Two questions are probably shooting through your mind as you look at this review. First: what on earth is this random Game Boy game being reviewed here, and two: why did I choose to put the effort and time into playing and reviewing it?
Star Wars: Episode I – Obi Wan’s Adventures (GBC)
Released Nov 2000 | Developed: HotGen | Published: THQ / LucasArts
Genre: Action-Adventure | HLTB: 2 hours
The answer is, well, it’s a Star Wars game. More specifically, it’s a Star Wars game that I played an awful lot of as a child, probably much, much more than it deserved. Look, games were a limited commodity as a kid, we just played whatever old crap we had. Given how much of a Star Wars nerd I was (and indeed, still am) it’s unsurprising that my parents bought me this game, among others, and it joined the ranks of games like Tetris, Pokemon Red, and an old Asterix & Obelix game as the heavy hitters of my Game Boy’s repertoire.
I can only assume you’re looking at these screenshots and wondering if, despite everything you’re seeing, was this game perhaps some hidden gem? Maybe it’s a secret piece of brilliance hidden behind the fact that Episode I is not well-loved in our collective human memory, and also it was just some Game Boy Colour game and who even knows what incredible games came to that console that we never knew about? Nah, don’t worry, it’s not, it’s just some Star Wars shovelware tat and it’s just the fact I got hit with a powerful wave of nostalgia that made me play it again and share it with you.
As you might have guessed, the game is loosely based on the first of the Star Wars prequels, The Phantom Menace, but centered around the perspective of Obi Wan Kenobi. At this point in his career he’s an impetuous apprentice to the maverick Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn, not yet quite the kindly old sage that he becomes as he gets older. The villainous, bureaucratic Trade Federation are currently maintaining a planetary blockade around the peaceful garden world of Naboo, and the pair are dispatched to try and negotiate an end to hostilities. However, things go wrong when the Trade Federation try and assassinate the Jedi and launch a full-scale invasion of the planet, prompting the pair to escape and begin a plan to rescue the captured Queen of Naboo, Amidala.
Episode I has to do a fair bit of heavy lifting for the prequel trilogy. It has to introduce major franchise characters, including both Obi Wan and the young Force sensitive child Anakin Skywalker, as well as set the stage for Anakin’s grand fall to the dark side and foreshadow the rise of the Galactic Empire. What it’s probably as well remembered for these days is the obscenely lengthy scenes of galactic politics, and the seemingly endless pontificating on trade blockades and other points of space bureaucracy that are no doubt absolutely riveting to audiences hoping for some swashbuckling science-fantasy space cleric laser sword fights. Obi Wan’s Adventures, then, has the unenviable task of adapting that, and doing so on the Game Boy Colour, a tiny, limited handheld console.
It starts reasonably promising, following our titular protagonist as he escapes the Trade Federation’s flagship and from there down onto Naboo’s swampy surface. However, it does have to begin taking some liberties with the story pretty soon after. Given Obi Wan opts to sit out when the gang visit Tatooine there’s a big chunk of the movie just skipped over, and once on the galactic capital world Coruscant absolutely fucking nothing happens whatsoever in the film and if the game chose to skip that then the game would basically be Obi Wan escapes from Naboo and then goes straight back there, so instead we get a bit of what we’ll generously call a narrative flourish as Obi Wan swans off to have a throwdown against a marauding army of bounty hunters. Things get back on track though for the endgame as the crew head back to Naboo for the final showdown of the movie, although the game does make the questionable decision to compact as much of the story as possible, reducing it down to something almost, but not quite, barely recognisable as The Phantom Menace.
I feel a little mean ripping a Game Boy Colour adaptation of George Lucas’ sprawling space opera too much. It’s serviceable and as I said, a little bit of tweaking the story is inevitable as the game tries to accommodate for the fact that Obi Wan is basically a side character for a lot of the movie. It’s definitely not the way to experience the film for any newcomers; you get a few grainy screenshots from the film along with some text paraphrased from the script as intros to levels, but mostly if you don’t know the film you’ll almost certainly just be lost as the game hurtles through the plot beats.
The gameplay at its core is a basic hack-and-slash affair. It opts for a viewpoint which switches between isometric and side-scrolling as you move through areas, which does at least let the game try and show off its levels. Look, there’s not much you can do when it comes to action games on the Game Boy Colour I suppose; the system after all doesn’t have a lot of power or buttons to work with after all. To that end, you get one button that attacks, and one that jumps, and the select button lets you switch through Obi Wan’s arsenal of his trusty lightsaber, the Force, and a blaster (which, as any fan will tell you, is a massive flavour failure on the part of the game as blasters are random, clumsy, and just so uncivilised). The game unfolds quite predictably. Each level sees you take control of Obi Wan and you have to hack your way through whatever enemies come your way. Sometimes there will be an obstacle that requires the Force to move it, or you’ll be locked on a screen until you’ve defeated everything in front of you, and occasionally there are some platforms that let you Force jump between them, but that’s more or less it. The lightsaber is obviously the weapon you’re going to be using the most, and to its credit the game does get the fundamental stuff right with it, such as being able to deflect shots back at your target if you time your swings right. In a tiny moment of fantastic detail, the lightsaber actually features distinct swing animations, and each direction you swing it has a different sound clip; it doesn’t save anything about the game but it is a lovely miniscule touch.
The levels themselves are, however, pretty bad. Most consist of nondescript corridors or rooms, with not really enough distinctive features to give you a sense of movement or progression. The broad strokes of each stage make them obvious where you are – the Naboo swamps look like swamps, for example, or the interior of the Trade Federation ship has blinking lights and panels – but internally each level feels quite samey. This is especially a problem in the latter stages of the game, such as the catacombs of Naboo level, which is a masterclass in confusing maze-like design, with an occasional nonsensical puzzle or two thrown in for good measure.
I suppose I will give the game something though: I think it was an ambitious move to attempt a 3D (or 2.5D, or however you’d care to categorise this) hack and slash on the Game Boy Colour. I feel like the Game Boy and the Game Boy Colour were probably both best remembered for their RPGs and for side-scrolling 2D games, which probably best suited the limited power of the handhelds. I can respect the decision to try and make something a touch more elaborate, but it’s hard to say that Obi Wan’s Adventures pays off. It neither looks nor sounds especially good, its levels are a bit of a jumble, and the gameplay never evolves beyond making enemies take a few more hits to kill and in turn taking off greater chunks of your own health. It’s playable, which is more than some games can say, but if you’re a completionist eyeing up the Star Wars back catalogue, probably best not to bother with this one. I mean, I feel pretty confident in saying you weren’t thinking of playing it; it might just be me on this one.
2/7 – POOR.
A disappointment. Best not to bother with this unless you’re desperate for a naff time.