Star Wars Trilogy: Apprentice of the Force - A Long Time Ago, A Long Time Ago, A Long Time Ago...
Star Wars. For everyone (at least everyone cultured enough to have seen them!), the franchise conjures up something personal to them; for me, I always think of being introduced to it by my Dad, a special bonding moment that left me in tears, my four year old self distraught at Darth Vader’s death. I still get teary eyed at that moment, it’s beautiful. In the gaming sphere, I’m sure people’s first thoughts are a lot more uniform; some people will think of the classic, PS2-era Battlefront games; others, the more hardcore crowd may think of Knights of the Old Republic; and younger fans might be drawn to the more recent Fallen Order. In some ways, I fall into all three categories, but there is one game I only ever played once, and was rubbish at. Kind of like a half-remembered dream, I remember playing Star Wars Trilogy: Apprentice of the Force at my Dad’s friends house, and thinking it was the coolest thing in the world. Because, when you’re less than ten, everything new is the coolest thing in the world. But does it stack up? Now, that is the real question, isn’t it?
I think the biggest struggles Star Wars had when it comes to handheld entries is that you really can’t showcase the wonder and sheer magnitude of the Star Wars universe. And I can’t fault them for that; I mean, it’s the Game Boy Advance; outside of Flight of the Falcon (oh boy, am I looking forward to that… whatever it is) Star Wars games on the GBA are solidly 2D or 2.5D affairs, usually consisting of beat em ups that maaaaybe have a bit of light puzzle solving on the side. And all that I described - I’ve just described Apprentice of the Force to a T. As Luke Skywalker, you’ll follow his path through the stories of the original trilogy, carving up an army’s worth of Stormtroopers and slowly mastering the many (by which I mean, four) uses of the Force. It’s basically just the Star Wars story, but only focusing on Luke, for better or worse. One of the things that surprised me most was that it was Ubisoft of all developers who made this weird little game. This was kinda when the Star Wars license was bouncing all around a ton of different developers, giving us some all time classics like Battlefront or Knights of the Old Republic, or some… lesser entries, like Flight of the Falcon or The Gungan Frontier. Games were all over the place, leading to weird little titles like Apprentice of the Force.
Star Wars Trilogy: Apprentice of the Force, true to it’s name, covers the entirety of the original Star Wars trilogy, but with the caveat that it solely focuses on Luke Skywalker and his personal role in the trilogy, alongside his development as a Jedi Knight. Overall, the game is a fairly straightforward run’n’gun’ action platformer… which you’ll be doing a lot of. Trust me, if this game isn’t anything, it doesn’t do a great job of feeling fresh. The only real break-up to the run’n’gun (and I guess run’n’slash once you get the lightsaber) action of Apprentice of the Force is the occasional ship-based segment, which will task Luke with taking on dozens of Tie Fighters, or diving into the Death Star’s trench in the climatic moments of Episode IV, or the Skiff Bike run in Episode VI. There are also a handful of boss fights, against such foes as the Rancor, Darth Vader, and Boba Fett, which will force you to switch up your normal tactics, or forcing you to control waves of enemies at the same time. I rather enjoyed these as they felt, at least a little, more well thought out then the constant, repetitive shootouts and lightsaber craving sessions that make up the bulk of this game, having a sense of grandeur, urgency, and sheer epicness that the rest of the game lacked for the most part.
And that’s the number one problem with this game; even as Luke gains new innate and force abilities, the game almost doesn’t change at all. Sure, you’ll be unlocking, and thus pretty much exclusively using the Lightsaber past Episode IV, but the fact doesn’t change. You will spend 90% of this game platforming and fighting the same handful of enemies, with almost no change in strategy. You’ll be running through the level, every minute or so stopping to fight an instanced group of enemies. That’s it. That’s all the game is. Now, don’t get me wrong; the base gameplay is fun, and it’s satisfying to carve through enemies like hot butter once you get the lightsaber, but anything grows boring if it’s the same thing for hours and hours on end.
Despite being partly a cause of the game’s greatest failing, one thing I certainly appreciate is that it really lives up to the title; once you start the game, Luke is just a farmer boy, armed with a blaster and nothing else. But as you progress through the levels, Luke is slowly doled out ability after ability, quickly carving out a varied repertoire of platforming and combat skills to confront the challenges facing him. As much as this little, probably budget title could, you’re undertaking the path of an apprentice of the force. Even the training sequences on Dagobah actually make you think about what you’re doing, not just heedlessly charging forwards your goal. Sadly, the new powers you get over the game don’t really change things up too much, though. Rolling is almost never relevant, and force push will only be useful from time to time as a platforming tool. You’ll just be double jumping a ton, using the Force Heal A LOT, and in the later stages, will probably be whipping out the super lightsaber slash as a form of crowd control. But, to be honest, you’ll probably just be doing a ton of basic lightsaber combos to carve through your foes, and not a whole lot more. The handful of vehicle based fights, whilst sometimes wearing out their welcome ever so slightly, were a ton of fun, perhaps due to how different they were to the main gameplay loop. The X-Wing fight against the TIE Fighters and the Trench run are extremely exciting, bringing new meaning to the phrase ‘flying by the seat of your pants’, and the Skiff Bike run in Episode VI is fantastic just for how satisfying it is to ram Stormtroopers into the walls, or lure them into smashing their bikes. Honestly, I’d love a whole game based around these vehicle fights.
Yes, I will be a fool and play Flight of the Falcon eventually. Just… Just when I hate myself a little less.
At the same time, this adherence to just following Luke’s journey as a Jedi is this game’s biggest weak point. This game is short. Not short in the sense previous titles in the Game Boy Abyss were - this ain’t 30 minutes long or anything, but the fact is that, assuming you’re a player of any decent skill, you’ll probably blow through Apprentice of the Force in two or three hours flat. Think about it - sure, we follow Luke through the entirety of Episode IV, so that chunk of the game feels just fine. But Luke is only directly the focal point for around… I dunno, half of Episode V and VI. This leads to us seeing very little of what actually happens in V, which results in most of the movie being presented as escaping Hoth, training on Dagobah, and fighting through Bespin - which I’ve gotta say, felt like it was half the game on it’s own. Just endless, endless corridors full of the same Stormtroopers, but with more frustrating platforming to accommodate Luke’s expanded skillset. This problem continues in Episode VI, where we only see Luke’s scenes set on Tatooine and Endor, making the whole thing feel truncated and drawn out at the same time. This game is, on average, around three hours long, and it only really stretches to that point by stretching out huge sections that pass in moments in the movies.
Also, they cut out Luke fighting in the Battle of Hoth. Hoth is like, the coolest part of any of those movies, and we know they have the ability to make these ship-based fights, so where the hell is my Battle of Hoth!?
(I know this is a GBA website, but y’all should really play Shadows of the Empire on the N64. Seriously, that is an underlooked game.)
Now, I love me some good ‘ol GBA skung sound effects and music. As I’ve said before, devs didn’t have a lot to work with, but despite those limitations, we’ve had some pretty good tracks, right? I think of Crash Bandicoot: The Huge Adventure, perfectly emulating the originals, or the insanely comfy beats of Swordcraft Story. And yes, Apprentice of the Force does have some tracks that made me break a smile… but perhaps not for the right reasons. I’m sorry, but the soundtrack of this game swings from outright bad, to genuinely hysterically funny. It’s weird as all hell, but I honestly think despite it’s variance in quality, I’m kinda happier about it, if that makes sense? Seriously, the opening, iconic Star Wars theme sounds like a bunch of cats meowing the intro. It’s fucking insane (in a non-prejorative way). I just wish the game would resume songs after the instanced battle sequences, since you’ll just end up hearing the same start of the song over and over again.
One thing I will praise is the game’s graphics. Whilst the general art direction is fine, the character models look kinda fantastic for the Game Boy Advance. They’re a little heavy on the pixels, but these are some really, really solid, fluid 3D models for the characters. The model’s, pulled from Ubisoft of-the-time flagship series Prince of Persia, are consistently, fantastically animated across Luke and all the friends and villains he comes across. Other sections of the game, like the vehicle sections, generally look pretty good, but I was really caught off guard by how great the actual animation work was. Hats off, Ubifsoft, in this regard.
I’m glad I played Apprentice of the Force. It’s one of those games I’ve been wanting to play through, to put to bed thoughts of just wondering ‘what could’ve been’ if I’d had the chance to play the whole thing. Is Apprentice of the Forth anything special? No, not particularly. It’s a generally all-around average affair from start to finish, but its albeit repetitive gameplay is fun enough, and with the fact this game is only a few hours long, it’s unlikely you’ll get too bored of it by the end. Coupled with some notably skuing audio and genuinely impressive graphics, and a few alternate play styles that break up the monotony, even for a few minutes, Apprentice of the Force absolutely is worth a play. From what I’ve seen, Star Wars didn’t do too well on the GBA, and Apprentice of the Force is one of the better entries on the list. That, uh, doesn’t really bode well, considering how middle of the road this game was. We’ll get to those one day, perhaps next May. But as it stands; if you’re a fan of Star Wars, and looking for one of the lesser known titles, give this one a shot - it’s not the most memorable, but it must’ve done something right to stick in my head for the better part of two decades.
Thank you so much for reading my review of Star Wars Trilogy: Apprentice of the Force! I took an impromptu week off last week, since I was just going through some stuff and did not have the energy nor willpower to do a game that week. Next week, I’ll hopefully be taking a look at one of the weird single-player titles that the Sims released on the GBA; The Sims’ Bustin’ Out! As always, you can shoot me an email to request a game for me to play at firstname.lastname@example.org , or you can find me on Twitter @Lemmy7003. Thanks so much for reading, and I’ll see you next time!