I love Star Wars games. Ever since I sat in that amazing arcade cabinet feeding twenty-pence pieces into it's coin slot and pretending I was Luke Skywalker attacking the Deathstar and not some schoolkid from Essex, I have played practically every different interpetation of George Lucas' space adventure, and if not greatly enjoyed them, then at least wasted away a not inconsiderable amount of time on each incarnation.
Early efforts such as the soundless Spectrum arcade conversion and the Mega-CD FMV-fest Rebel Assault had their good points but were limited by the hardware of the era and an obsession with new technology respectively. Star Wars: Masters of Teras Kasi had no such excuse: the playstation was the current machine of choice, with graphics and sound a ZX Spectrum could only dream of and an incredible roster of games taking advantage of it's huge user base. Any Star Wars game was always going to be hugely anticipated and massively overhyped.
And let's be honest, who's appetite wasn't whetted by the opportunity to engage in one on one light sabre battles or take control of the coolest Star Wars character, bounty hunter Boba Fett?
That's my main initial issue with this game. Back in 1998, the idea was a sound one, combining the world famous IP of Star Wars with the Playstation's genre of choice, the one-one-one beat 'em up. Maybe upon reflection this wasn't such genius, after all the characters of Star Wars offer such variety, it was always going to be difficult to shoe-horn them into a simple fighter. But try they did, and many (including surely George Lucas himself) must have wished they hadn't bothered.
First impressions are ok: the iconic "A long time ago" and plot crawl are present and correct as is the slow pan down to an unknown planet and John Williams' brilliant music. The plot itself (if you can call it that) sees the Emperor in a bad mood following the Rebel Alliance's destruction of his apocalyptic Death Star. Desperate for swift yet subtle retribution, he hires the feared assassin Arden Lyn to take out the key members of the Rebel alliance using the forgotten art of combat called - yes, you guessed it - Teras Kasi. Which, um, everyone seems to be an expert in.
The rebels, on getting wind of this, decide to face the challenge head on, so giving rise to a series of bouts between differing members of each faction. In the arcade mode your task is to beat an increasingly trickier opponent from either the Empire (or other neutrally evil characters such as a Gamorrean guard and Boba Fett) or the Rebel Alliance. There are a few other options allowing you to play against a friend, practice your moves on a static opponent, team play or survival mode.
So where does SW:MOTK start to go wrong? Well, from the time the fights begin really. All the standard beat 'em up trappings are present such as energy bar and timer and the battles take place at various different Star Wars locations such as Hoth, Cloud City and Coruscant. At the bottom of the screen is a power bar, and depending on how many yellow lights you have illuminated on it (achieved by landing blows) various special abilities which change from character to character can be used. Now the big problem here is that these "special" abilities can now by definition only be used very occasionally so Luke generally doesn't use his Lightsabre, Han keeps his pistol firmly holstered and Boba Fett is reluctant to prime his thermal detonators. So if you were hoping for sweeping and majestic lightsabre duels between Luke and his old man, you're going to be sorely disappointed. The rest of the game is just frighteningly average-bordering-on-disastrous. Opponents are either ludicrously difficult to beat or unbelievably stupid with supposed uber-assassin Arden Lyn particularly adept at hurling herself to her doom and automatically awarding you a round. The combination moves required for the special weapons are complicated and not worth the effort, either resulting in a missed shot, or worse giving your opponent the opportunity to launch a decisive attack in your general direction.
The background is just windowdressing with an infrequent spaceship or droid wandering past the only evidence of any life and the moves - such a vital part of any fighting game - just dull, unimaginative and ill-keeping with the characters involved (Darth Vader doing a daft flying kick just doesn't look right). This coupled with the cumbersome response to button presses and your character's slow turning speed make the game extremely onerous to play. The graphics I begrudgingly admit were ok for the time yet whilst the game gives the impression in screenshots of being 3D it's still really only in two dimensions. The incongrous nature of the scenes some characters find themselves fighting in grates hugely as well, a good example being the screenshot above of Boba Fett and the Gamorrean guard slugging it on Hoth.
Maybe there is an iota of pleasure to be derived from this game should you by some miracle persuade a friend to play it with you; the team play option at least sounds interesting.
But then so did a Star Wars themed fighting game.