We all have games from our childhood that hold a special place, that we still find ourselves coming back to. Games that still provide that spark of youthful enthusiasm even after all these years. Star Wars: Rogue Squadron on Nintendo 64 is without a doubt an example of these types of games for me.
Rogue Squadron was released on the N64 on December 7, 1998 in North America two days after my 13th birthday. Unfortunately for myself, the game came out AFTER my birthday and just a little TOO close to Christmas, so I wasn’t able to get the game until January of 1999…but it was definitely worth the wait as it is still one of my favorite games for the N64. This game was everything a young Star Wars fan could want at the time. For a full historical context, this was 6 months before The Phantom Menace was even released in theaters to much….um…discussion…so the Star Wars expanded universe was depicted primarily in books, comics, and video games. One of the most engrossing aspects of playing Star Wars games was being able to do everything from experiencing moments from the movies yourself or simply exploring the numerous planets lining the galaxy to the ships and weaponry used by the Imperials and Rebel Alliance alike – Rogue Squadron delivered all of these.
The genesis of Rogue Squadron can be pinned to Shadows of the Empire (LOVE this game also!) which was released in November 1996, shortly after the launch of the N64. The very first level you play as mercenary Dash Render piloting a Snowspeeder during the Battle of Hoth. I remember how impressive it was being able to participate in one of my favorite moments of the Star Wars Trilogy(Original) and how easily you could do everything from shoot down TIE Fighters to tangling up AT-ATs with your harpoon and tow cable. LucasArts then commissioned developers Factor 5 with creating an entire game around flight and combat elements using the ships of the Rebel Alliance. The story of the game takes place between Star Wars Episode IV and V, with the opening levels taking place shortly after the events of IV. You control Luke Skywalker – the leader of Rogue Squadron, formed after the destruction of the Death Star.
The gameplay itself, which is the heart of the Rogue Squadron series is a more arcade-style, action/flight sim game; not as in-depth of a simulator as some of the X-Wing/Tie Fighter games on PC. Factor 5 balanced this nicely in creating something that was easy to pick up and play, but is by no means an easy game. The flight controls are responsive and as smooth as anything else out there on the N64; about as smooth as Star Fox 64…JUST about. The game consists of 16 main story missions with 3 more bonus missions – including the Battle of Hoth and Death Star Trench Run – after completing the main missions. The mission types are generally relegated to finding and destroying targets, reconnaissance, and rescue/escort missions( a video game staple for countless years) though the levels never seemed to get overly tedious or repetitive.
Some of the most memorable missions for me are Defection At Corellia, in which Rogue Squadron sets out to rescue Crix Madine – an Imperial General looking to join the rebels. The level also includes an appearance(sort of) of Han Solo and Chewbacca in the Millennium Falcon joining in the fight with Han telling Luke “I thought you could use a hand, this IS my hometown after all…”. Another one of my favorite missions is The Imperial Construction Yards where you pilot a Snowspeeder and infiltrate the industrial planet of Balmorra leading an attack on Imperial facilities producing TIE Fighters, AT-ATs, and AT-STs. Of course, there are missions that are memorable simply for being incredibly difficult at times. Escape From Fest – in which you are escorting 3 stolen AT-PTs from an Imperial research facility and protecting them from basically everything the Empire can throw at you from AT-ATs, to TIE Fighters and Bombers, to turret cannons. If I didn’t hint at it earlier, the escort missions are by far the most difficult in the game along with pretty much any Y-Wing mission.
Rogue Squadron was also one of probably a handful of games that I had for my N64 that was able to take advantage of the boost from dropping in an Expansion Pack in the console. I didn’t get an Expansion Pack until a bit later once it was packed inside the box for Donkey Kong 64 as the more demanding games REQUIRED it to play. The game graphics were good to begin with, but with the Expansion Pack it added more detail and overall sharpness to them. It enhanced the visuals of everything from the planet landscapes; from the foggy, tropical planet Thyferra, to the rusty, Mars-like planet of Kessel. Even the in-game explosions such as destroying a TIE Fighter seemed to be improved. I remember playing the opening Mos Eisley mission after dropping in the Expansion Pack and being impressed saying “It looks just like when the Death Star explodes!” which in hindsight may have been a big exaggerated due to youthful enthusiasm, but the graphics due hold up pretty well especially when compared to other N64 era games. (Side Note: It is interesting in how visual image of some of these planets HAS changed due to being shown in newer Star Wars movies such as Solo: A Star Wars Story which begins on Han Solo’s home world of Corellia – a little more complex and densely populated than in Rogue Squadron – but also the planet Kessel which was affected as much as even in the Solo movie it was still a rust-colored planet that is home to Glitterstim spice mines and slave prisons.)
The audio in Rogue Squadron has also held up well, considering the limitations of the time. Everything from the sound effects of laser blasts, to the iconic screech of TIE Fighters and other fighter ships is true to the Star Wars movies and universe in general. The original score for the game is also very well done, albeit still not quite the same league as a John Williams score, but that is a bar set very high for any medium – movie OR video game.
I still love Rogue Squadron, along with the subsequent titles released on the GameCube and cannot recommend Rogue Squadron enough to anyone has may have missed out on this great game back in the pre-Y2K days. I can still feel the excitement of getting to explore the different worlds throughout the galaxy and getting to fly the different ships used by the Rebel Alliance as well as Imperials, X-Wing toTIE Fighter was a great thrill. This game along with Knights of the Old Republic would have to be my absolute favorite Star Wars game to this day. The sound and graphics have held up well and the controls are still as fun as I remember them being 20 years ago. There are games that we played and loved so much as kids that unfortunately we come back to and find have not aged so gracefully, but LucasArts and Factor 5 did an incredible job with this game and it still is capable of transporting back to those golden days of yesterday…in a galaxy, far, far, away…sorry! couldn’t resist 🙂
Keep on playing…