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‘Star Wars,’ the Games

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A few things stand out in a man’s life: his first fistfight, his first kiss and his first viewing of “Star Wars.” For me, the last came nearly 20 years ago when my dad and I walked down to the old movie palace for a late-afternoon show.

Along with a few million others, I still love “Star Wars.” And I confess to being a sucker for a game that has anything to do with the films. As the original trilogy is re-released in theaters, a number of video games are popping with “Star Wars” in their titles.

Two for PlayStation are remixes of PC titles. But a third for Nintendo 64 is an entirely new title set between “Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi.” In Shadows of the Empire, players assume the role of Dash Rendar, a mercenary who took part in the Battle of Hoth but wasn’t lucky enough to escape with the rest of the rebels.

The game follows Dash as he hunts for Boba Fett and helps Luke Skywalker rescue Princess Leia from the clutches of the crime boss Xizor. Anyone who played either of the Rebel Assault titles on the PC will recognize the format of Shadows--a mixed bag of first-person shooter, flight-sim and run-and-jump platform game.

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As one of the showcase titles for Nintendo 64, Shadows performs well enough. The dogfight sequences are particularly furious, but some of the first-person levels feel a little tired and control is sloppy.

Players can choose a third-person perspective, but that only points up how short Shadows falls when compared to a title like Super Mario 64. Dash’s moves are awkward and sluggish against the precision with which Mario moves.

Sadly, Shadows also highlights some of the limitations of Nintendo 64’s cartridge-based technology. Because of the limited storage space, sound and video clips are sacrificed. Don’t get me wrong: The quality of the opening video is no measure of a game’s standing. But Shadows plays out long conversations and back stories with text that scrolls screen after screen. It feels pretty 16-bit. The Force is with this game, but just barely.

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Rebel Assault II: In many ways, Rebel Assault II for PlayStation is a better title than Shadows. Originally designed for PC, Rebel II is one of those few titles that shines in its port to game machines. It includes all the same action as Shadows--but more of it.

Because of the TV screen’s lower resolutions, the video clips shot for Rebel look considerably better than they do on computer monitors.

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Dark Forces: Unfortunately, Dark Forces for PlayStation falls squarely into the category of games better left on the PC. A first-person shooter, Dark Forces tracks the exploits of, yes, another mercenary trying to find plans for the Death Star.

The same difference in technology that makes Rebel Assault II look great on a television screen makes Dark Forces too clunky to read well. For fans of both first-person shooters and “Star Wars,” Dark Forces is still a good bet. Everyone else, though, ought to rent it or borrow it from a friend.

Send letters to Gamers’ Corner, The Times, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth, CA 91311. Or send e-mail to Aaron.Curtiss@latimes.com.


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