Ubisoft’s side-scrolling action game has charm but comes up a little short.
Apprentice of the Force is Ubisoft’s attempt to finally bring a quality Star Wars game to the GBA. It may be the best one yet, but the game still has a few major problems and is best suited for hardcore Star Wars fans. It also does a few things extremely well, making me hope there will be a sequel to round things out.
The game is, like so many licensed GBA titles, a side-scrolling action game that focuses on combat. The enemies attack in huge numbers, but only two or three at a time. Quite frequently, the scrolling will stop and you’ll be locked into a certain location with tons of enemies arriving from both sides. These forced combat events must have seemed like a good idea at some point, but they are overused so much that the game loses all sense of momentum. Sometimes you will finish one combat screen, only to walk three steps and enter another one. Even worse, they are all exactly the same: moronic stormtroopers run in from both sides and shoot at you. After you kill a few dozen of them, you can continue on through the stage.
It’s not that the game’s combat isn’t fun. In fact, Luke has a number of cool moves that are satisfying to pull off, especially once he earns the lightsaber in Episode V. The problem is that the enemies are incredibly repetitive; there are perhaps six or seven different enemy types in the entire game, and half of them are stormtrooper variants. Their attack patterns are limited, completely lacking in strategy, and easy to abuse. Most enemies can be killed effortlessly by simply crouching under their laser fire and attacking from that position. The level designs, which feature rudimentary platforming and some item collecting, are uninteresting, unchallenging, and nearly as repetitive as the enemies.
Luke’s move set is larger than is necessary to beat the game, so you can introduce some variety in the gameplay by mixing up your attacks and toying with the dumb enemies. Luke starts out with only a blaster, which can be aimed up and down at an angle and temporarily upgraded with a few power-ups. About one-third of the way through the game, he gains the lightsaber and can really start tearing things up. There are different slashes for every position, plus a powerful upward slash and a jumping spin move. The lightsaber can also be used to deflect enemy lasers. The move looks cool but is way too powerful; the timing is so forgiving that you can simply rapid-mash the L-trigger to deflect any and all incoming lasers coming from that side of the screen.
Luke also earns a move in each new level, roughly corresponding to his growth as a Jedi as dictated through the (agonizingly summarized) story. There’s a dash, roll, double jump, force push, bullet time, force heal, and a screen-clearing “Jedi Slash” that makes the final level insanely easy. These moves are all pretty cool and can be mixed into combat, but fill-ups for the force meter, along with health pickups earlier in the game, are so abundant that there might as well not even be meters to track these attributes.
Apprentice of the Force follows most of Luke Skywalker’s movie scenes, and that means a few flying levels. Unfortunately, these are more frustrating than the main levels, and just as repetitive. The X-Wing approach to the first Death Star is represented by an ill-conceived Asteroids rip-off which goes on for way too long and usually ends in you crashing into the TIEs because both you and they move far too fast for the limited view to accommodate. Then there’s a forced-scrolling trench run which suffers from the same problem; the view is zoomed in so far that you can barely react at all to the incoming structures. The final vehicle level, a speed bike course through the forest moon of Endor, is played almost exactly the same way and suffers from exactly the same problems. All of these levels are difficult for the wrong reasons, and they only avoid ruining the game by having an excess of checkpoints and unlimited continues.
The overall game’s saving grace is its graphics, which are fantastic. Most of the character models aren’t much to look at when standing still, but the animation is a sight to behold. Every movement is smooth and articulate…even the walking animations are pretty. The game has a neat visual style that makes the sprites look like cel-shaded polygonal models, while the backgrounds are more traditional hand-drawn fare with a fair amount of detail. There’s not a hint of slowdown, though there are never more than about five characters on screen at once. When you put it all together, this is one of the sharpest looking GBA titles around. Watching Luke wave around his lightsaber may even be more entertaining than the fighting itself.
Star Wars Trilogy: Apprentice of the Force is not a terrible game, and it does have redeeming features, but the game design is rather lacking in ingenuity and variety. Most players will find this game to be too repetitive and too easy. Even real beat-em-ups have some challenge; these enemies all behave identically and fall victim to the same A.I. flaws. There are certainly much better side-scrolling action games on the GBA, and unless the Star Wars license is a selling point for you, I would advise looking into those other games before you buy this one.