Revisited – Star Wars: Rogue Squadron

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 game begins with Luke and the rest of Rogue Squadron coming across Imperial troops over Mos Eisley.

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.

The N-1 Naboo Starfighter was programmed into the game as an unlockable ship to use if the you entered the correct input code. This was largely undiscovered until much later after the game’s release and that of Episode 1. Still a cool easter egg included by Factor 5 for Star Wars fans awaiting the prequel trilogy.

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…

What I’m Playing Now – Weekend Gaming Review

Having recently finished the mostly long, not so arduous task of getting the platinum trophy for Assassin’s Creed:Origins so I found myself once again asking myself “What do I feel like playing next?”. The platinum trophy for Origins took approximately 74 hours as I had started playing it back in January after setting out to actually complete an Assassin’s Creed game which I had only played a couple up to that time. Without spending too much time going over and discussing the game I will say that I really enjoyed the game, so much that I spent 70-plus hours completing everything and getting the platinum trophy. I don’t typically spend all of my energy(or sanity) trying to collect every trophy for every game, save for a relatively small group of games that I had loved so much that I was determined to accomplish everything within the game. Now that I had Origins wrapped up, I decided I would set my sights on another game. I am usually “juggling” several different games, on different systems at any given time. I have still been playing MLB The Show 19 pretty steadily since it released over a month ago and had just recently begun playing through Cuphead on my Switch, along with still playing a few rounds of Tetris 99 and Super Smash Bros: Ultimate on a routinely basis.

There are three games in particular that I have had in mind for a while now that I wanted to play through – Persona 5, Final Fantasy XV, and The Witcher 3(Complete Edition). All three of these games being somewhat intimidating as I’m not usually able to play a sprawling, epic (J)RPG game while still playing too many others so I decided I would finish up some other games before devoting myself to a more “demanding” game. I have played a good amount of RPGs over the years since first discovering how satisfying and addicting they can be, especially after finally “figuring out” the strategy in turn-based combat…thanks, Pokemon Red :)…but always had trouble finishing them as I would seemingly always just…not play them for a few days or a couple weeks and would have trouble getting “back into” the control scheme and story.

I woke up one morning and just decided to jump in and start playing The Witcher 3, which I am really liking so far and will make sure to keep playing consistently as the control scheme for the game is a little different and can seem more complex than some games. However, after a couple days I decided that I wanted to try Persona 5 as well and started playing that randomly one morning, the update for SSB: Ultimate in adding Joker to the roster may have “assisted” in that decision as well…I was a little hesitant to begin playing Persona as I was thinking the rumors COULD BE TRUE about a port of Persona 5 coming to the Switch and having a 100+ hour JRPG to play on my Switch to take around with me sounded fun. Well…a few days ago Atlus announced that they were bringing the Persona series to the Switch with Persona 5 Scramble – not a straight port of the game but more of a fighter-type game in the vein of the Dynasty Warriors games. So my decision to play Persona 5 on my PS4 was the correct one. I absolutely love Persona so far and have put about 15 hours or so into it already.

The last few couple days however…I felt like going back and playing through some of my childhood favorite games on my N64. I played Star Wars: Rogue Squadron – still one of my absolute favorite Star Wars games, along with some Star Fox 64 and I also dug out my old copy of Mario Golf which brought back tons of fond memories of summer days gone by. I am still in love with many games on the N64, even ones that my not have aged as gracefully like a lot of early 3d era games did, Goldeneye in particular. I do intend on bringing out my old Gamecube and original Xbox to play some of my all-time favorites like Halo(1 &2), Metroid Prime, and Eternal Darkness. I would like to also play through Timesplitters 2 as well as attempt to finally beat Viewtiful Joe which was more difficult than I could accomplish in past years.

I apologize if there doesn’t seem to be much more to this week’s post than a lengthy recollection of my weekend of playing video games(that IS pretty accurate). Part of my mission with this blog has been simply to sort out the endless rambling about “vidya gaemz”. What games are you currently playing? or what’s a game that you have wanted to play to haven’t gotten around to for one reason or another?

Keep on playing…

Here’s some Persona 5 Scramble news if curious – https://www.gamespot.com/articles/p5s-is-persona-5-scramble-a-warriors-style-action-/1100-6466463/

Thoughts on Majora’s Mask (after all these years)

“Whether a parting be forever or merely a short time…that is up to you”

These are the words given to you by the Happy Mask Salesman upon leaving Link and setting out across Termina Field. His words seemed applicable as The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask had taken me about a decade to finish and I had set out to play through the game a second time.

Getting my copy of Majora’s Mask in the mail is one of my fondest childhood memories. I was able to persuade my mom into ordering a special bundle from nintendo.com( online ordering was still a novelty in 2000, living in the middle of nowhere) that came with the gold cartridge collector’s edition of the game, the soundtrack cd, player’s guide, and a year subscription to Nintendo Power. I hadn’t really played many Zelda games until Ocarina of Time came out on the N64(and is still my favorite Zelda game…not a real original opinion), so I was excited to play the follow-up which for a considerable amount of time was listed as Zelda: Gaiden in Nintendo Power. I remember playing Majora’s Mask and really enjoying the world and the storyline, but for reasons I don’t remember to this day I kinda just stopped playing about 2/3 of the way through. I picked up the game a several times over the next few years with the intention of completing it, but never did. I read several gaming magazines saying it was EVEN BETTER than Ocarina of Time which I couldn’t comprehend at the time, I just wasn’t in love with the seemingly tedious item and mask quests that relied on a specific day and time to be completed and had a difficult time finishing the game. It was about nine years later by the time I finally finished it. I gained a better appreciation of the game once I made my way through the Ikana Graveyard and Canyon on my way to the Stone Tower and eventually the moon itself. Over time, developing a deeper admiration for the game that a very large portion of the audience did not or could not love as much as its predecessor – Ocarina of Time.

I eventually got the re-release of Majora’s Mask for the 3DS a while ago and made a conscious effort to play through the game within the same week to see what my feelings of the game would be after 19 years…

In the 3DS version of the game there are changes from the N64. There are a lot of minor location changes such as Heart Pieces and Stray Fairies within the main 4 dungeons. Several of the masks are located in different locations. The Giant’s Mask for example, is not acquired until mid-way through the Stone Tower boss battle with TwinMold whereas it’s located in a large chest before you enter the boss room. This made it tricky when I would pull out my weathered Nintendo Power Official Player’s Guide for the game and the items simply weren’t there.

Traveling back and forth throughout the 3 days before the moon crashes into Clock Town and destroys everything in a central mechanic to the game, and the 3DS version has streamlined this a bit. In the N64 version, if I wanted to be somewhere at 10pm for example, I would play the Song of Double Time and warp to either the dawn or night of a given day. You would warp to 6pm(nighttime) and have to wait around until the clock hits 10pm. In the 3DS version however, you can travel by 1 hour increments so you can warp directly to 10pm without having to stand around waiting. This isn’t an enormous, game-changing thing, but it does save a lot of annoyance at the fact you’re sitting waiting for something to happen.

I really liked the fact they moved the location of the Clock Town Bank in the 3DS version to right behind the clock tower and owl statue, which serves as your fast travel points throughout the game. There are countless times where you will pull out your ocarina, Deku pipes, Goron drums, or Zora guitar(coolest instrument in ANY Zelda game, IMO) and play the Song of Soaring to fast travel to Clock Town solely to deposit all of your rupees in the bank as your item inventory will reset once you play the Song of Time and return to the dawn of the first day. Again, this isn’t something that warrants the long explanation but it’s one less inconvenience that I had a hard time liking about the game back in 2000.

My favorite battle is still Goht – the Snowhead Temple Boss

The boss battles are still one of the most memorable parts of Majora’s Mask. The battle with Goht in Snowhead Temple taking place within a circular “track” where you must derail him with your spikes while rolling with your Goron Mask on, seems akin to chariots slamming into each other while racing in the Roman Colosseum. Your fight with TwinMold at the end of the twisting upside-down and then right side up Stone Tower was also memorable. The boss battle that turns into a giant(PUN!) wrestling match once you acquire and wear the appropriately named Giant Mask. In which Link, grabs the stunned TwinMold by the tail and swings it around like Mario fighting Bowser in Mario 64.

The music in the game is still probably my favorite from any Zelda game; from the intro – a sunny, baroque madrigal-esque passage before taking an ominous and foreboding turn, to the Astral Observatory theme – an absolutely enchanting and sublime melody which still brings out all sorts of warm, fuzzy nostalgic feelings after all these years. ( I have included a link below to listen)

There is always the sense of catastrophe hanging overhead…

In summary(finally), my admiration and respect for Majora’s Mask has grown deeper and more affectionate over the years with a better understanding of the game’s darker, more mature themes. It is equal parts beautiful and tragic, showing parallels between the story and our own lives. We go through our lives in a frantic state simply trying to accomplish our goals and ambitions because there is the constant feeling of impending doom, along with helplessness and loneliness; the sense of not having enough time for everything. I am beyond satisfied to have re-experienced this game. Majora’s Mask is a dark masterpiece that I did not or simply could not understand at the time.