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July 2022

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed

Platform(s): Nintendo DS, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Wii, Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Publisher: Aspyr
Developer: Krome Studios
Release Date: April 20, 2022


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Switch Review - 'Star Wars: The Force Unleashed'

by Cody Medellin on April 20, 2022 @ 6:00 a.m. PDT

In Star Wars: The Force Unleashed players will assist the iconic villain in his quest to rid the universe of Jedi - and face decisions that could change the course of their destiny.

If you're a Star Wars fan who only has access to the Nintendo Switch, then your game library is in an interesting place. Except for the LEGO games, you don't get any of the new stuff from EA, like Jedi Fallen Order or Squadrons. However, you are getting a selection of games from different PC eras with varying results. Some of the ports, such as Knights of the Old Republic and Republic Commando, have been fine while others, like Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, are clunky but well meaning. Just a few weeks after LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga comes Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, a game that got a surprise announcement at the last Nintendo Direct.

The Force Unleashed is set between Episode III and Episode IV in a way that makes sense without ruining canon. You play as a Sith in training named Starkiller. After witnessing Darth Vader murder your father but then save you from the Empire's Stormtroopers, you grow up as Darth Vader's secret apprentice. Your primary mission is to eliminate the last remaining Jedis in the galaxy. However, because the Empire has no knowledge of your existence, you fight everyone, Empire and Rebel alike. As more of the leftover Jedi are slain at your hands, you must ultimately choose between embracing the Force or the Dark Side. It is not a story that can be considered memorable, but it works well enough for a game that was released more than a decade ago.

Unlike past Star Wars games published by Aspyr, this isn't a port of the PC version. Instead of taking after the PS3/Xbox 360/PC version, this is a port of the game that was released on the PS2, PSP and Wii. That might not seem like much of a difference, as every version of the game still has the same levels and story, but that's where the similarities end. The levels and bosses may be the same, but the actual level layout is very different from what was on the latest consoles at the time of the game's original release. The cut scenes are different enough even though the dialogue is mostly the same. The Switch version also inherits the motion controls of the Wii iteration, and it works just as well for those who were nostalgic about that version.

The game starts off with you playing as Darth Vader during the invasion of the Wookie home planet as he tries to look for one of the few remaining Jedi. Despite Vader's slow movements, the level serves as a good tutorial for what you'll be doing for the rest of the game. You've got a lightsaber that you can slash and throw. All of his iconic Force powers are available, such as choking to pushing, and you can also spawn lightning, but the one power you'll enjoy the most is the ability to use the Force to move objects and people. Once you take control of Starkiller, the combat opens up, as he is much nimbler than Vader. His default running speed is quick, and the double-jumps are high enough that you feel like you're finally able to play out some of the flashier fights from the prequel film trilogy. You'll get a more versatile set of combos to work with and a ton of Force powers to unleash.

If you've never played the Wii version, then you'll find some fundamental changes that'll leave you with mixed feelings. This version does away with some of the Force-related puzzles, like having to unlock doors by sliding around locks. One focused Force push is usually good enough to blow doors wide open. Enemies don't drop health when they die, so that means having to look for health refills often, but they drop energy that's useful for upgrading yourself. Unlike the other versions, you only get to upgrade your Force powers, which makes things simple for those who aren't fans of skill trees, but it means that you can only upgrade other things via pickups in the world. Finally, when it comes to bosses, every single one ends in Quick Time Event (QTE) sequences, and even though using motion controls is fine, you'll really appreciate the traditional controls that guarantee you'll end the fight the first time.

The core mechanics remain fun all these years later. Part of that comes from the different Force powers that you can chain together, along with the various lightsaber combos that make things look kinetic. Get a fully powered-up Starkiller, and it almost feels like you're playing Devil May Cry. Another reason why this is still fun is because of Starkiller's viciousness. The presence of a good number of enemies ensures that you're on the attack almost all of the time, but engage in a boss fight, and suddenly, he's whaling away more than necessary. This is especially true when you face off against a vehicle and he shocks and stabs everyone inside, slashes around, and eventually crushes it with the Force. It is excessive but ultimately satisfying in a franchise that doesn't usually do this sort of stuff.

Even though the game design is different enough from the other versions, there are issues that are shared between all of the game iterations. While there isn't as much debris around the level as in other versions, you still have some issues when it comes to targeting, as the game often favors something close to what you're aiming at instead of the exact thing your reticle is targeting. Enemy AI isn't the brightest; some foes get stuck in the geometry and fall into pits if they aren't paying attention. Some enemies become impenetrable walls unless you plow objects into them, but the inability to move while levitating things makes it so that you'll rely on lightsaber attacks instead of using the cooler Force powers.

Since this is based on the Wii version, you aren't going to get some of the DLC that was available for the PS3/Xbox 360/PC versions. You also aren't getting the PSP-exclusive modes like Challenge and Survival. Instead, you get Duel mode, which has you participating in on-on-one fights against others. It's not a deep affair, but you may wish that it worked for traditional control methods instead of sticking to motion-controlled Joy-Cons. Don't expect to go for online fights, but it remains fun for local play thanks to the inclusion of some notable Jedi and their respective Force powers.

Being a straight port from the Wii version comes with few graphical advantages. Namely, The Force Unleashed never fails to run below 60fps, since the hardware isn't capped to the limitations of Nintendo's old console. However, that also exposes some of the flaws that have gone uncorrected for the new hardware. The lower polygon count of the models means that you'll see a lot more clipping, like shoulder pads with upper arms. Most animated movements are jerky, especially in cut scenes, while lip movement is almost nonexistent. Textures are blurry in parts, while some particle effects, like fire, pale in comparison to what some games can do with the Switch horsepower. It's one of those things where it looks good at quick glances but falls apart under scrutiny.

The sound also suffers from similar issues, with the bulk of that being blamed on the voices. The performances are fine and, in some cases, better than what you got in the more powerful platforms. The compression for the Wii game wasn't corrected, so some of the lines lack volume or sound hollow. The sound effects also suffer from this but with less frequency. The music sounds fine, even if you're only getting snippets of the score from the first six episodes of the movie series.

In the end, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed isn't a bad port. Warts and all, it's a faithful reproduction of a Wii game that is fun but not exactly a title that too many would consider to be a timeless classic. At a low asking price, it can be good for those who really want every Star Wars game they can get on the system. That said, it would've been more interesting if Aspyr were more ambitious and went for porting the PC/PS3/Xbox 360 version instead. That would've been a treat for longtime Nintendo die-hards.

Score: 6.5/10

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