed bike, and a bonus stage where you’re a ‘Destroyer Droid’. There’s so much more to unlock but this game really deserves a re-release. It was forgotten and lost to time, but it really holds up well twenty years later.

Battle For Naboo

Developers Factor 5 were the masters in getting the most out of the Nintendo 64, and this game was no exception. The next, albeit forgotten entry in the Rogue Squadron series, it was set during the time of the movie where Queen Amidala and her entourage were away from Naboo, trying to haggle a spare part on Tatooine.

You mainly controlled ‘Gavyn Sykes’, a Lieutenant that could take control of speeders, tanks, and a Naboo Starfighter throughout 15 levels. The engine had been much-improved, so much so that the fog, which was a staple of many games from the console, was not present, so you could easily destroy some battle droids from a long distance, alongside high-quality audio and 60 FPS in the menus. We are spoiled in these modern times.

Star Wars: Obi-Wan

Enter The Matrix meets Max Payne, meets Star Wars. This is a game that has been *very* polarising since its release in 2001 on the original Xbox. It has clanky controls, slow loading times and terrible voice acting, but what sets it apart is the lightsaber controls.

Set before and during the movie, you unsurprisingly control Obi-Wan throughout the game, and it tacks on the slow-motion ability which was all the rage at the time due to Max Payne, The Matrix and even Smallville, but it works well here as you deflect laser blasts and clash against lightsabers in its 21 levels. The graphics have a strange mix of cel-shading and realistic textures, which almost gives off a ‘cartoon’ vibe, but once you’re throwing the lightsaber like a boomerang in slow motion at many droids, everything oddly comes together. There’s even a ‘Battle Royale’ level that you can unlock once the game has been completed, similar to Fortnite, but with lightsabers and slow motion.

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It was panned on its release and the planned PC version was cancelled, leaving this game trapped on the Xbox. There still may be hope for it to appear as a ‘backwards-compatible’ title down the line, but in the meantime it has slowly been building popularity as a speed-running title.

Obi-Wan’s Adventures

An isometric game released eighteen months after the film came out, but just between the cinema release & the much-hyped DVD release. It was a ‘dessert’, if you will, which kept fans pepped up before DVD came out with its deleted scenes and much-lauded documentary.

This was first known as a port to the above Obi-Wan entry, but with it being on the handheld, it was less of a port but more of a redesign to how best an Obi-Wan entry could play on the Game Boy.

For a game released on the Game Boy Color, it holds up surprisingly well, especially with the level design and the control of when you’re battling against enemies, and the sound is very well done.

Star Wars: Starfighter

This wasn’t made by Factor 5 but Blitz Games instead. A surprisingly fun but short game, set just before the events of Episode I, and released on the PlayStation 2 and PC. Released in February of 2001, it was one of the last games to tie-in with Episode I, just before a trailer and poster for Episode II was released.

You went through 10 very varied levels: there’s one where you have to fly low in a canyon without being spotted, and another where you face off against Darth Maul in a Trade Federation ship. You would control the usual spaceships of Episode I, and the control scheme was very reminiscent of Rogue Squadron. The locking-on to enemies made the game very easy, letting you know of their health and just where they are, but it made for a great rental.

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Many people remember unlocking Darth Maul’s ship with its unbalanced weapons and ultimate shield, so going through the game on a second-run was even easier.

As was something of a trend in the early noughties, a ‘special edition’ on the Xbox was released which featured better graphics, improved multiplayer, and box art that deserved space on your shelf.

Special mention: Rogue Squadron

For a whole year, before social media was a thing, before it had the ability to spoil certain things, Rogue Squadron had a code where you could control a Naboo Starfighter before the movie had even released to the masses. Even before the news had been announced from Factor 5 themselves, rumours were flying, similar to a playable Luigi in Mario 64, but this time the rumours were true.

Just to prove how well we remember this epic extra, here’s how to access it: Use ‘HALIFAX?’ as your Passcode, select “Enter Code”, then type in !YNGWIE! (note the exclamation marks). There may be a “bad code” sound effect – it’s a false result. Select “Enter Code” again, and only then will the Naboo Starfighter be able to be played. Imagine the excitement of players that unlocked this extra before even knowing how the battle of Naboo would turn out – that’s some properly geeky joy right there.

So there you have it – an impressive array of good games that tied into Star Wars: Episode I, all which prove that a movie itself doesn’t have to be perfect in order to spawn superb tie-in experiences. The Force was certainly strong with this era of Star Wars gaming.

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