Editor’s Note: We define the 16-bit generation as the years 1991-1996, the heyday of the Super Nintendo and SEGA Genesis generations. Any PC games made during this time are also up for inclusion in our list.
We’ve discussed the best Star Wars games of the Atari and 8-bit generations, but now we’ve finally reached the time when some of the greatest games ever were released. From amazing flight simulators to action-packed platformers, this was undoubtedly one of the best times ever to be a Star Wars fan and a gamer.
Star Wars: X-Wing
If you’re making a space combat simulator today, the gold standard you’re trying to meet was created years ago in Star Wars: X-Wing. While flight simulators certainly weren’t unheard of, X-Wing balanced fun with simulation to create the single most important Star Wars flight simulator of all time. Here you could live out your fantasies as a member of the Rebel Alliance, battling TIE fighters, rushing past Star Destroyers, and making sure Rebel shipping lanes stayed open. There’s nothing quite like plugging in a joystick, taking flight in your first mission, and barely surviving because you perfectly executed a combination of awesome flight skills and tactical rebalancing of your shield power distribution. Without the success of X-Wing, we also wouldn’t have the next game on the list.
Star Wars: TIE Fighter
Two flight games on one list might seem excessive in a time when so many great Star Wars games were released, but what Star Wars: X-Wing started, Star Wars: TIE Fighter took to another level. On top of being the first game that allowed us to play as the Galactic Empire, it also expanded the Star Wars universe, introducing new fighters like the TIE Defender and even allowing us to fight for popular Star Wars Legends character Grand Admiral Thrawn through its expansions. The gameplay itself wasn’t drastically different from its predecessor X-Wing, but it nonetheless won our hearts over with its polish, incredible visuals, and its unique perspective at what it’s like to be a rank-and-file member of the forces the films unanimously paint as evil.
Super Star Wars
Just like the 8-bit generation, Nintendo’s Super Nintendo Entertainment System also saw the release of platforming games based around the three original films. The first was Super Star Wars, which mostly took the player through the plot of A New Hope with a few, shall we say…liberal allowances for fun factor. For instance, the film made the deserts of Tatooine look kind of dangerous, but in the game Luke can’t walk more than a few feet without battling deadly scorpions or other monsters set on ending the Skywalker legacy. Oh, and remember when you had to slay basically the entire population of the cantina in Mos Eisley? Yeah, neither do we, but they made the levels of Super Star Wars a whole heck of a lot more interesting.
Star Wars: Dark Forces
Without Star Wars: Dark Forces, we wouldn’t have Legends character Kyle Katarn. This Doom-inspired first-person shooter immersed us in the Star Wars universe, giving us direct control over a character instrumental in capturing the Death Star’s plans, as well as introducing us to the Dark Trooper. It may have played similarly to other popular games at the time, but we still fell in love with it thanks to its attention to detail — from its settings to its weaponry, it felt like the other half of the X-Wing games, where you got to be the awesome commando assisting the Rebellion’s space campaign.
We’ve only just begun to explore the best Star Wars games. From here on out we’re in the golden years for LucasArts. Are you ready to dive into the late ’90s? Stay tuned for our next update when we hit the 64-bit generation covering PC, PlayStation, and Nintendo 64 titles.
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.