“Adventure. Excitement. A Jedi craves not these things.” Yoda’s words serve as the perfect warning, for if Jedi are penalized for seeking these things, then nobody on the council will have a problem with them playing this translation of what is unequivocally the worst Star Wars film of the entire saga. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace is a film that wants to be a video game so badly that the video game adaptation is actually better than the movie. And that’s not a compliment. Nevertheless, this game hit Windows today back in 1999 and by the Force, we’re covering it no matter how many interrogation droids you send after us.
Virtually every flaw of the film is also present in the game, but magnified to the absurd. When you boil the film down to its essence, it’s one titanic string of escort missions, fetch quests, and things going wrong because the screenwriter says it’s time for them to go wrong. Is it surprising you end up with a game that is, at heart, more of the same?
Except the game developers actually contribute more to the Star Wars universe than the film itself does. With The Phantom Menace only being ~90 minutes long, and lots of that taken up by dialog interactions and stepping-in-poop jokes, there’s precious little that actually transfers well to the smaller screen. Because of this, sections in the film which are resolved in seconds are stretched into ridiculous levels. Minor characters who spend much of their on-screen time not doing anything, like Queen Amidala and Captain Panaka, are given whole levels where they are the stars of the show. Additionally, the game is presented in an open-world, sandbox style that offers more options to the player than you’d think. Want to play Qui-Gon Jinn as a complete bastard who slaughters the helpless moisture farmers and slaves of Tatooine when they can’t help him locate a simple hyperdrive component? Go nuts. Feel a burning desire to “accidentally” place Jar-Jar Binks into the ‘collateral damage’ column on the surface of Naboo? Yup, you can fix Lucas’s own mistakes via discrete application of a lightsaber.
So if you can kill random NPCs as easily as blowing up Battle Droids, what’s wrong with the game? Well…like much of the film, it’s just plain boring. Level design is hit-or-miss, with some levels seeming to slog on long past their welcome. The jumping mechanics, especially those involving the Jedi double-jump, are absolutely atrocious. Cameras swing wildly, making accurate jumps way harder than bullseyeing womp rats on your T-16 back home. And even all that open-world stuff I talked up earlier can be taken away in a heartbeat if the game decides you’re visiting somewhere before you’re supposed to be there. It does this by offing the NPC you’re escorting, meaning you fail the mission without warning. Yeah, the only thing worse than an escort mission is an escort mission where you can’t see the boundaries.
Oh, and you remember that two hour story arc in the film where Qui-Gon ran around playing trader with all the different criminals so he could get the parts he needed to fix the Queen’s ship? You don’t? Damn, you’re right–that’s not even in any of the deleted scenes! WTF, LucasArts?
I take back what I said in the intro. Yoda also reminds us that anger, fear, and aggression are the Dark Side. And anybody playing The Phantom Menace is going to experience copious amounts of all three. So forget it, all you would-be Jedi. Booting this one up isn’t all that smart after all. Of course, you probably figured all that out fifteen years ago today…in retro gaming.