Best Games - Star Wars - The Empire Strikes Back
Action video games are all about feel. The feel of connection between your fingertips and flickering pools of light on a screen. Get that feel wrong and it won’t matter how clever your mechanics are or how inventive your puzzles or how engaging your story, no one will want to play it. Get that feel right and it won’t matter that every other aspect of the game comes up short.
Star Wars - The Empire Strikes back on the Atari 2600 is Star Wars as imagined by Mondrian. Large flat blocks of color with a palette counted in single digits. It is a representation of the battle of Hoth in abstract. Imperial walkers look more like paper cutouts pasted in a shoebox diorama. The hero snow speeder is a rectangle with one bit jutting out the side. Sound effects are tinny digital farts and bloops. Even with all that simplification, the game feels like the battle of Hoth. It’s all here, just compacted down to the thinnest of essentials.
This game works, because it feels right. Your snow speeder can whip along at a staggering pace, but it can also stop and reverse direction with shocking agility. There is a slight drift to all of your movements that presents a sense of weight, but doesn’t feel out of control. The horizontal flight of the ship is incredibly smooth for the Atari 2600, a system not really known for its smoothness. The walkers are menacing and durable, but not indestructible. The odds are stacked against you, but there is at least a feeling of hope.
The truth is, there is no hope. This is a game, like the movie sequence it represents, where the good guys will lose. You will either see all of your ships destroyed by blaster fire or the inevitable march of Imperial walkers will overrun your base. Those are the only two ways this game ends. Surprising enough this only adds to the game’s feel. Letting the player change the fictional history of the battle would just feel wrong I suppose.
The game is simple, spare even, but it feels great to play. Smooth and fun and correct under your fingertips. More than the setting, more than the visuals, more than the mechanics, this is what matters. When a game feels right, it plays right.
This is why Star Wars - The Empire Strikes Back is one of the best games.
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