This review is written for Star Wars: Battle for Naboo played on an N64 with the expansion pack.
This review was originally going to be a footnote at the end of the Rogue Squadron review. However, at the time of writing that review I had not repurchased the copy of Battle for Naboo that had been sold off at the Great Accidental Garage Sale of 2004, and despite having very fond memories for the Rogue Squadron spin-off set during Episode I, I figured that it would be wrong of me to give recommendations for a game that I had not touched in seven or eight years. I tell you this because I am extremely glad I didn’t gin up a paragraph about how Battle for Naboo is a great addition to the Rogue Squadron gameplay because it would have been entirely false. This was a case of positive nostalgia making a poor game out to be something that it certainly is not.
|The aerial combat is more or less identical|
If you want to know the basic structure of Battle for Naboo, you can go read the full series review for Rogue Squadron, because the basic tenets of the game are identical, with a dozen or so missions that grant you different vehicles and hidden bonuses that make them stronger as you progress. Even the controls are the same as far as aircraft missions are concerned, so if you’ve played any of the original N64 Rogue game, you’ll have no trouble flying your Naboo Starfighter this time around. The main addition to this game is the ground combat which makes up slightly more than half of the game. These give you access to various speeders and even a boat at one point, and you’ll be spending more time blowing apart Battle Droids and their tanks than aircraft. These sequences are largely fine, and one in which you’re given an armored speeder and are tasked with liberating a prison camp is actually kind of fun, but the fact is that driving along the ground is a less dynamic and engaging form of gameplay than the full 3D movement allowed by the flying vehicles that Rogue Squadron specialized in.
|Imagine shooting that rear droid if he was twice as far away|
The ground sequences also bring into stark relief the fact that Battle for Naboo looks bad. Yes, I know, harping on the graphics of an N64 game in 2011 is kind of ridiculous, but rather than just looking old, it makes the game hard to play. In Rogue Squadron, the TIE Fighters and their ilk were black and grey shapes in front of the dirt or sand on the ground. Even if the ships themselves looked like a bit of a muddled mess, they were distinctly recognizable from the browns and reds that made up the background. In this game, however, you fight Droid Starfighters, which are brown, and the droids themselves, that are beige. The game tries to remedy this by having many more grassy or icy environments, but it’s still easy to lose your target amidst the blotchy textures that the N64 could offer. On top of that, the skinny design of Battle Droids turns them into stick figures on screen, which are often little more than one or two single-file columns of pixels that you’re speeding by and trying to shoot. The Droid Starfighters have the same issue when viewed from the side, and seeing as how most dogfights take place at the same altitude it can be infuriating to miss your target simply because you couldn’t see them.
|You know what's better than two engines? Four engines.|
I also want to take issue with the design of the vehicles in Battle for Naboo. Obviously there’s an elephant in the room here in that this game takes place during Episode I. Anything artistic or otherwise related to that film is inherently tainted simply due to association, but honestly I say the film at such a young age that the designs are mildly endearing to me, whether I like it or not. That said, the game just has no variety. Sure, the Naboo Starfighter was in the movie, but the other two aircraft are the Police Cruiser, which is basically a blue reskin of that ship, and the Naboo bomber, which is a bulkier version of it. On the land side, you get a basic landspeeder, and armored variant of that speeder, and a weaker, droid version of that speeder. There’s also the aforementioned droid boat, but between crappy handling and poor mission design for it, it’s the worst part of the game. In Rogue Squadron, you got to fly an X-Wing and a Snowspeeder and the Millennium Falcon; here you fly that one ship from the movie and that one speeder from the movie in slightly different incarnations. Sure, they didn’t have much to work with, but that doesn’t make the lack of variety and less lacking.
That’s really all I can say about Battle for Naboo. Yes, there’s a story, but it basically consists of “retreat, regroup, retaliate”. The final mission, which predictably takes place during the final space battle from the movie, is pretty cool looking even for an N64 game, but the objectives themselves are boilerplate and don’t make for a great time. And as with Rogue Squadron, there’s a bunch of unlockable stuff to work at getting, but the fact is that even after unlocking the majority of it, I still went back to the early game and felt underpowered and bored.
If you really, really like the N64 version of Rogue Squadron and want something resembling that but noticeably worse, Battle for Naboo isn’t the most horrible thing that could happen. Still, even after six-plus hours of playing, I felt that I hadn’t quite gotten the five dollars’ worth of fun that I had expected after buying it. Usually when I go back with great nostalgia for a game, I’m pleasantly surprised with how well my old favorites hold up. In this case, however, it only served to make me even more disappointed with an already mediocre game.
All images courtesy of Google.com