Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Star Wars Arcade (Atari)

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There is a surprising similarity between Star Wars Arcade, released in 1983, and Star Fox, released in 1993.  For starters they are both 3D graphical on-rails shooters that involve space battle and a predominance toward the cockpit view.  In addition they’re all about blowing up things in space while people scream at you with words and phrases that offer no assistance in the gameplay.  Okay, so they’re not actually all that similar when it comes down to gameplay (honestly I find Star Wars Arcade to be the better game), but it does demonstrate that the style of gameplay does withstand the test of time.

Even though it coincided more with the movie release of Return of the Jedi, Star Wars Arcade was a vector graphics 3D shooter where you controlled Luke Skywalker as he attacked the Death Star in Red 5 at the end of the Star Wars: A New Hope.  The game involved three stages of battle, called “waves” in the game, that they had to overcome in order to complete it.  In the first wave you would destroy TIE fighters as you approach the Death Star, in the second wave you would destroy turrets on the surface and in the final wave you would fight in the trench against both types of enemies and take a crack at shooting the exhaust port and destroying the space station.  If you did so, you would loop into the game again and receive an extra shield that allowed you to play for longer periods of time.  Doing so without firing a single bullet in the trench until the perfect shot on the exhaust port would be considered as a “using the force” run and net you a huge point bonus in addition to your additional shield.  Because of these bonuses it was possible to play for a long time on one quarter, which was like finding gold in old school arcades, and one guy even played for more than 50 hours on a single credit.

You could find the cabinet in two formats: upright like most arcades or a big boxed in cockpit style cabinet, which is the version we all hoped to find.  The only arcade I remember having it was the Six Flags by my house and it charged the premium price of 50 cents, but there was always a line regardless thanks to the longer play times of each credit.  While it may not look like anything special, vector graphics such as those seen here were a staple for many Atari arcade titles and with the different colors and 3D grid effects it truly was a sight to see.  I also remember the effect when you destroyed a TIE fighter, it would disappear into stars (that literally looked like ASCII stars “*” in a circle) and didn’t strike me as odd in the least.  Not only did it dazzle visually, but there were digitized clips from the movie that made characters like Obi-Wan and Darth Vader sound like they were under water, but given that It’s important to note that most movie license games are crap, even back then, but Star Wars Arcade has a lasting appeal that all gamers can appreciate and enjoy.

I Smell A Sequel

Fortunately for Atari, by the time Star Wars Arcade came out the Star Wars trilogy was a massive hit so it’s no wonder that they quickly released the other two sequels, albeit out of order.  The second game to come out was Return of the Jedi in 1984 and it’s quite a forgettable endeavor.  Unlike the cockpit on-rails “simulation” of the first, Jedi was an isometric view and had you taking out enemies while rushing through sets from the movie.  Instead of the grid-based 3D vector graphics we received traditional cartoon-like arcade raster graphics.  Evidently the game didn’t do as well – I personally remember it being completely ignored when it replaced the Star Wars Arcade game at Six Flags – because Atari returned to the vector graphics with the third and final game Empire Strikes Back.  This was a complete revamp of the original, this time taking place on Hoth as a snowspeeder and the asteroid field as the Millenium Falcon.  Graphically the game was similar to Star Wars, although a bit more colorful with bright green Imperial Walkers, and explosions resulted in pieces flying instead of the circle of stars.  It also returned to both traditional cabinets and sit-down cockpit as well.  There was also an easy conversion to interchange Star Wars and Empire in the same cabinet, which is what many arcades did.


Contrary to popular belief, the game Star Wars Arcade that released as a launch title on the Sega 32x is not the same game.  That game is based on the Sega arcade title that came out in 1993, which bares a striking resemblance.  In that game you are taxed with being an X-Wing and taking out various types of TIE fighters in outer space alongside Admiral Ackbar.  As for the Atari arcade ports, they can only be found on the Gamecube title Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike as unlockables (despite the game being crap, these unlocks are well worth the $5 if you can find one at a GameStop and still have a “Cube” or Wii).  Star Wars Arcade was ported to, of course, both the Atari 2600 and 5200 as well as a semi-faithful port on the ColecoVision.  As was the case back then, in the mid-80s the original also hit almost every microcomputer including the C64 and Amstrad.  In 1999 John Dondzila ported this game to the Vectrex under the name Star Fire Spirits as part of the Vecmania cart set.

And that just about wraps up the classic shmup section but not before wrapping up the weekend with a couple more.  Tomorrow’s shmup of the day is an Atari 2600 classic: River Raid.

Written by Fred Rojas

March 23, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Shmuppreciation 2012

Tagged with , , ,

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