Insert Disk collects Star Wars Rebel Assault for the Sega CD.
Today’s retro game review is Star Wars Rebel Assault for the Sega CD. This retro gaming classic was one of the first Sega CD games to really push the boundaries of the system. Set in a time period at the end of “Rogue One” and the duration of “A New Hope” you play as Rookie One. A young rebel looking to take his place in the rebellion and fight the Empire. Although Rebel Assault’s graphics look a little tired today they were at the time a bold step in to the world of the CD format for Lucas Arts and the Star Wars franchise. Join me today as I take a look back at this entry in the classic Star Wars universe.
This week we’ve also teamed up with our rebel friends over at “A blog far, far away”. To check out their latest posts follow the link below.
Greetings collectors and welcome to today’s retro game review. Today we’re returning to a long time ago and a console far, far away as we take a look back at the original Rebel Assault on the Sega CD. If you’re anything like myself you will know the Star Wars Saga inside out. Its locations, characters and notable quotes. Star Wars has been part of the fabric of our culture for decades and has remained not only influential in the movie world but the presence of its force has also been felt in the gaming industry.
No stranger to the gaming world Lucas arts had numerous hits with series such as Monkey Island, Maniac Mansion, Sam and Max, Zak McCracken, Loom, Grim Fandango amongst many others. Of course being Lucas arts they were also sitting on potentially the largest franchise of all time, the rights to licence the Star Wars brand. There had been Star Wars games before but it was the creation of the original Rebel Assault that really looked to push the hardware of the day. Rebel Assault was released on Dos PC, 3D0 and the Sega CD, known as the Sega Mega CD here in Europe. Although technically the inferior edition I’ve chosen to take a look at the Sega CD edition of Rebel Assault. I grew up with the Sega consoles so I’d like to re-live some of that experience today. Rebel Assault is best described as a rail-shooter. Most levels will have you flying along a pre-determined path. Typically you will be in your x-wing either taking down the Empires Tie-fighters or destroying enemy ground turrets.
The premise of Rebel Assault is very much an alternative view of the events of A New Hope, set in the same time and universe. Rather than playing as Luke Skywalker or any of the other key characters for that matter you will take the role of Rookie One. It’s the classic setup of small town boy joining the rebels to fight the empire. It also gets around the need to use the original voice actors such as Mark Hamill. Overall I didn’t miss playing as Luke as the story very much mirrors a similar story line anyway. The game is split over 15 levels but I’ll give you a much shortened version of the events. You will start off on chapter 1 and 2 with basic training. These cover the basic skills you will need throughout the game. Chapter 1 sees you mastering basic control through a canyon landscape whilst chapter 2 sees you take your first steps in to space itself in the asteroid field training. The training continues in chapter 3 on the planet of Kolaador. Here it’s a case of more advanced control to avoid the harsh landscape. Chapter 4 though is where the game begins to find its feet. Until now it’s all been about the training and if I’m honest a little bit of game length padding.
Chapter 4 though opens with the opening events of A New Hope. Leia must send the Death Star plans away with the droids to Tatooine, Vader closes in on Leia and the rest of the plot writes itself. Your task is to attack the star destroyer above Tatooine by disabling its weaponry. It’s obviously not a scene in the movie but it is nice to finally get out there and take on the Empire head-on. Chapter 5 focuses on a canyon style chase on Tatooine itself, you must destroy the 3 Tie-Fighters before they alert the fleet to the presence of the rebels. A slight plot hole here as I’m sure that the Tie-Fighters could just radio this information back to base if needed.
Chapter 6 sees you back in familiar territory back in the asteroid field. Again the reasons for this are a little thin plot-wise and it is almost as if the developers were just attempting to pad out the game length with a cookie-cutter level from the training mission. Things take an unexpected turn in chapter 7. That’s right, we’re off to fight Imperial Walkers on an Ice Planet. As you’ll appreciate the battle of Hoth doesn’t take place until the Empire Strikes Back. However, it’s such a great battle sequence I can totally forgive the developers for including a similar experience here in Rebel Assault. Slightly more unforgivable though is the nature of the fight. Despite the knowledge that the armour is too thick to be penetrated by standard lasers the method of taking the walkers down is… well you guessed it, shooting them with standard lasers. I have to say that I do enjoy this level, it looks and feels like Star Wars so I’m more than willing to look over these inconsistencies. It’s at this point that we reach the games half way point and its time to switch up the game play. Having been marooned after the Imperial Walker battle Chapter 8 sees you in a free standing shoot out with storm troopers.
It’s a case of working your way through the base and eliminating the barracks one storm trooper at a time. It’s somewhat of a shooting gallery feel and doesn’t really push the Sega CD hardware as much as other areas of the game but it is a nice change of pace to be out on foot. The second half of the game really speeds the story along. You will go back to protecting rebel transports and off to Yavin to destroy armourments. Both of these levels play in a very similar way to the previous space and canyon levels.
By chapter 11 the developers seemed to remember that they had to tie your story line back in with the main events of A New Hope. You’ll be back out in to space to destroy the oncoming wave of tie fighters in an all-out dog-fight and then on to a Death Star surface mission. The Death Star surface mission is a nice change of pace as you are treated to a slightly different camera angle as you take out Imperial gun turrets. Chapter 14 culminates in a special mission to take out the power relays of some of the larger Imperial installations. It’s a case of taking out the relays one shot at a time. Again, this is not necessarily in the movie but it would fit in very well as a coherent strategy to draw attention away from Luke’s bombing run on the Death Star. That brings us on to the Death Star trench run, the final chapter of the game. It’s the classic Star Wars moment of navigating at high speed through the Death Star trench to allow that final shot that cripples the Empire. The game ends and Vader doesn’t seem overly distraught about things. Just mildly annoyed if anything. For a Sith Lord he takes the whole destruction of the Death Star rather well in my opinion. Rookie One gets is medal and it’s off for a well-earned mug of Jawa juice.
So, in terms of plot Rebel Assault is a rather complementary experience to the movie. It doesn’t stray too far from the classic story line but does enough to make you feel that you are part of the wider events of the conflict. You might be asking at this point. How is it to play? Well sadly I have to highlight a few issues with the game. Firstly the elephant in the room that is the graphics. At the time the Sega CD was championed by Sega for it’s in game movie feel and ability to deliver more graphically than the current 16-bit consoles. In truth they were right, sort of. Whilst parts of Rebel Assault look surprisingly good for its age other elements seem quite flawed. It’s clear that on the movie to CD transfer the graphics have been heavily compressed. Some scenes seem to be particularly affected. In some ways this detracts from having the movie style execution. It’s somewhere between animation and full motion. Scenes where Vader is giving instructions are also noticeably flawed as only his head moves very much like a bobble-head toy. Where scenes have been animated rather than converted from film the overall effect is much more pleasing.
In game though is where I had the most issues with the graphics. The scene on Kolaador is just a mess. Whilst trying to avoid canyon edges and rock falls the overall resolution and colour palate left me in some doubt as to what was happening. On top of this the rather dubious frame rate just added to the overall playability issues. The control issues of the game manifested themselves in several ways. Firstly that the Sega CD makes use of a traditional D-Pad rather than a mouse. In some chapters it is near impossible to move the crosshairs fast enough and accurately line up a shot.
This is also particularly notable on the Yavin turret destruction level. The hopes of navigating your X-Wing whilst lining up targets is near impossible at times. I’ll quite happily admit that I’m not always the best at rail shooters but on occasions I thought that the shots I was making just went straight through the enemy. Overall the game difficulty can become a source of frustration after a while. I’m certain that many Bothans died whilst trying to complete this one. In terms of a collectable here is the UK edition for the Sega Mega CD. You get a nicely illustrated cover, CD and manual. Here in the UK the Sega Mega CD used classic CD cases. The US edition of the game was issued in the long box format but had the same illustrations on the cover and manual. For the UK edition a price anywhere between £10 and £20 is about right. Although, Star Wars collectables tend to have a few pricing peaks and troughs depending on what is happening around the release of new movies. For the US edition look to pay around $10 but a little more is worth an investment to get a particularly mint version of the game.
So, Star Wars Rebel Assault for the Sega CD, is it worth collecting? In terms of the overall package I’d personally have to say yes. The graphics and game play may be flawed but there’s more to the game than this. The cut scenes add nice intervals to the game ground the experience in a consistent feel to the Star Wars universe. To aid this the soundtrack is also ripped from the John Williams original and my impression is that quite a few of the sound effects are also direct transfers from the movie. The overall feel is one that this game was made by fans for fans. There is clearly a sense of authenticity to this Rebel Assault despite the lack of original cast members. It strays a little from the classic storyline of A New Hope yet at the same time not so self-indulgent that it breaks the feel of the franchise.
It’s also worth noting that Rebel Assaults release date obviously pre-dates the release of the prequel movies. It’s also for this reason that it feels very grounded in the classic Star Wars universe I knew when I was growing up. It’s that slightly darker, grimier authenticity that many fans hold so dear. You won’t see ninja-like lightsabre fights, hoards of CGI gungans or mention of nonsense such as the mitichlorians in Rebel Assault. It’s stripped back to the classic adventure that drew many of us to the franchise in the first place. At times the execution of clunky controls and rather sub-par graphics can make Rebel Assault much more difficult to play than it needed to be. In terms of execution I can think of few similar games on the system that did the rail shooter genre better though.
It’s for this reason that I’d hold Rebel Assault up as a game that wasn’t afraid to adopt a new technology and push the system as far as it could go. Sadly it’s wasn’t until Star Wars Rogue Leader on the Nintendo Game Cube that a truly immersive star Wars shooter caught my eye again. For an alternative retro dog-fight X-Wing Vs Tie Fighter is also a title well worth looking out for though.
For the casual retro collector Rebel Assault it’s a nice to have game if you can buy at the right price but it won’t blow you away in comparison to the Star Wars shooters that came later. Subsequent games have delivered more with a similar formula making this title a little obsolete. As for Star Wars fans though, Rebel Assault is clearly a collectable game. Add in the mix those collecting decent Sega CD games this becomes a must have title.
The Force may not be as strong with this one as some had hoped but it was a New Hope for CD based Star Wars games.