The Best Star Wars Games of the 8-Bit Generation

In the '80s, the galaxy far, far away came to the NES. The results were classic -- and strange.

Last time we broke down the best Star Wars games of the Atari generation. Now we’re moving on to the 8-bit world — when Nintendo brought gaming back in a big, big way. You see, games kind of bombed for a time after the Atari peaked, but a toy company from Japan reinvigorated the industry and made it into the behemoth it is today. But despite a renaissance that produced some of the most iconic games ever created (Super Mario Bros., Tetris, etc.), it wasn’t exactly a great time for Star Wars titles. Sometimes the best aren’t great, but hey, at least there were options for diehard fans like ourselves.

Star Wars (US Version)

The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) version of Star Wars explored more of the film than its predecessors. You played as numerous characters exploring environments on Tatooine, going deep behind Imperial lines, and even manning the guns of the Millenium Falcon as it fought off TIE fighters. And yes, it ended with you taking on the Death Star, though notably from a top-down perspective as opposed to the first-person of the original Atari and arcade versions of Star Wars.

Star Wars (Japan Version)

Two games with the same name on the same list? While I don’t know many colleagues who would describe the Famicon version of Star Wars as a great game, it certainly holds a special place in a lot of hearts because it’s just so bizarre. You play as Luke Skywalker, guiding him through a 2D-platformer where you repeatedly take on “notable” Star Wars enemies like a giant scorpion or shark. Don’t remember those? Yeah, that’s because Japan’s version of the story takes quite a few liberties, placing you in several non-canonical situations where Darth Vader seemingly transforms into other creatures. Still, you at least got to use the Millenium Falcon’s turrets and blow up the Death Star in the iconic trench run, so I guess it got some stuff right?

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

Coming towards the end of the NES era, The Empire Strikes Back was a beautiful 8-bit game that included the music of composer John Williams. Unlike many of the other Star Wars titles before it, it took you through a pretty decent approximation of the film’s story, with the exception of Luke fighting tons of wampas on Hoth and giant insects on Dagobah. Looking back on it it now, it’s almost hard to believe it came out on the NES, especially since it had voice samples and awesome images of the real actors from the films. Sadly, we never got a proper sequel on the NES because it came close to the release of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.

Like the Atari generation, the choices for 8-bit Star Wars games were a bit limited. While some of the titles were certainly memorable for their less-than-faithful takes on the Star Wars films, the franchise’s full potential had yet to be realized. Thankfully, our next piece will launch us into the magical era of 16-bit consoles and PC gaming.

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.