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A Forced Awakening: Of ‘Jedi Power Battles’ and nostalgia

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Nostalgia can be a funny thing. You see, when our Editor-in-Chief posed the idea that we run a monthly theme on Star Wars games, I immediately seized on it. I mean, what better way to celebrate one of the biggest film releases of the decade than to explore its many gaming counterparts over the years.

Even as a pretty minor Star Wars fan (believe it or not, I’ve only seen each of the films once in my 30 year lifetime) I’m at least marginally excited to see the much-hyped The Force Awakens, but what game would I choose to write up in mild anticipation? I’d played Star Wars games here and there over the years but which one, I wondered, had stuck with me the most? The answer won’t surprise you as you’ve obviously already seen the big, bold headline at the top of the page but just for posterity, let me reiterate that the game that stands out most in my helter skelter Star Wars gaming career is none other than Jedi Power Battles.

I’m sure the notion that I’m trolling or being contrarian for its own sake will occur to more than one of you at the very idea that Jedi Power Battles is my favorite Star Wars game but I assure you that it’s the truth. A quick look back at review scores in anticipation of this piece, though, left me flabbergasted. To call the scores middling would be an accurate assessment, and many of them were downright negative. Could my memory really have been so wrong? I’d played Super Star WarsRogue Squadron, and Shadows of the Empire like anyone else, and yet this was the game I remembered most fondly. The question was: why?

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The platforming was clunky, the difficulty was uneven, and the gameplay was repetitive, so what was it that made Jedi Power Battles stick with me after all of these years? The more I pondered at it, the more the reason became clear: it was because this was a game that I’d enjoyed with friends.

Back in those carefree summers of my youth, before jobs, before bills, and before responsibilities, my friends and I would gather in one of our many basements for all manner of gaming retreats. There were spats of Mario Party and Mario Kart, tournaments of the Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter varieties, and even the occasional journey into a less prestigious title like Gauntlet Legends or Winback. One such title of the latter variety was Jedi Power Battles, and we played it for several weekends in a row trying in vain to finally reach the end. Stubborn though we were, we never did quite master the game enough to succeed in our quest but the pleasant memories of those simpler times remain to this day.

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Lacking though the game was, it did have its strong suits as well. This was the first time you could actually block lasers with your lightsaber and deflect them back at enemies. It was also the first Star Wars title I can recall where the music actually sounded like that of the films it was aping. Finally, as an added bonus, players could take noted badasses Liam Neeson and Samuel L. Jackson through a series of droid smashing and Sith battling adventures.

Jedi Power Battles joined an onslaught of titles released from 1999-2001 in celebration of The Phantom Menace and the return of Star Wars, including Episode One RacerObi-Wan’s Adventure, Super Bombad Racing, and Battle for Naboo. Amazingly there were over a dozen Star Wars titles released during this mere two year period, and this is in a generation that far preceded the mobile gaming boom. If the gap these titles have left in the collective memory of gamers is an indication of any one thing it is that they were anything but memorable. But against all odds, this one has stuck with me.

For that reason, and that reason alone, Jedi Power Battles is my favorite Star Wars game. I would never for a moment try to justify calling it the best Star Wars title, or even a good one for that matter, but the fond feelings I get when I remember it cannot be denied in their warm and fuzziness. It seems that nostalgia is bad for the critical mind but just this once, I feel content to let it slide.


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