Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire is a wonderful, but flawed game. This is how I have always perceived the title, which I must admit, I hold dear to my heart ’till this day’. The game received mixed critical reception in 96-97 by printed Magazines.
A 7.8/10 in Electronic Gaming Monthly wasn’t a necessarily a bad score, and I would argue that Shadows of the Empire for the Nintendo 64 falls under the category of games that are clearly flawed enough to deserve whatever average to good scores that it got, but also, indisputably fun (and impressive) enough to perhaps deserve a spot amongst the legendary games of the era.
Shadows of the Empire, was my second N64 game, and considering that my experience with the PS1 until that point had consisted of Tekken, Ace Combat, Crash Bandicoot and Descent; I was mind blown by the N64 game. I was impressed by the smooth, and realistic graphics crunched by the early title. The Hoth battle was an eye-opening experience, and the subsequent escape from the Echo Base level provided a satisfying 3rd person (though a first person view was also available) shooting scenario which greatly quenched my thirst for 3D action exploration at the time.
At times, my then 9-year-old year old cousin, would tag along with me, and we spent more hours than we probably should have making Wampas fight each other and betting on a winner. We Marveled at the fact that our enemies had some sort of mind (AI) of their own and would fight each other instead of just attacking Dash Rendar (our protagonist).
Perhaps, Shadows of the Empire benefits tremendously from my nostalgic childhood memories as it was one of the first real 3-D games available anywhere, and thus, a tremendous showcase of the N64 Hardware capabilities. The early N64 era was a wonderful time of discovery for both developers and gamers alike, and even the aforementioned Wampa fights were truly a stunning sight to behold for a then, 12-year-old me.
The train level itself was an amazing showcase of tech, and a highly creative level at the time, as I can’t recall that I ever experienced anything like it before it. The Gigantic Canyon Section in Gall might have been the largest 3-D level available on any game at the time. It certainly was the largest level that I had ever explored up to that point (my limited 3-D experiences at the time were composed primarily of Mario 64 and Pilotwings).
Still, traversing the canyon while killing stormtroopers and even flying across gigantic chasms with a jet pack were pleasure and unforgettable experiences. Taking on an AT-ST on foot at the time was a truly exhilarating experience, and the climactic confrontation with Boba Fett (at the end of the level) was an incredibly fun and challenging experience.
All the way up to the gall level, critically speaking, I believe that Shadows of the Empire was a genuinely great game regardless of the clunky controls and the less than precise shooting mechanics. The game runs into some trouble on the levels following those early stages. The Swoop bike levels were fast and tough, but I can see how many would be frustrated by the experience. The on-foot levels did become repetitive after a while, but I always found a saving grace in them, specially because I was so mesmerized by the graphical quality of the game at the time.
The game does end with a literal bang as you take part in the destroying of a Space Station, with your Millenium Falcon-esque ship the outrider. This is a close as one could get to a Death Star run at the time.
And so, honestly, I must have spent dozens, if not more than a hundred hours with the game, and as such I cannot on good conscience say that the game was bad or even average. There is even a debug mode which introduced many of us to some of the secrets of game development at the time. *Hint: Debug Mode Stompa (Case sensitive). Start in a level and as soon as it starts press pause. Now press and hold all at once C up, C right, C down, C left, L, R, Z and Left on the d-pad. While holding these down gently move the control stick left halfway, and hold all this until you hear a sound.
Shadows of the Empire is responsible for some of my greatest, and most cherished memories as a kid. I believe that the game has been terribly underrated and underappreciated over the last 24 years.