Top Ten Tuesday – Lucasarts Games

“This deal is getting worse all the time…”

Lando Calrissian knew not what he was getting himself into when he bargained with the Empire to protect Bespin. Likewise, when Disney acquired Lucasfilm and its subsidiaries for a massive $4.05 billion, it all seemed a bit too true to have new creative direction, the production power of Disney and maybe even a little of that Pixar magic. But just like Darth Vader said, “I have altered the deal. Pray I do not alter it further.”

It seems that Lucasarts, the longstanding gaming division of Lucasfilm, is the first major victim of the acquisition. While the current plan is for Lucasarts to continue as a publishing studio, its days as a developer are over. To be fair, the studio had been in limbo for sometime with Star Wars projects 1313 and First Assault stuck in development purgatory. The end of Lucasarts as a development studio not only closes the door on the Boba Fett featured title of 1313, but marks the end of one of the most fantastic studios of all time.

To me, Lucasarts was synonymous with quality. Despite all the constant negative feedback regarding video games based on licensed intellectual properties, Lucasarts delivered time and time again to their Star Wars and Indiana Jones titles. While not every title was perfect or even ran properly (Star Wars: Obi Wan), Lucasarts had a penchant for making sure everything stayed true to form, with fantastic art direction, graphics engines, stories and sound.

Now I have to disclose, as much as I’ve wanted to, I have not played every single Lucasarts game released. As much as I want to place a title like Grim Fandango on this list for all its critical acclaim, I simply don’t have the experience with it to give it the ode it deserves. Thus, only titles that I have a solid amount of experience with have made this list.

10. Star Wars: Rogue Squadron II – Rogue Leader (2001)

Rogue Squadron II - Rogue Leader

This was one of the only reasons to own a GameCube at launch. Developer Factor 5 worked closely with the mothership to create this space combat action game that was easy to pick and play and had a ton of those vintage Lucasarts production values with fantastic graphics, sound effects and even had new dialogue recorded by the original Rogue Leader Wedge Antilles (actor Denis Lawson). Not to be confused with the combat simulators from Totally Games, the Rogue Squadron series proved an accessible and challenging caricature of the best of Star Wars space battles.

9. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (2008)

The Force Unleashed

This game has gotten a bit of a bad rap recently, mostly due to its lackluster sequel, but I remember just how much fun playing as Starkiller was. Set between Episodes III and IV, the story follows Starkiller, Darth Vader’s first secret apprentice, and how he becomes involved in the birth of the rebel alliance. The Force Unleashed was a hack-n-slash inspired action game that took the advantages of the (then) new consoles by giving classic force powers a shot of adrenaline. Not only did the game feel like playing a jedi-powered version of Ryu Hayabusa in Ninja Gaiden, but the opening level allowed you to be Vader, in all his dark powered glory, force throwing Ewoks.

8. Full Throttle (1995)

Full Throttle

Adventure games get a bad rap these days, mostly because advances in gameplay and graphics engines have left the point & click adventure as a bit of an ancient relic, but Full Throttle was an adventure game that has yet to find an equal. Created by Tim Schafer (of Grim Fandango, Psychonauts and Double Fine fame), Full Throttle was a classic tale of a set-up and redemption all with a bit of post-apocalyptic Mad Max fun thrown in for good measure. Of all the classic Lucasarts adventure titles, I appreciate Full Throttle for its more mature tone and its reputation as a bit of a cult classic.

7. Lego Star Wars & Lego Indiana Jones (2005-2011)

Lego Indiana Jones

Traveller’s Tales has done some fantastic work for Lucasarts over the past decade or so. Not only are they breathing new life into adventure games, their licensed Lego games are fun and challenging for any age of gamer. Both the Lego Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises have managed to capture the essence and magic of their respected movie franchises, but they also fully embrace the simple joy of playing with Lego. Minifig versions of Indy and Luke run around playsets built like a filmstage as dialogue-less villains cackle in the background. Admittedly, the first time I died in Lego Star Wars and burst into a thousand little Legos, I bowled over laughing.

6. The Secret of Monkey Island (1990)

The Secret of Monkey Island

It is hard not to include anything from Monkey Island, arguably Lucasarts’ best non-Star Wars in their catalog. While each entry in the series is known for its phenomenal wit and humor (complete with some terrible puns), I give the nod to the original title that introduced us all to the pirate wannabe, Guybrush Threepwood. In its heyday The Secret of Monkey Island used Lucasarts go-to SCUMM engine with great prophiciency and was hailed for its clever writing and puzzles. These truths would still ring true in the modern era as Guybrush was brought to consoles and mobile devices in the form of a retouched version of the game proving that a good adventure is timeless.

5. Super Star Wars (1992)

Super Star Wars

Super Star Wars was probably one of the first games I actually beat. I owned a Japanese version of the game for my SNES and I would play through it over and over again. The game featured 11 levels that included carefully designed sidescrolling levels where you could play as either Han with his heavy blaster pistol, Chewie with his laser crossbow or Luke with his lightsaber, but it also featured Mode-7 powered vehicle levels in the landspeeder and X-Wing, and the ultimate challenge of an in-cockpit Death Star trench run. Super Star Wars was a powerful, varied and essentially perfect game of the 16-bit era.

4. Star Wars: TIE Fighter Collector’s CD-ROM (1995)

TIE Fighter

Totally Games really lucked out when they joined forces with Lucasarts in the 1991 to begin their World War II flight combat simulator series, Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe. By delivering a solid flight combat simulator, Lucasarts entrusted the studio with possibly the most difficult task in their entire catalog: make a Star Wars space combat simulator. I remember the X-Wing space combat simulator series as something of a revelation. I was actually piloting the ships that I had lined upon my shelves. I could control fire power, weapons systems, deflector shield direction, auxiliary systems. TIE Fighter gets the spot on the list because it made massive technical improvements to the already successful X-Wing simulator and it was the first game in the series to by told from the side of the Galactic Empire. While the missions were spectacular, my favorite moments in the series was entering in-game combat simulator and entering a massive space battle against AI opponents. X-Wing, TIE Fighter, X-Wing vs TIE Fighter and X-Wing Alliance are the sole reason why I purchased a flight stick in the late 90s.

3. Star Wars: Dark Forces (1995) & Star Wars: Jedi Knight – Dark Forces II (1997)

Dark Forces

As much as I want to treat these two titles as separate, my list would feel a bit saturated with Kyle Katarn. Dark Forces was a great game that really took advantage of the popularization of the first person shooter. Very similar in appearance to similar titles Doom and Wolfenstein 3D, Dark Forces was a Lucasarts developed game that actually featured some things that Doom never did (jumping and crouching). It was a very satisfying game that had you playing the mercenary Katarn as he uncovered the secret empire project of the Dark Troopers. Its sequel, Jedi Knight, is what truly elevated the series to legend. This was the first Star Wars FPS that featured Star Wars weaponry, lightsabers and force abilities. It was a fan’s dream come true. Jedi Knight’s story is one of discovery as Katarn learns of his latent Jedi abilities as he uncovers the murder of his father by the Dark Jedi. The game even featured multiple endings, depending on whether Katarn chooses the light or dark side.

2. Star Wars: Jedi Knight II – Jedi Outcast (2002)

Jedi Knight II - Jedi Outcast

I’ll admit it, Kyle Katarn has always been one of my favorite expanded universe characters. Jedi Outcast brought the Dark Forces series away from its Doom-esque roots and into the age of the modern shooter. One thing that stuck out to me about Jedi Outcast is how much it felt like being a Jedi. The game was a refined improvement from Jedi Knight, and featured both first person and third person perspectives, something that I was much improved from its predecessor. Not only did Raven software develop a tight first person shooter, but transitioning to third person lightsaber combat (I preferred the swap) was seamless and had some spectacular lightsaber animations. I honestly believe that without Jedi Outcast, titles like Force Unleashed or Republic Commando would ever have been able to thrive.

1. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2003)

Knights of the Old Republic

Not only is KotOR the best Star Wars game or the best Lucasarts game, it is one of the greatest games of all time. In a perfect collaboration of Bioware and Lucasarts, KotOR strays far enough away from the original films, but still retains all that grandeur and charm the series is best known for. The game played up all of Bioware’s signature strengths: a digital interpretation of classic role playing systems, stellar cinematic presentation and an original storyline that keeps you hooked and guessing all the way until game’s famous twist. I also credit this game with the creation of the greatest wise-ass assassination (slash protocol) droid ever, HK-47. Even today, while the game shows a little bit of age, the story remains timeless and the gameplay is still addicting, KotOR is a classic with few equals. Meatbag.

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