"The Force will be with you, always..."
Obi-Wan's words at the end of the original Star Wars arcade game have certainly proven to be true - and then some. The release of Kinect Star Wars on Xbox 360 - and the accompanying Limited Edition R2-D2 console - proves that we're still enjoying Star Wars video games today.
The motion-based controls of Kinect Star Wars shows just how far the franchise has come since the 8-bit action of The Empire Strikes Back on the Atari 2600 and Intellivision back in 1982.
Which got us thinking - over the past 30 years, Star Wars has appeared not only in a great number of games, but in all kinds of game. From side-scrolling adventures, to first-person shooters to flight simulators, there's almost no genre that has not visited that galaxy far, far away...
The First Person Shooter
Dark Forces (1995) took the first-person tactics of Doom and transported them to the Star Wars Universe, adding then-revolutionary features like multiple floors and "looking up and down". Along with its Jedi Knight sequels, gamers were hooked on the adventures of Kyle Katarn and his discovery of the Dark Trooper Project , and the series is notable as the first "Expanded Universe" adventures to be embraced by more mainstream fans.
First person shooting would return in the Star Wars Battlefront series almost a decade later, with the chance to play as StormTroopers, SnowTroopers, Rebel Soldiers or all kinds of troops and online skirmishing for the first time. We saw the last chapter of this series in 2009 - and are eagerly anticipating its return!
The Classic Arcade Game
While not the first Star Wars game, it was certainly one of the most memorable, and indeed laid the foundation of so much to come. Simulating the Death Star attack from the original movie, but with a bigger goal of avoiding enemies rather than shooting them in order to survive, the action played out with glorious wireframe graphics and - in a notable first for games in general - featured digitised voices and sounds from the original movie. It may seem simple by today's standards, but it set the bar for everything that was to come.
The Combat Flight Simulators
Arguably the first step in the 90s resurgence of Star Wars was the X-Wing series on PC. A WWII dogfight engine was given a 3D-graphic makeover and used to power the X-Wings, Y-Wings, TIE Fighters and more as the series moved through the events of the original trilogy. For many, these games really cemented just how good, and how versatile, Star Wars could be as a video game property.
Rogue Squadron picked up where X-Wing left off. The series favoured arcade-style scoring on individual missions over the larger campaign-style approach, and took a much faster-paced approach to match the new power and possibilities offered by the N64 and GameCube. Rogue Squadron II is fondly remembered for its cinematic graphics, helping to usher Star Wars into the 21st Century
In the 90s, PCs had the X-Wing and Jedi Knight series, but Sega and Nintendo's consoles also had their share of Star Wars action. Games like Star Wars on the NES and Master System, Super Star Wars on the SNES and Shadows of the Empire on the N64 were more literal, adventure-driven adaptations, giving the chance to play as Luke, Han, Leia and the gang in ways that had never really been done before, and wouldn't again until the fun and frolics of the LEGO games. For all the fun that the 'Expanded Universe' offered, it actually made a change to just play out the movies!
The Racing Games
For all of the Phantom Menace's faults, one thing many agreed was that the Pod Races were cool. Star Wars Episode 1: Racer for the N64 attempted to recreate that coolness, with interesting and inventive tracks that took you off Tatooine and into the wider Star Wars galaxy. But what made it particularly cool was the option to use two N64 controllers as the dual controls of your racer and really feel like little Anakin.
Star Wars also went down the kart racing route in Super Bombad Racing. It was aimed primarily for children to play, and while it was not the most well-received game that the franchise has offered, it had some fun gameplay and a fun visual style. If nothing else, proved that Star Wars could be adapted to pretty much any style of game.
The Real Time Strategies
The Star Wars universe seems an obvious canvas for strategy games, but the results have been mixed. Rebellion, Force Commander and Galactic Battlegrounds all gave it a try and had some interesting campaigns, but never really excited the way Star Wars should.
Empire at War intended to end all that. A new engine was built from the ground-up, the need to build and acquire resources was removed, and the battles became much more realistic. The game was set between the end of the prequels and the beginning of the original trilogy, was chock full of well-known planets, vehicles and characters, and featured both Rebel and Imperial campaigns, including a scenario where the Empire actually wins! It was the RTS fans had been waiting for, and, thanks to a vibrant mod community, was also the RTS fans could make their own.
The Beat 'Em Up
In what seemed another obvious step, Masters of Teras Kasi took Star Wars into the beat 'em up arena on the original PlayStation in 1997. It mixed established stars like Luke and Chewie with lesser-known EU characters like Jodo Kast, giving each an individual style like the fighters of Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat. But unlike those games, Masters of Teras Kasi had an inferior fighting engine, and the combination of obscure characters and the use of Lightsabers as little more than clubs did little to win over either casual or committed fans. Darth Vader and Yoda would go on to appear in SoulCalibur IV, but otherwise Masters of Teras Kasi was the first - and last - foray into the beat 'em up.
Much like Shadows of the Empire a decade before, The Force Unleashed was part of a massive multimedia campaign to create an exciting new chapter in the Star Wars saga. It introduced 'Starkiller', Darth Vader's secret apprentice, but also introduced Star Wars adventuring to the current generation of consoles - and was the first chance to use a Wii controller to wield a Lightsaber! While it didn't quite live up the 'next big thing' hype surrounding it, the plot, visuals and gameplay won over enough fans to warrant a sequel.
Set 4000 years before the events of the movies, Knights of the Old Republic hit PC, Mac and Xbox in 2003. Choosing to play as Jedi or Sith, the pre-movie period setting allowed for a large-scale and versatile universe without having to worry about the established characters and storylines. The intricate plot featured twists and turns with a major shock twist coming at the end of the first game, still talked about as one of the best in gaming history.
Things expanded with the release of MMO The Old Republic. Bioware promised a larger focus on story than usual for MMOs, a sensible step as the allegiances and politics of the Star Wars universe is more defined than the likes of Azeroth. The Jedi/Sith choice remained, with different classes available to both sides, and the opportunity for player vs player combat in the wider Star Wars universe was more than welcomed by players all over the world - nearly 2 million of them!
And the rest
There are plenty of Star Wars games we've not mentioned here - there simply isn't room to write about them all! But we hope this has been a fun trip around the Star Wars Universe, and one that shows just how versatile that universe is.
If we've missed your favourite, or you have any other Star Wars gaming memories you want to share, feel free to add your comments below. And May The Force Be With You.