The Games That Made Us Gamers: Star Wars: Jedi Power Battles
“The Games That Made Us Gamers” is a series of special-edition retrospectives running throughout the week of this year’s Celebration of Games. The BnB team and fellow guest contributors are sharing their origin stories as they look back and remember the interactive experiences that turned them to the world of joysticks and keyboards.
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A Long Time Ago, in a Galaxy Far, Far Away…
Star Wars: Jedi Power Battles isn’t exactly what you’d call a classic. For a start, it’s called Jedi Power Battles, which isn’t the most inspiring title, but, more importantly, it was a run-of-the-mill hack and slash affair that trampled on canon, offered up bugs every five minutes and mocked your depth perception as you missed that seemingly easy jump for the fifth time. Even in the Star Wars gaming library it is dwarfed; 2 years before its release in 2000, Rogue Squadron was launched, and two years later we would be treated to the defining action experience of the franchise with Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast. Then, of course, it bears the ultimate burden: the words ‘Episode I’ wedged into the title. It sends shivers down my spine…
Naturally, it’s one of my favourite games ever.
Let me just put my ‘critic’ hat on…ahem…I have three games that sit atop my pile as the greatest games ever – The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords (yes, that ‘2’ is meant to be there). They’re perched there because of their stories, the tales they weave and the worlds they present, along with a thousand other intangible reasons that make me sit back and sigh a big, happy, wistful sigh whenever I think of them. Narrative. Themes. Language. Ah…all the good stuff.
Jedi Power Battles has none of these things. It is a shameless piece of action mush. However (off comes the critic hat), since when did objective merit matter when it comes to books, or paintings, or videogames? Jedi Power Battles is distinctly average, but when I reminisce about my time playing it, I hardly think about the game itself.
Two Ten Year Olds Versus the Sith
Back in 2000, I used to go round to a friend’s house every Sunday for a couple of hours. Whilst there, we did two things – eat dinner and play games. More specifically, eat dinner and play Jedi Power Battles. I can’t remember when we first got hold of that PS1 disc – in my head it seems an integral part of that house, like the carpets or the wallpaper – but we played the heck out of it for the next two or three years.
Even once the PS2 arrived and Tekken Tag Tournament and James Bond 007: Nightfire started eking away at our obsession, we still went back to the lumpy graphics and naff gameplay of the Trade Federation battleship, Theed Palace and the streets of Coruscant. We had unlocked everything there was to unlock years ago, we knew where every hidden bonus was, we’d mastered all the force powers and combos (Plo Koon’s cricket stroke was my favourite, double-tap triangle). Still we went back, replaying our favourite levels, starting whole new save files from scratch and building up the powers of Obi-Wan, Mace Windu and Adi Gallia all over again. It was a fun game, that much should be clear, but I don’t know why we latched onto it over multiplayer experiences.
It was either in 2002 or 2003 when another friend, having got himself a PS2, gave me his old PS1 for my birthday along with a bunch of games, one of which was Jedi Power Battles. I think my other friend and I had been playing his copy of the game, presumably on long loan, for the previous three or so years, but I honestly can’t remember – in my memory the game seems strangely omnipresent in that period of my childhood, always following me around. Now, here I was with a copy of my own and the means to play it. I wouldn’t just be playing a few hours on a Sunday, I’d be destroying droids around the clock. As soon as I got home, I remember rigging up the PS1 on the kitchen table and playing the game whilst eating dinner. I had no time to eat separately, there were Sith to defeat, galaxies to save and jumps to be missed!
You can guess what happened next. Time wore on and the game, now in my sole possession, lost its magic. Besides, we moved away from the area soon after I got the game. There would be no more Sundays spent amassing ridiculous points totals at my friend’s house and I wasn’t going to persuade my new school friends to take up this last-gen piece of arcade fluff. It wasn’t a problem: in fact, it was at this new school that I first borrowed Neverwinter Nights from a friend, which began my obsession with epic single-player RPGs. The days of mashing armies of droids had passed.
Cool story bro. I can hear you saying it. Hang in there a bit longer, would you?
Before the Dark Times. Before the Empire.
In the grand scheme of things, I probably didn’t play that much Jedi Power Battles. I was only at my friend’s house once a week for a few hours, and once that stopped I largely stopped playing the game. I’ve certainly poured far more hours into something like the Pro Evolution Soccer series since then. Yet the vital thing is this: for the overwhelming majority of the time that I was at that house, I was playing that game. When I look back on that friendship, my memories inevitably involve it. Our group did other things, had other adventures at school and there are more stories to tell, of course; but my immediate memories of that time are coloured by a single piece of electronic entertainment. It’s slightly disconcerting that a game, and a dodgy one at that, can exercise such command over my own sense of nostalgia.
You wouldn’t get that with books, or films, or music, and not because you can invest comparatively less time into them. A particular film might become special to you and your friends, regardless of its qualities, because you watched it at a certain time and place; some couples might have ‘their song’, the one that was playing at that bar the first time they met. Nevertheless, in both cases you and friends are passive participants, listening, watching, appreciating, but not engaging in the same way as you do when gaming alongside others.
Then, you’re listening to their muttered shouts of annoyance as they scupper a tricky jump, acknowledging their appreciation as you leave that last health powerup to them, celebrating together after vanquishing that boss or bantering with one another after a particularly brutal round of deathmatch. When sat alongside someone playing a game, you don’t just engage with the controller or the action on-screen – you’re engaging with the player next to you. When I remember Jedi Power Battles, I actually remember the player alongside me.
I miss that. As a PC gamer whose current crop of best buddies don’t really play games, I miss the simple enjoyment of sitting down to blast some baddies on split-screen whilst chatting away about anything and everything. As my top three games indicate, I love the solo experience and I certainly don’t want all developers to spend their time crafting half-baked social tools when they could make a great single-player title. However, there’s certainly, absolutely a place for that – multiplayer games, games alongside your friends and sometimes even alongside strangers online, have a glorious social context that other cultural media simply don’t possess. Now there’s something to celebrate.