The Newest Star Wars Game on PlayStation+ Is as Divisive as the Movie It's Based On
The Force is not really with this one.
PlayStation Plus Premium, the highest tier of Sony’s game subscription service, is a great way to get access to retro console games. But sometimes, it’s not the quality of those games that makes them interesting so much as the nostalgia factor. While PS Plus Premium is full of undisputed classics, one game added this month is more notable for just how mixed its reception was — and the fact that it’s based on one of the most divisive Star Wars movies ever made.
There are certainly people who defend the Star Wars prequel trilogy even now, but for the most part, they’re seen as spectacular artistic failures that knocked a once-untouchable series off its pedestal. Players’ relationship with Star Wars: Episode 1 The Phantom Menace for the original PlayStation isn’t quite so contentious, but it was also met with a mix of love and hate when it launched in 1999.
Like its film counterpart, one of the biggest challenges for The Phantom Menace was that it had a lot to live up to. By the time it came out in 1999, players had already fallen in love with excellent Star Wars games like Dark Forces, TIE Fighter, and Rogue Squadron. The Phantom Menace just couldn’t live up to their reputations, and to be fair, few games could. It also didn’t help that Star Wars: Episode 1 Racer, released the same year to more positive reception, making The Phantom Menace a runner-up even for games based on Episode 1.
That’s not to say there wasn’t anything to like about The Phantom Menace, though. Reviewers at the time didn’t exactly rave about the gameplay, which was a mix of combat and jumping puzzles played from an overhead perspective, but most at least found some merit to the game.
“When the frame rate is cooperating, the moments of battle, especially when you're using the lightsaber, can be very exciting and satisfying,” CNET Gamecenter’s Paul Schuytema said in one of the game’s most positive reviews. But even that goes on to add that “the limited view angle makes it impossible to see your foes.”
So, don’t go in expecting a lost masterpiece.
Contemporary critiques had a lot of good things to say about the game’s sound design — even if the most praise they can muster is some version of, “It sounds like the movie!” In fact, most of what reviewers liked about the game was about how much it’s like the movie. You can decide for yourself whether that makes you want to play it more or less.
“If you loved the movie, you may bear with the game's problems simply for letting you run around in the world, swinging your lightsaber (if only ineffectually),” GameSpot’s Ron Dulin wrote. “If you haven't seen the movie, the game will undoubtedly ruin the experience. Not just because it gives away the story, but because you'll be reminded of it while you watch.”
While The Phantom Menace adaptation is a real mixed bag, it’s still worth booting up if you have PlayStation Plus Premium. For one, it never got a re-release, so this may be your best chance to see the game without dusting off an old PlayStation. Licensed tie-in games fell out of fashion long ago, so it could be interesting to explore this abandoned sub-genre just out of curiosity. The Phantom Menace is a faithful adaptation, just with blocky, low-poly Jedi and a greater focus on laser battles.
I can hardly think of a movie I’d less like to revisit than the Star Wars prequels, but even I can see the appeal of playing around with The Phantom Menace, at least for a little while. I remember borrowing the game from our local Roadrunner Video as a kid, and while I was never tempted to make it a repeat rental, I still had plenty of fun swinging a pixelated lightsaber around for a while. For the sake of nostalgia alone, Star Wars: Episode 1 The Phantom Menace is an interesting addition to the PS Plus library — just maybe not a stellar one.