Editor’s Note: We define the “64-Bit” era as the years 1996-2001, the heyday of the Nintendo 64 and original PlayStation. Any PC games made during this time are also up for inclusion in our list.
Now we’re finally getting to the increasingly better years for Star Wars games. From sequels to original, non-film based series to great movie tie-ins to awesome flight simulators, this was a great time to be a Star Wars fan. The films were just on the cusp of coming out or just released, and the Star Wars universe continued to get bigger and bigger by the month with expanded Legends stories and games. Presented in no particular order, here are the best games from this generation of gaming.
Star Wars: Episode I: Racer (1999, Nintendo 64)
Regardless of how you feel about The Phantom Menace, you have to admit: the podracing was pretty darn cool. Apparently LucasArts thought so too, releasing the well-received Episode I: Racer for both PC and Nintendo 64. You played as Anakin Skywalker, taking him through a number of races to get increasingly better parts for your epic podracer. While tons of people enjoyed it for its single player gameplay, others will remember it for the PC version’s eight-player local area play. You may have had to win with skill and not the sort of treachery Sebulba used in the first film, but it still felt awesome to beat the poodoo out of your opponents.
Star Wars: Rogue Squadron (1998, Nintendo 64)
Other Star Wars games put you in the seat of its iconic starships, but Rogue Squadron was a kind of Goldilocks scenario when it came to mechanics. It wasn’t as simulation heavy or difficult as the X-Wing series to get into, yet it also wasn’t easy, leveraging player skill against a more arcade style of play. The setting too was also great for fans, as it expanded the Legends of Star Wars, filling in gaps between the films and also giving players a taste of what might have happened after Return of the Jedi. Critically, it was a huge hit for a new franchise, and would go on to spawn several sequels before developer Factor 5 sadly closed.
Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance (1999, PC)
While the original X-Wing or the TIE Fighter games often get the most attention when it comes to LucasArts’ famous space combat simulators, X-Wing Alliance holds a special place in my heart because it came out when I was old enough to really appreciate it. Not only did it build upon the awesome systems of its predecessors, it also looked awesome, too. Best of all, though, was Alliance’s mission creator, where you could create custom settings for a battle just to see if you could do it. I spent countless hours trying to single-handedly take on a Star Destroyer and if I learned one thing, it’s that I am most definitely not Luke Skywalker when it comes to piloting skills.
Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II (1997, PC)
The original Dark Forces was a beloved and successful first-person shooter, but its sequel upped the ante by giving you access to the Force. You once again returned as series hero Kyle Katarn, only now exploring the development of his latent Force abilities as he learns about his history and attempts to stop a dark Jedi who killed his father. These powers included benign skills such as Force persuasion, or more aggressive powers such as Vader’s infamous Force choke. It was also a notable game for being the first to give you a rough taste of what was to come with developer BioWare’s Star Wars games, allowing you to choose whether you followed the dark or light side of the Force, and taking decisions you made in your journey into account.
Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire (1996, Nintendo 64)
When the Nintendo 64 launched, the only game I cared about having was Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire. Not only did it look better than anything I’d ever dreamed of for a console game, it was a legit, 3D first-person shooter set in a universe I was at once intimately familiar with and also ignorant of. You see, I’d never read the novelization of Shadows, and here I not only got to learn the story of Dash Rendar, but I also got to blow the heck out of any enemy who got in his way in the process. From awesome boss battles to swoop races to one of the finest recreations of Hoth up to that point, Shadows of the Empire reignited my love for the Star Wars saga all over again.
Did we miss something you loved? Not point out an important detail of a game you spent too much time with? Tell us about it in the comments, and stay tuned because we’re finally reaching the heyday of modern Star Wars games.
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.