Third Party N64 Games That Didn’t suck Vol. 3: Star Wars Rogue Squadron

boxart_n64_front

Previously…

Vol. 1: Beetle Adventure Racing
Vol. 2: Winback Covert Operations

Foreword (2015)

Originally this wasn’t part three of the series, but GOG took me by surprise with its recent re-release of the PC version of this game. What’s strange is a lot of people on the PC side weren’t aware of the N64 version, and vice versa. I don’t even know what differences, if any, exist between the two.

Anyway, this is a re-edit of my look back at the game both for fans and people not familiar with it at all who are wondering if it’s worth the $6 on GOG.

Original Post (2009)

Star Wars Rogue Squadron was one of the majorly popular games on the N64 through 1999 into the last leg of the system’s lifespan. It was one of those late-generation games that really brought out the hardware’s potential (especially with the expansion pack) and established a good franchise for Nintendo as well as a friendly third party developer in Factor 5.

I never played the old PC X-Wing and Tie Fighter games or Wing Commander — I’m thinking about it along my space game odyssey, but as far as I know Rogue Squadron was probably the first great 3D Star Wars flight game on a console.  There were attempts earlier, but most were heavily hampered by the technology. Shadows of the Empire had its moments.

Rogue Squadron came in primarily with two things – a surprisingly enjoyable but accessible flight model, and a respectable exploration of the Star Wars universe.

Before this game there really wasn’t much choice for flight on the N64. While Playstation owners were enjoying the early Ace Combat games the closest thing we had for high altitude action was Aero Fighters Assault. Later on there was stuff like Chopper Attack and Buck Bumble, but the one that really reached out and grabbed N64 owners first was Rogue Squadron.

Rogue Squadron is definitely an arcade-type flight game but still felt tighter than most of its brethren at the time. My first time playing I was taken off guard by how simply everything fit together without looking stupid. From the sky you could see ground and air troops fighting it out across cities and mountains. You could see what looked like the tide of a real battle in-progress, almost like you were flying over a real-time strategy game. From there you just followed the radar, which looked simple but not as insulting to the intelligence as a quest arrow, and won the battle. Ace Combat is probably the only thing on consoles that feels even remotely similar.

Rogue Squadron also looks probably better than most N64 games. Everything looked relatively smooth and well-textured for the time. The expansion pack not only increased the resolution (to levels that are bearable on today’s TV sets) but also improved the animation and framerate.

Eventually, the original Rogue Squadron became one of those games I would master. Going back through it recently, I honestly don’t know how or why I got gold medals on all 19 missions. If this were a current-gen game, I would’ve gotten every achievement or the platinum trophy.

Each mission grades you pretty harshly on time, damage taken, friends left alive, accuracy, kills, and bonus items found. Getting golds became one of those situations where I’d spend days practicing one mission until the whole thing became a sequence of muscle memory, especially for a couple particular missions.

The mission “Prisons of Kessel” is one of the hardest because it’s more less a timed escort mission that requires 103 kills for the gold. You basically have to take out every last imperial there while sticking to a tight schedule. Then you have “Escape From Fest” – one of those historically annoying escort missions. Making sure every last ally survived while also finding the secret item way off the map took skills and patience I wish I still had today. If I buy the game on GOG I have no idea how I’ll repeat those feats.

Even now looking back at my old file I sit up with pride at the 19 golds beside my name like my perfect record in Bomberman Hero. Mastering Rogue Squadron’s satisfying and accessible design however wasn’t all of what made it such an engaging game.

I have not read the comic series that Rogue Squadron is apparently based on, but being based on existing expanded universe material like that could only have helped it. Its storyline explores corners of the universe not reached by the films instead of trying to emulate the films.

The films are really the story of the Skywalkers. You immediately know Luke Skywalker is an accomplished pilot, but you only get short glimpses of that in the films. Rogue Squadron – the story of the Rebel air and space fighters in general, latches onto that small but appealing aspect of Star Wars and fills it out.

The game tries to make your wingmen feel like real characters, to the point where I recognized at least one of them in their Empire Strikes Back cameo. In order to feel right, most flight combat games need that Wing Commander dynamic and Rogue Squadron doesn’t miss it at all. Some say Lucas’ work is fueled by a love of the military and a desire to fully represent the military structure in it. That successfully bleeds out into Rogue Squadron’s narrative.

Overall though, Rogue Squadron’s biggest contribution to third party Nintendo gaming was acting as the start of a promising franchise.

The second game Rogue Leader is where the series really hit its stride. With improved and in some ways perfected mechanics it’s definitely the best game in the series and probably still one of the best Star Wars flight games available on consoles.

Rogue Leader however also remains one of the most significant Nintendo console games of recent times. A 2001 Gamecube launch game, Rogue Leader still has better graphics than probably most Gamecube and Wii games ever. Factor 5 was one of the few developers that really knew how to pull something out of Nintendo’s hardware.

The only problem with the franchise is the design basically outgrew itself after that point.  Adding on-foot battles eems like a good idea to emphasize a sense of scale, but like Nintendo or Namco with Star Fox Assault, Factor 5 didn’t seem to know how to fully develop an on-foot third person shooter in Rogue Squadron III Rebel Strike.

Then there was Lair for the PS3.  I actually didn’t have a problem with that game’s controls; it all just felt like a re-skinned Rogue Squadron. Taking Rogue Squadron’s battles and blowing up the scale did little more than make the escort parts more annoying.

Factor 5 one of the few studios that were actually willing to make good-looking games on Nintendo consoles.  It’s a shame that one screw-up brought it down before its time.

BULLETS:

  • I guess we’re not getting Episode One Racer or Shadows of the Empire.
  • Fascinating science news from IGN. http://t.co/DogQIMxtJy
  • Ghost Song http://t.co/fmrijJ6yzh
  • Sorry to see Joystiq gone. I was just thinking about trying to get something published there too…
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One thought on “Third Party N64 Games That Didn’t suck Vol. 3: Star Wars Rogue Squadron

  1. Matt says:

    I did not play it much, just a few short sessions with my friend’s cartridge. However, I do own its two sequels for the GC, and they are awesome, especially Roque Squadron II.

    I wish the series were revived.

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