Throwback Thursday #34 - Star Wars: Rogue Leader
Posted 20 Aug 2020 at 11:12 by Dennis Tummers
As many of us probably know, the rights and license for Star Wars games are in the hands of EA. Unfortunately, they are not the best of friends with the Nintendo Switch (although that seems to be changing a little with EA bringing some more games to Nintendo’s platform). Recent games such as Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order and Star Wars: Battlefront II have not appeared on the Switch.
Sure, there are some Star Wars games available from other publishers on Nintendo’s little hybrid, such as the remaster of Star Wars Episode I Racer and Star Wars Pinball. Later this year, we can also expect LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga, which will cover the 9-movie long story of the Skywalkers.
But on the other hand, EA announced Star Wars: Squadrons, a game where you can do one of the two greatest things in the Star Wars universe: piloting a fighter (the other one is wielding lightsabers, of course). It hurts quite a bit knowing this one will probably not make it to the Switch. It made me reminisce about that particularly amazing Star Wars pilot game, that arrived as an exclusive launch title for the Nintendo GameCube: Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader.
Because what a game that was! Rogue Squadron was one of the first games we could play when the Nintendo GameCube launched in Europe in 2002. Looking back, it is insane how good the game looked (and still looks!) for a launch title. It is the type of polish you usually see a couple of years into a console’s lifecycle. To think a third party publisher could pull this off is impressive, so kudos to LucasArts and Factor 5 for that. I played the game a couple of years later, when I got it second-hand from a classmate. At that time, I was still quite into the franchise: dare I say, I even enjoyed the generally not-so-well-received A Phantom Menace?
So, being able to reenact all those epic battles from the original trilogy felt like a dream come true. Now, about 15 years after I last played the game, and with the Skywalker saga closed, I felt it was time to revisit Rogue Leader to see if it still holds up. And thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I can even play it with some upscaled graphics.
For those unfamiliar with the game, it may be good to talk a bit about what Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader is all about. Rogue Leader spans all the movies from the original Star Wars trilogy (so that’s Episode IV, V, and VI). You take on the role of the leader of the Rogue Squadron, meaning you play as either Luke Skywalker or Wedge Antilles, depending on the mission.
The first mission is an intense one to start with: as Luke Skywalker, you have to navigate the surface of the Death Star, and locate the vent that you need to bomb in order to destroy it. There are both missions taken directly from the movies (like the epic Battle of Hoth, including tackling Walkers), and missions that are not from the films, but take place on famous spots from the Star Wars universe (like a raid on the gas storages of Bespin).
Every mission starts you off with a fitting spaceship, and even a non-Star Wars fan will recognize a couple of them, such as the iconic X-Wing. But Y-Wings, A-Wings, and the Millennium Falcon are also there. At first you can only pick one ship to start for each mission, but earning medals and replaying missions gives you the chance to unlock different ships. Some missions also give you the chance to switch ships mid-level.
What’s cool is that every ship handles and feels different. An Y-Wing is a bit slower, but compensates that with an Ion Cannon and bombs. The small A-Wing is lightning fast, but can be taken down in just a couple of shots. You really need to adapt your play style, depending on the ship you pilot.
Rogue Leader is every bit as playable now as it was all those years ago. The graphics, when going back to the original resolution, may have taken a hit, but it looks way better than other games from that era. The ship models look great still, and with the game playing out mostly in outer space, there is no need for a lot of large worlds to be rendered, which really helps to keep the graphical quality acceptable.
The soundtrack is a treat, as well. Starting out with the good old LucasArts logo, accompanied by the Cantina Band song, sets the mood, and the rest of the soundtrack really adds to the epicness of the game. The narrated mission briefs give a feeling of importance to the missions you are going to carry out. The only downside here is that not all voices are the official ones from the movies. Hearing not-quite-general Ackbar say “It’s a trap!” just feels out of place.
And gameplay wise? You can very well play Rogue Leader in 2020. The ships you control handle great, and the satisfaction when you maneuver yourself past enemy Tie Fighters and cannons to take down a Star Destroyer is out of this world. Maybe the target camera could be fine-tuned a bit, but it is still workable nowadays. The only real gripe is that some missions are tough-as-nails, and you will see a Game Over screen quite often.
Going back to this game now, I also learned a couple of new things. For example, every level has a permanent upgrade for one of your ships. This can be a stronger shield, stronger weapons, et cetera. Getting these in all levels really helps with the increasing difficulty in the later levels, where having better equipment literally acts as a life saver. What’s new about this you ask? Well, I cannot remember finding these when I played the game all those years ago! But I can’t blame 15-years-younger-me, as these power-ups are in some pretty obscure locations.
So that at least does explain why I found the game so hard all these years ago. Still, I loved it and pushed through, and finished the game countless times. Because it is a fairly short game, but the real challenge comes from replaying levels with different ships, and trying to finish under par time to unlock even more goodies.
A third game in the series, titled Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike, released in 2003, and next to new missions, this game also lets you play the missions from Rogue Leader in co-op. Unfortunately I never played that one. And after that? It’s a bit of a sad story. Both Microsoft and Sony had interest in Factor 5’s skills. A new game in the series was supposed to come out as a launch title for the XBOX 360 but was cancelled by LucasArts. Another title was pitched to Sony for the PlayStation 3, but Sony didn’t want a Rogue Squadron game. Instead, Factor 5 made Lair based on the same engine.
And for Nintendo? Apparently a remake of the full Rogue Squadron trilogy was ready for the Wii (and Factor 5 worked on a cancelled XBOX remake before). But the game never came out, Factor 5 went bankrupt and the full licence went to LucasArts. It hurts, knowing it exists, sitting on a shelf in a galaxy far, far away… After that licence, deals came and went and we know now where a big part of the Star Wars licence is. Bad news for Nintendo fans, but luckily we can fall back on the epicness of Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader.