CONTEXT IS KEY
First of all, we’ll need to set our scene – “In a Galaxy Far, Far Away…’ well actually it’s Japan, and it’s 1991.
The state of Star Wars in 1991 is a far cry from what we have now, not but a year ago we were getting at least one star wars film per annum, and that’s not to mention the glut of streaming and TV star wars content, we couldn’t fit even the most wafer thin of the Star Wars cracker into our trothing mouths.
In 1991 Star Wars was three good films, some odd cartoons no one remembers and a merchandising empire. With merchandising often comes the world’s fastest growing pastime of video games, which are also not quite as developed for Star Wars as we’re used to in 2021 – for reference the most advanced looking Star Wars game before then was “Star Wars” by Atari released in 1983, this is mostly due to the cutting edge vector graphics that, in terms of ‘smoothness’ and refresh rate left the raster graphics of the day in the dust, also the ‘wow’ factor of digitised voice clips from a new hope.
ENTER THE GOD COMPUTER
Rewind back to the year 1987 (this is where Japan gets involved) and the most needlessly powerful (for the time) computer is released: The Sharp X68000, nicknamed by the Japanese as “The God Computer”. The system quickly became known for perfect ports of arcade favourites as well as a blossoming ‘Doujin” scene (what we would now call Indie Game Developers)
The Sharp X68000, supported some great specs. For the time. Getting its actual name sake from its processor chip the Motorola 68000, which also powered the Sega Megadrive and SNK’s Neo Geo platform – the X68K enabled the possibility of high speed 2D graphics rendering, or as Sega likes to put it “BLAST PROCESSING”. The X68K remained a Japanese exclusive until it was officially discontinued in 1993, despite software and games releasing well into 1996, and some homebrew games blasting into the 21st century.
THE MISSING LINK
Before 1991, Star Wars and the X68K weren’t known for their crazy 3D capabilities – but thanks to the developers and publishers at M.N.M Software and Victor Musical Industries Inc. they both blossomed together. Star Wars: Attack on the Death Star acts as a Battle of Yavin simulator of sorts, in this respect the flow of the game runs the same as Atari’s 1983 Star Wars arcade game. But rather than sticking to a defined flight path, Attack on the Death Star gives you the chance (for the first time) to pilot a rebel X-Wing in full 360 degree’s free roaming space combat. It is because of this the game can easily be seen as the missing link between Atari’s Star Wars arcade game and the wildly popular Star Wars: X-Wing series of space sims.
LIGHT AND MAGIC: INDUSTRIAL STYLE
Something of a personal note, there is a certain charm felt when seeing something running on older hardware, grasping for honest to god immersion, it’s plucky, and you can feel it. Attack on the Death Star achieves this, despite its use of wire frame graphics (which honestly was most likely a choice made to keep the frame rate a smooth 60fps). The biggest point that Attack on the Death Star has on its side is the audio, using much clearer and a higher number of voiced clips ripped straight from Episode IV. The game starts off with an intro that works lavishly to recreate, as best it can, the briefing scene from A New Hope, which because of the original scene’s high use of analogue wireframe graphics, it does almost one to one. Alongside this, you have the chance to listen to John William’s famous film score remixed using the X68K’s MIDI sound board by none other than Yuzo Koshiro (a.k.a the man behind the music of the Streets of Rage and Ys games). The immersion is strengthened when the player realises that they can look around their cockpit (albeit, in 90-degree jumps) to spot famous android R2D2 sat behind the player doing what it does best – beeping mostly. R2 can only be seen again once the player loses, but only in the “Trace Play” mode that replays the player’s last run using cinematic camera angles, something tertiary, but nonetheless pretty cool to see.
Star Wars: Attack on the Death Star is a great piece of (almost) lost Star Wars history. If you can get it to run via emulation or if you dare engage in the ludicrously expensive business of X68K collecting, there’s a lot of fun to be had giving this a look, even if to just tell your children that they don’t know how good their Star Wars games have it.