Retro Game Of The Week: Star Wars (NES) + Star Wars (Famicom)

Star Wars (NES) and Star Wars (Famicom) side by side.

What else but a Star Wars game could I possibly talk about on May the 4th? How about TWO Star Wars games for the same platform?

In Retro Game Of The Week I pull a game from my collection and write about why it’s important or interesting. Or in some cases, badly dated and rubbish.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away… look, I’m going to work on the assumption that you’re probably au fait with how that whole scrolling text thing goes here. Star Wars is one of the huge success stories in modern movie making and especially in selling ancillary merchandise, and that included video and arcade games.

There’s a fervent fanbase around the vector-based arcade Star Wars game, some very good Pinball titles (I still yearn for that home Star Wars Stern game, but not as much as I do for Godzilla), and even some attempts at bringing Star Wars home on the Atari 2600, with predictably blocky results.

I did know someone way back in the day who had this. He loved Star Wars…

Then we come into the 8-bit era, and a period where movie and TV tie-in games were greatly derided, because with only a handful of exceptions, they were cheap and lazy and awful.

The 1991 NES version of Star Wars isn’t cheap and lazy. It follows the plot of A New Hope reasonably faithfully, while still allowing for some scope for actual video game elements.

With only a few intermissions, it’s your basic 8-bit Nintendo platform game with slightly floaty jumping and a fairly brutal difficulty curve.

Also if you fail at it, Darth Vader will kill your Mum, apparently. 

Luke looks like Luke, the music is decent… but I’ve got to be honest here, while I’d never call it a bad game, I do find it a hard game to get particularly engaged with.

Star Wars NES Title Screen

OK, so this is accurate as a title screen… but is it exciting?

It’s just kind of bland, which does make it stand out from the other licensed games of the time that were awful… but that still doesn’t make it a great game, outside of the Star Wars nature of it.

Star Wars NES: Luke Skywalker in the Sandcrawler

I don’t recall Luke killing quite so many Jawas in A New Hope.
Was that added in the special editions?

Fine if you’re a big Star Wars fan, but the jump between this and Super Star Wars for the SNES is immense.

Super Star Wars is tough — and a prospect for a future Retro Game Of The Week in its own right — but it’s also a lot more fun than the NES version of Star Wars.

Famously, there isn’t just one game called “Star Wars” for Nintendo’s 8-bit platform.

Star Wars Famicom Title Screen

Side thought: Neither game calls this movie “A New Hope”. Star Wars fans, discuss below.

Namco held the licence rights in Japan in 1987, and developed its own mostly-platform centric version of a tale from a galaxy far, far away… only much weirder.

Look, the odds are good again that this isn’t news to you. Famicom Star Wars is kind of infamous because of the whole “Darth Vader turns into a Scorpion, a Shark, a Dragon (etc)” gameplay bit.

Star Wars Famicom: Luke Skywalker vs Darth Vader

“Luke, I am your…”

Star Wars Famicom: Luke Skywalker vs Killer Scorpion



Also because it doesn’t just play fast and loose with the plot of A New Hope — it outright throws the script pages from it AND Empire Strikes Back into the air and just presents levels in the order those pages fell to the ground. If you’re after pure movie accuracy, this isn’t the game for you.

Star Wars Famicom: Luke vs Darth Vader (where Darth Vader is a Shark)

Not movie accurate — unless George Lucas gets another go at A New Hope and declares he ALWAYS saw Darth Vader as being a shark, that is.

However, I think Famicom Star Wars gets a really bad and totally not deserved kicking… because it’s actually a better game than Star Wars NES is.

Star Wars Famicom: Luke's Force Powers

The Force powers you can use in Star Wars Famicom are a little silly… but silly can be FUN.

Sure, it’s a shameless rip of Alex Kidd in Miracle World, though Luke never does play Rock Paper Scissors, but that fast-and-loose style, combined with a better jumping mechanic and levels that are lot less about leaps of faith and damage you can rarely avoid makes for a more engaging experience.

Star Wars Famicom: Luke in a speeder

Luke is on a Speeder here essentially because that’s what Alex Kidd in Miracle World does on its second level too. The developers have admitted this, it’s not some wild Internet theory.

Yes, it’s tough, especially as Luke — now with dark hair because of the way the colours work on the Famicom — dies with a single hit — but it’s also more, for want of a better term, “video gamey”.

Star Wars Famicom: Luke Swims

The swimming sections aren’t great — and they’re another gameplay element ripped straight from Alex Kidd — but when you fail, it’s on you.

Star Wars for the NES feels slavishly chained to A New Hope’s script. Star Wars Famicom simply doesn’t give a damn, and presents those characters in a different way that works better as an engaging game experience.

Star Wars Famicom: Leia kisses Luke Skywalker

Leia… umm… well… this is awkward.
Probably best not to kiss him TOO DEEPLY.

It’s interesting to note that we’ve not really had any attempts at recreating the classic trilogy of movies outside the LEGO games since the 16-bit era. If you’re a huge Star Wars fan after your May The 4th retro fix, I’d probably go for Super Star Wars above all else… but I’d definitely then go for Star Wars Famicom before I started in on Star Wars NES.

How to play Star Wars (Famicom) or Star Wars (NES) today

Star Wars (NES) and Star Wars (Famicom) side by side.

So yeah, I own both of these, though for wildly different periods of time.

My NES copy pictured above came with the NES I bought at a Cash Converters in Top Ryde in 1995 or thereabouts, at the same time as Bart Vs The World (shudder), which means I technically didn’t pay anything extra for it… it was bundled in, after all.

Still, it bears its $5 price tag to this day, because getting stickers off cardboard boxes is a fraught affair. Clearly its original owner got it from David Jones, too. How fancy.

My Famicom copy has the odd distinction of being the “newest” game in my retro collection at the time of writing, because I’ve owned it for all of a fortnight. I’d wanted a copy for absolutely ages, and the opportunity to pick one up for… well… way less than expected, so little I figured it would be a pirate copy came along, so I leapt at it. I was pleasantly surprised to discover it wasn’t a pirate copy, though it doesn’t have the manual. I’m OK with that, and I do appreciate how Namco/Namcot used actual plastic boxes, rather than the cardboard style that everyone else did.

Also, finally, the Famicom version of Star Wars has much, MUCH better box art. That’s not up for debate.

But what about the open market for these games?

For the NES variant, loose carts on eBay appear to be going for around $30-$40, with boxed copies tipping over the $100 level.

The Famicom version is a little less common, naturally enough, but it too tends to sell at around $40 for a loose cart, and a touch over $100 for a boxed copy.

Interesting for such a popular cult series, though I guess that’s also a factor of there being Star Wars merch for just about EVERYTHING. One’s fandom dollar can only spread so thin, and all that.

Equally interesting though, because while the Famicom version never went any further (not shockingly) there’s been no sign of any re-releases for the NES version (or the very similar Master System version) in compilation form at all.

Oddly, the superior Super Star Wars has seen some appearances here or there, and even on one rather unusual ATGames console I happen to own. But not the 8-bit version.


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