Title  : Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Platforms  : Sony PlayStation, Windows
Publisher  : LucasArts
ESRB Rating  : Teen
Game Rating  : 5.3
Review by  : Ken Gagne

Every generation has a legend. Every journey has a first step. Every saga has a beginning… and every Star Wars movie has a video game that stinks. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, the latest movie and now a PlayStation and PC title from LucasArts, is no exception. [PSX version reviewed here] 

TPM is an overhead action/adventure game. Players take on the roles of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Qui-Gon Jinn, Queen Amidala, and Captain Panaka as they make their ways through stages based on the movie. Exact events may vary from the movie, and a five-minute movie sequence may become a one-hour game level, but the basic plot remains the same. One level involves following Jar-Jar Binks through the swamps of Naboo, pushing blocks and climbing ropes to follow the Gungan; another requires escorting Queen Amidala from her palace to the hangar. 

The gameplay is the game's greatest fault. What could be exciting Jedi action is reduced to running around, pushing switches, and fighting off assaults of mindless droids. Laser-fire can be batted away with a light saber, though rebounds rarely strike their original owner. Placing Obi-Wan in the midst of a droid squadron, batting .250 and taking more damage than he's giving, is not my idea of a good time. There is no variable difficulty setting, so if the game's too tough — oh well. 

For all the gameplay's faults, little of the blame lies with the control. It's easy to run, jump, flip, and fight. There is no convention for aiming laser blasts (either bounced off a light saber or fired from a blaster), and sometimes items aren't pushed in the desired direction. Otherwise, the control is adequate. 

The music is rarely present, except when trying to liven up the atmosphere. At these times, John Williams' great soundtrack can be heard. Standard laser blasts, saber swings, and other sound effects are heard more often than the music. The voice acting is acceptable, but is not provided by the original movie actors. Sometimes the attempt at a more movie-like atmosphere backfires: when fighting one's way through a horde of battle droids, the last thing a player wants to hear is Jar-Jar telling you to hurry up. Or saying anything else, actually. 

The unspectacular sound is accompanied by equally unspectacular graphics. The levels are drawn with dull, washed-out colors, with the characters bearing little semblance to their movie counterparts. The occasional video sequences — computer generated, not from the movie — are smooth, but again, there is a contrast between the game and its namesake. 

As an extra, the game disc includes the "Duel of the Fates" music video, which originally aired on MTV. The song is accompanied with video clips from the movie and its making, and is a neat video to have. 

The pros and cons of The Phantom Menace movie have been hotly debated, but where the game's concerned, there's no room for argued: it's lousy. With dull, frustrating gameplay, uninspired level design, this game is better left in a galaxy far, far away.


This article is copyright (c) 1999, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 27-Sep-99