My Gamer Geek Past, Part VII - Honorable Mentions: Play as Jedi, You Can

This should be the final entry in the multi-part series on the video games that resonated with me most as a younger person. The first batch of honorable mentions were not related to Star Wars; these are. Enjoy!

Star Wars: Podracer
I never got into racing games much, a fact likely connected with my complete apathy toward all things NASCAR. But put a racing game in the Star Wars universe, and I'm interested.

This is me as Anakin, racing on Aquilaris. Kinda looks like Waluigi Stadium, dunnit?

Star Wars: Podracer takes the concept of podracing, introduced in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, and puts you in the driver's seat. Instead of a car, you drive a hovering pod pulled by two (or in one case, four) engines at ridiculous speeds across a variety of terrains. You start with your choice of several pods, and winning each race unlocks a new pod/driver for you.

You can even play as the hated Sebulba on N64 Sherbet Lan...I mean, Ando Prime.

Each pod is unique in design and handling: some reach higher speeds at the expense, others have great maneuverability but don't accelerate too well, and others reach a nice balance of everything. The tracks take you across desert worlds like Tatooine, jungle worlds like Baroonda, water-covered worlds like Aquilaris and moonscapes like Oovo IV.

You can't tell, but I'm underwater. In a tunnel. Like Mario Kart. Dang it, I just
bought a re-skinned Mario Kart. I want my money back.

The best racer? "Bullseye" Navior (his podracer has, by far, the best handling/speed combination). Or Neva Kee (his racer isn't the typical chariot-style car connected to teh engines by cables - the cab straddles two monster engines and it goes really fast).

The best track? Either Executioner or The Boonta Classic (the same race that's in the movie). The worst track? Abyss (on the cloud world of Ord Ibanna - the track splits into an upper and lower level at one point, and if you fall off the upper track...and you inevitably fall too far behind to have any chance at winning).

This "artist's rendering" of Ord Ibanna doesn't begin to show the frustration
and hatred the races here generate. Seriously, it's worse than Rainbow Road.

Dark Forces: Jedi Knight

Dark Forces is a Star Wars-themed first-person shooter that introduces the player to Kyle Katarn, a mercenary working for the Rebel Alliance. It mostly revolves around Kyle discovering and thwarting a top-secret Imperial weapons project. It was an innovator in its own right, but it was dated by the time I got to it.

This is Kyle. As a Jedi. Oh, yeah.

Not so with the sequel, Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II. Of course it's got the updated graphics and all, but this time, you get to be a Jedi. Not immediately: no, first you have to play a bit as normal Kyle before returning to Kyle's home, where you learn "your" father was murdered by a Dark Jedi named Jerec, who wants to rebuild the Empire. Taking a lightsaber he left for you, you gradually learn Force powers like "Force push," "Force lightning" and "Force heal."

Okay, so I'm blocky and angular in-game, but I'm a Jedi, dang it!
There's a cool twist, though - your actions and choice of which Force powers to learn determine the ending of the game. Sure, you still defeat Jerec and his ilk, but at the very end, you either honor your father as a Jedi, or take Jerec's place as a Dark Jedi ruler. So is you want to be a good guy at the end, you can't just kill and destroy everyone and everything you see - killing civilians leads you to the dark side (it's possible to learn dark powers and still be a good Jedi, though).

I am not the droid you're looking for. Or Jedi. Whatever.
The other cool thing about the game were  live-action cinematics throughout. The creators used real people to portray Kyle, Jerec, Jan and others instead of computer-generated characters. There was a sequel to this game - Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith - that featured Mara Jade, a character unique to Star Wars' Expanded Universe who would (spoiler alert) later marry Luke Skywalker and have his baby. But the sequel wasn't as fun.

I never saw this in the game. I want my money back.

Knights of the Old Republic

AS I reflect, this one could almost merit its own entry. But this series is long enough. Also, I never owned my own copy (I played borrowed copies on borrowed game consoles). So there's that.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (hereafter to be called KotOR) did something other Star Wars games hadn't to that point: traveled through time. Various Star Wars comics had explored the eras hundreds and thousands of years before the events we saw in the movie theaters, but KotOR took us there in a new way.

That's me in the middle, making with the swirly, lightsabery destruction. The
Wookie is helping...somehow.

The story takes place roughly 4,000 years before the Battle of Yavin, the ersatz BC of the Star Wars universe. The plot pits you against an invading Sith lord named Malak, whose plans to conquer the Republic is very real and with whom you discover a shocking connection which I will not utter here. Read this for the full story - it's worth your time.

Seriously, only one of us is making it out of this with limbs intact, and it's not
the people/beasties without a lightsaber.

Your character wakes up with little in the way of memories and only a few basic combat skills. As you play through the game, you learn more skills, eventually taking up the ways of the Jedi and learning Force-powered abilities of varying effect and power. In addition to your own growth as a Jedi, you gain a series of companions with their own skills and abilities, from combat to technical to medical talents. Like many similar role-playing games, you can interact with your companions, holding conversations with them where you choose your next sentence or question that then determines where the conversation goes.

Honestly, guy, you've got a sword. A cool-looking sword, yes. But a sword.
I have a lightsaber. How did you think this was going to end?

Now, remember that bit in Dark Forces II where your choices determine your path as a Jedi? The same thing is in play here, only with some cool additions. First, your own appearance changes with your Force alignment. If you're good, you stay looking good. If you're bad, you start to look evil and dangerous. Second, your companions are affected by your alignment as well. Some will turn to the dark side with you, others will suffer the worst should you choose the dark side. And, their appearance changes as well.

This is Bao-Dur, a Zabrak and one of your faithful companions as he appears
while neutral or on the Light Side.

This is Bao-Dur as he appears when swayed to the Dark Side. Notice any
resemblance to any other Sith lords you might have seen before?

As good, if not better, than KotOR is the sequel, Knights of the Old Republic: The Sith Lords. Overall, the gameplay is the same - you wake up with amnesia, slowly regain your powers, learn the ways of the Jedi while collecting companions on your way to defeat the bad guys. The companions are different, some of the locations are different, and the story is, of course, different (again, a bit of a read but well worth it). But despite the similarities, it's as fun and unique a gaming experience as the first part.

I promise, this is how Darth Sion looked before he met my lightsaber.

These games were so well received that the second Star Wars MMO, The Old Republic, is based largely on the same time period and characters. Having not played TOR myself, I can't comment much on it. But if the reviews and these cinematics are any indication, it's a fantastic game (this is the order in which the trailers were released, but they are in reverse chronological order).

So that's all. Those are the games that, had maturity and growing up and real life not come knocking, I would still be spending unhealthy amounts of time on. Yes, I miss them, but I am extremely grateful I have more productive things to do, and a good lady to keep me on track.

Though some are offering free-to-play options...


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