The Best Star Wars Games of the Atari Generation

A never-ending Battle of Hoth? StarWars.com looks at the greatest (and often frustrating) early Star Wars games.

In a time when there were hardly any games to choose from, people played just about anything to get to that galaxy far, far away…

Welcome to a recurring series here on StarWars.com where we break down the best Star Wars titles from each generation of gaming. What better way to start than with the Atari and the arcade? While the games certainly didn’t look great by today’s standards, these titles came out during a time when the idea of playing video games at home was a relatively new concept. Without further adieu, we now present some of the best — or in the case of Atari, the only — choices that were available to gamers of The Old Republic.

Star Wars

If you can find the classic arcade machine somewhere or an old Atari, then you owe it to yourself to play the original Star Wars. Unlike recent Star Wars games, the original title focused solely on the Rebels’ assault against the Death Star. Its cool vector graphics hold up relatively well today, though you do have to get past a few of its quirks such as how enemy fighters shoot fireballs at you or that allied fighters never appear close by. What it lacks in visual flare, though, it makes up for in its charming art style and great audio track.

Star Wars: Jedi Arena

Another Atari title, Jedi Arena was special because it was a multiplayer Star Wars game. Who didn’t want to duke it out with lightsabers, right? Well, unfortunately for gamers of the ’80s, that’s not exactly what they got with Jedi Arena. Instead of harrowing battles between Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi, players instead take control of two unnamed Jedi attempting to deflect laser blasts from a training remote. The one who lasts the longest becomes a Jedi Master, though you’d think it’s a heck of a lot harder to earn that rank if all it takes is blocking a few lasers.

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

The first video game released by Parker Brothers, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back was not a sweeping tour of the film’s locales and battles. There’s no Luke vs. Vader fight. There’s no asteroid field. You’ll never see Cloud City. Instead, The Empire Strikes Back takes place solely during the Battle of Hoth, with players taking control of a snowspeeder attempting to hold off AT-AT walkers. If the enemy reaches Echo Base or the player dies, then the game is over. Noted in one of its earliest reviews, there’s no way to really “win.” Eventually the player will get shot down or an AT-AT will reach the Rebel base — something that keeps in line with the lore established by the films but doesn’t exactly make for a super-rewarding game. Still, for many people of the Atari generation, this was their first chance to digitally become Luke Skywalker and take it to the Empire.

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi: Death Star Battle

By the time Return of the Jedi came out, graphics had improved on the Atari 5200. The Death Star Battle title (finally) put you in control of the Millennium Falcon, assumingly playing as Lando Calrissian. Players first had to hold out against fighters while they waited for the shield to fall thanks to Han Solo and his commandos, after which they engaged in a battle around the Death Star itself. Players then not only had to contend with enemy fighters and shuttles, but also with the battle station’s turbolaser. Chipping away at the hull of the Death Star, the player eventually reaches the core and destroys it, after which the game restarts and gets a bit harder. Blowing up the Death Star once wasn’t a victory; in the days of the Atari it was all about getting the highest score.

Anthony Gallegos is a freelance writer who loves Star Wars and video games. He’s written for publications like IGN, GameSpy, 1UP, EGM, and Games for Windows: The Official Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @chufmoney.

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