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Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith

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Much like the Star Wars film series? sordid past with hits and misses, the DS version of RotS is a mixed bag of excitement, frustration (the good and bad kind) , and disappointment. Ubisoft did a much better job on Mr. Lucas? franchise this time around as anyone who played both this game and last year?s Apprentice of the Force can attest. However, the Revenge of the Sith is marred by its own set of shortcomings and some things will leave the gamer wanting a little bit more.

Game Play

Following in the footsteps of some great 2-D beat ?em ups, RotS adheres to that tried and true run-to-the-right-and-kill-anything-that-isn?t-me formula. Yet, unlike the myriad of superficially lacking games that cluttered the 16 and 8 bit eras, RotS offers plenty of special moves, DS exclusive 3-D flying missions and RPG style character upgrades that bring a much needed level of individuality and satisfaction to the genre. However, the game relies on the cheap shot and gang-up tactics of its ancestors and this detracts from the depth of your character?s power and growth. The enemy AI is atrocious, but at the very least their variety keeps things interesting. And like the game?s console counterpart you are to choose between either Anakin or Obi-wan at the outset of the adventure. This allows for almost two distinct ways to play, as each character has signature moves and force abilities in addition to their own branching paths.

Anakin?s special moves are highly aggressive as are his force abilities which allow for maximum damage, while Obi-wan?s move set is far more focused on self-preservation and finesse. The two protagonists will undoubtedly appeal to divergent tastes in game playing. Each character shares the same set of basic attacks which can all be performed by different combinations of pressing one of the four directions on the D-pad and the attack button. Similarly, by simultaneously holding the R shoulder button and a direction or the attack button you will quickly master the ways of the Force. The amount of standard moves and purchasable Force abilities are in no way sparse and the addition of four unlockable Force (Obi-wan) and Fury (Anakin) special attacks only add to the game?s sense of duality. Yet, the lack of use for the X and Y buttons disturb me? action games could always use more buttons!

The special moves will be on display consistently on the lower touch screen where they can be activated on the fly, provided they have not only been unlocked but your character?s special Force or Fury meter has been filled to the proper amount. You are able to fill the special meter by successfully utilizing force abilities or blocking and deflecting laser blasts with a well timed press of the L shoulder button. Taking heavy damage will also boost the meter, which can give you an edge when things get heated. And, as your meter fills, each of the four special moves will light up as they are available which is very useful!

As the game progresses you will pick up and earn customization points by either finding them hidden throughout the course of a level or by finishing the stage in a Jedi-fashionable and timely manner. The hidden customizing points were given some really hackneyed hiding spots as the levels are all linear, straight-forward and bereft of platforms. All the player will have to do is continually hug the topmost section of the screen and hack away at lamps, walls, and other objects placed in the background to reveal the ?hidden? treasures. This was bad design because it plays out more like tedium than an actual hunt for power-ups.

Regardless, the customization aspect of RotS is varied and rewarding. Purchasing new Force powers opens up new avenues of game play as your list of destructive maneuvers grows ever larger. Each Force power can be increased a total of three levels and makes replaying some stages totally worth finding and/or earning all of the game?s customization points. In addition, periodically at the end of certain levels you will be offered a stat bonus to be dispersed between your life or force bars or your character?s physical strength. These RPG style upgrades help add to the feeling that the heroes are growing and evolving, especially in the areas that you want!

Just when the monotony of the level designs start to numb your left thumb, the boss battles will bring in a much needed wild and diverse break from the norm of running to the right. These encounters require you to study your adversaries? attack patterns and actually learn to swordfight effectively. Believe it or not, you will become a better saber wielder after a tango with Count Dooku. As this is a game almost centered around cheap shots and bad guys ganging up on you, it pays to know how to handle your weapon.

For even more game play variation Ubisoft ushered in what I consider to be the most controversial aspect of RotS: the 3-D flying missions. These fully rendered 3-D levels are both a blessing and a curse for this game. First, they are a blast to play, easily surpassing that of the 2-D side-scrolling levels. The frag fests control smoothly with boost and lasers actually being assigned to X and Y! The touch screen keeps all your important data down on the lower portion so the action never gets cluttered up top. The touch screen also allows you to handle your shields by allowing you to divert them between the front and rear of your ship on the fly. You can perform barrel rolls to deftly shake off enemy fire with the shoulder buttons and lock-on heat seeking missiles by targeting nearby enemies. IT?S FUN PEOPLE! This is especially true when you hook up with other sentient beings via wireless multiplayer. If only the game were single cart multiplayer?.

Yet for all that was done right, we end up with six measly flying missions, two of which have NO ENEMIES (you fly through a cityscape to get from point a to point b)!!! And the missions that do center on blasting baddies contain the worst enemy AI to date. These missions play more like a game of hide-and-seek than epic space battles. I think I took a hit from enemy fire once? It?s sad really because this aspect of the game could have easily been fleshed out into a full fledged Star Wars title. Or Ubisoft could have made these missions the focal point of RotS thereby creating an entirely original Nintendo DS experience. It is a shame that the DS version of RotS uses the exact same engine and gameplay motifs as the GBA game.

Graphics

Revenge of the Sith is a beautiful and fluidly animated game? for the GameBoy Advance. Again, RotS is a mixed bag of controversy. The NDS is capable of graphics far more complex than what this title offers. RotS for the DS is graphically identical to its GBA sister save for the extra lines of resolution due to the DS?s bigger screens. Knowing that RotS is not much more than a GBA ?plus? game, it is hard for anyone to honestly give these simplistic, yet lush graphics high marks. Regardless of the high frame rates, smooth animations and variety of locales and bad guys this game barely scratches the surface of what the DS can do. Stylization and laziness are no excuse for a lack of originality.

With that said, I can finally admit that Ubisoft?s aesthetic design is unique and full of character. The bright colors and large sprites help bring all of the characters to life. Each locale is articulately drawn and immediately recognizable to its onscreen equivalent. I will give the developers? their dues for finding a style that not only fits the Star Wars universe but helps the game to stand out on its own amid the plethora of Star Wars titles currently available.

Sound

I have yet to play a Star Wars game that has failed sound wise. RotS is steeped in the Lucas archives. From the fully orchestrated music sampling to the authentic blaster and lightsaber effects, RotS delivers. The John Williams? score may sound a little grainy at times, but it is hardly noticeable and the music is a perfect fit for the game. It will keep your heart pumping with many familiar Star Wars tunes. The sound effects are just classic Star Wars and return with unmistakably satisfying results. My only gripe is that the cart could have easily contained way more spoken dialogue than the sparse treatment that has been handed to us.

Final Thoughts

Ubisoft could have done a lot to make this game stand apart from its GBA counterpart, but the similarities are so great that they cannot be ignored. The exclusion of the X and Y buttons during the side-scrolling missions only prove that this is a GameBoy game on DS steroids. While Star Wars fans won?t be disappointed, this is a deep and well thought out action title that can easily compete with if not surpass the Super Star Wars series on the SNES, but DS owners and GBA enthusiasts alike may have something to moan about.

The DS version has some great exclusives but this is essentially a GBA game, and GBA owners will be missing out on the fantastic 3-D flying missions. And these flying missions really only shine in multiplayer, the only place where things can really get hectic! Another strike against Ubisoft is that they did not include multiplayer in the side-scrolling portions of the game. This is counter-intuitive on a system that is being touted as a hub for multiplayer games. Where is the logic? Plus, this game has taken the beat ?em up genre and given it a brain with customization and character growth but almost nothing has been done in terms of level design or enemy AI. That?s like installing a brand new Corvette engine in a broken down ?85 Hyundai. What does all that power mean if you can?t use it properly?

RotS is bound to be a game that will go down in history plagued by as much controversy and as many competing opinions as the movies it was based on. And yet, for all that I find wrong with this game, namely the lazy copy n? paste treatment RotS has received, I still loved playing it. I could not put it down. It was addicting, it stayed true to the film without spoiling major plot points and it more than satisfied my on the go action crave. And I guess that is what it really boils down to. If you can look past the superficial similarities to the GBA version and really enjoy RotS for what it is, you will have found a gem of a game that is truly better than the sum of its parts.

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