It's no surprise that with any hot movie property release, videogame renditions are not so far behind. In the case of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
, the videogame versions from Ubisoft have hit the scene a significant distance from the actual release date of the film they're based on. Because of this, it's a bit difficult to gauge how well the games represent the film since this text is being written a half a month before the launch of the theatrical flick. So, while I'm pretty confident that the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS versions follow the story of the final film of the series, I'm judging the game solely on the merits of the game design. Just as it should be. And with no spoilers. You're welcome.
For the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS renditions of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Ubisoft put its Montreal handheld team to task in reproducing situations and scenarios on the handheld systems. The team has had previous experience with the Star Wars property with Apprentice of the Force, a GBA rendition of the Star Wars (A New Hope), Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi films that were re-issued on DVD late last year. Surprisingly, it seems that the developer went with a completely original design, because Revenge of the Sith feels nothing like Apprentice of the Force. And that's a good thing.
Episode III is essentially a Golden Axe or a Double Dragon design in the Star Wars universe, putting players in the role of either Anakin Skywalker or Obi-Wan Kenobi as they lightsaber-slash their way through more than a dozen levels of droid and clone army-infested areas. It's a hack-and-slash affair, but the development team has put a lot of focus into the characters' unique weapon-handling abilities; both characters feel different because of their different styles of combat.
The design is solid, but a little tedious since players can find that one button-mashing combo that will eliminate the grouping enemies from the scene. The designers have, however, discouraged the button-mashing with its "special force move" mechanic that will only fill if you put the character's more defensive moves to use. By deflecting blaster fire or utilizing the Jedi powers like a Force Shove or the Mind Trick, you'll build up a power-meter that will enable players to pull off a special screen-clearing move by either A) button combination on the GBA, or B) the touch screen on the Nintendo DS. The game has a bit of exploration by hiding special orb power-ups that can be collected, and by scooping up enough power orbs players will be able to enhance their characters' abilities with special moves. It sounds great in practice, but most of the hidden items are simply tucked away in background tiles, so players will quickly learn to just hug the back wall and slash their lightsaber every few steps in order to collect most of the items.
What also makes the game just a little tedious: the game doesn't really stray from basic design. Levels aren't built with variety in mind, so you won't find, say, platform jumping or vehicular elements that are usually sprinkled into brawlers like Double Dragon or Golden Axe. I will, however, give the designers credit for creating some fun boss battles that require almost Punch-out!-like pattern recognition to complete.The reason why you're reading about both the Game Boy Advance and the Nintendo DS versions in the same review: they're both the same game. It's clear that, after experiencing The Urbz from Electronic Arts and Robots from Vivendi Universal, the Nintendo DS shares similar hardware attributes with its older cousin that makes it easy to convert Game Boy Advance projects over to the dual-screen handheld. It's a shame that early in the DS' life the system already has three of these "GBA Plus" titles in its library, and it's not really doing DS owners any favors by giving them the same experience twice. Especially when both games can be played on the same system.
I'm certainly not a fan of this "GBA Plus" trend, but here's the thing about Star Wars Episode III: The Nintendo DS version has been offered significant extras over the Game Boy Advance game. Sure, its core is simply a larger resolution version of the Game Boy Advance brawler, complete with touch-screen control of the "extra power" features in the GBA game. But sprinkled within the game are 3D space combat sequences that definitely shake up the variety. The engine created for this Nintendo DS-exclusive mode is surprisingly slick, offering a speedy smooth 60 frames per second in the single player missions. The missions created for the in-game levels aren't all that special, though, and they're really easy to complete since the computer AI, even in Jedi difficulty, is simple to read and defeat.
But where this space combat really shines is in multiplayer mode, and this is what really makes the Nintendo DS version the better of the two SKUs. Using this combat engine, players can dogfight against three other ships, either human-controlled via wireless connectivity (multiple cartridges are required), bot-controlled featuring different levels of AI skill, or a combination of these two.
The space combat is really good, especially in multiplayer, and it begs the question: why didn't Ubisoft's DS team focus on this as the Nintendo DS version? It's great that we're getting a somewhat decent 2D brawler as well as fun-as-heck space combat, but seeing a GBA-quality game on a system that can pull off so much more is just a bit of a let-down. Luckily the DS team put the larger cartridge size to use and axed the bland MIDI-style GBA music for a fully recorded Star Wars soundtrack.
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