Though fans of Factor 5's previous Star Wars flight combat game, Rogue Squadron, were able to take control of a Naboo starfighter through an official patch, Star Wars: Battle for Naboo is the first game that lets you pilot various Naboo vehicles within the Episode I universe. Like Rogue Squadron, Battle for Naboo features extremely straightforward gameplay without the finer mechanics of piloting, like distributing power to different systems or worrying about nav points. Instead, you can increase your speed by simply holding down the acceleration key; you can fire all your primary weapons endlessly; and you can't distribute your vehicle's shield strength to different areas along its surface. Fans of the more complex Star Wars simulation games like X-Wing and TIE Fighter may find Battle for Naboo to be a bit disappointing. Otherwise, the game delivers a fun, but ultimately short, gaming experience.
Battle for Naboo's storyline essentially follows the plot of the Episode I movie: The Trade Federation invades the planet of Naboo and moves its forces into the capital of Theed where Queen Amidala resides. Your first mission as Gavyn Sykes--a Naboo soldier--is to escape to the outskirts of Theed and help recover any resources available to fight the Trade Federation forces. Once you make it outside, you find that the Trade Federation is attacking farms and other civilian targets, so it's your job to protect these areas by destroying any Trade Federation droids and tanks in the area. As the missions progress, the Naboo forces start attacking key Trade Federation bases, convoys, and satellites until the climactic battle against the massive Trade Federation control ship.
The first few missions in Battle for Naboo don't let you select anything other than the default vehicle. For example, in the first mission, you have access only to the weaker of two different types of speeders. Once you find the better-equipped speeder later in the game, you can go back and play the first set of missions with the new craft, but there really isn't much reason to other than to receive a higher mission rating, which is represented by three medals--bronze, silver, and gold. Battle for Naboo also lets you switch vehicles in the middle of a mission, so you can actually toss a speeder to the side and control a Naboo starfighter for the rest of the mission, or you can continue to provide ground support for your comrades. This feature may seem like it adds some variety or at the very least a new strategic element to the game, but in fact, it doesn't really matter which vehicle you choose, so it's basically a matter of preference. When you need a vehicle to accomplish a specific job, the computer lets you select only a single craft.
Even with the game's simplistic control scheme, maneuvering Battle for Naboo's vehicles effectively can be a little difficult at times because of the poor turning radius on ground vehicles and an odd "invisible barrier" problem that occurs during flight-oriented missions. For instance, in the earlier missions on the streets of Theed, you'll find that your speeder will constantly crash into walls and other objects. Using the deceleration key helps slightly, but your speeder will still occasionally go too fast and get caught in a corner, which makes getting back out onto the main street frustrating. This also occurs in wide-open areas, particularly in mountain areas where you must make sharp turns to prevent your speeder from falling off. You can sometimes slow your speeder down enough to not crash, but you'll sometimes be unable to judge the distance between your vehicle and the ledge, which makes it difficult to time your braking accordingly.
During missions in which you control starfighters and other similar craft, you might think turning would be easier, but in some cases, it's actually harder. In these missions, there's an invisible barrier that prevents you from flying too high, but in the middle of a dogfight with a Trade Federation starfighter, it's often easy to lose track of where you are in relation to these invisible borders, especially since the computer-controlled Trade Federation craft tend to move outside of them. When you do lose track of these invisible borders and fly into them, you lose control of your ship and may have to wait a while before you can reorient your vehicle in the proper direction.
It can also be difficult to properly aim your weapons, since Battle for Naboo was originally designed with the Nintendo 64's analog controller in mind. While driving the speeder, the Trade Federation gunboat, or any other land vehicle, you actually have to constantly tap the control key up and down if you want to hit any target that isn't directly within your line of fire. For example, if you drive along in a speeder and reach a gun turret placed on a wall, your vehicle won't auto-target the turret. Instead, you have to hold down the fire button and tap up and down and hope that some of your shots actually hit your target. And though you won't have this problem during flight missions, you'll encounter something similar. In a dogfight, a droid fighter can be directly in front of you and within your targeting icon--shown as two blue circles--but most of your shots won't hit it. Again, because there's no penalty for simply holding down the primary firing button, you're bound to hit the target sooner or later since you can fire so many shots.
Like its control, Battle for Naboo's music and graphics are a product of the Nintendo 64 hardware, and as such the game has a few interesting visual quirks, but the developer has also made a number of improvements. The soundtrack is composed of John Williams movie soundtracks, but for some odd reason, the developers decided to stick with MIDI instead of streaming Redbook audio off the CD. Regardless, the audio isn't that bad, but it isn't quite as good as the audio in other similar games, and some of the tracks sound a little too tinny.
In addition, Battle for Naboo lacks complex polygonal models--this is particularly apparent on the pilot models, which don't have fully polygonal heads but rather two textured sprites that intersect to give the illusion of a polygonal head. This problem wouldn't be too noticeable except that the game displays a close-up view of the pilot in the vehicle select menu. Similarly, with a few exceptions, many of the environments lack any kind of secondary details other than a few houses and Trade Federation bases scattered across the landscape. However, many of Battle for Naboo's textures are surprisingly crisp, and the game's draw distance appears to be much larger than the draw distance in its Nintendo 64 counterpart. In addition, there are some rather impressive moments during the final battle scene where there are at least 15 Trade Federation starfighters and six Naboo starfighters fighting it out in front of a huge Trade Federation control ship--it actually feels like you're in the same scene from the movie. If you get a chance to look down at the planet during this battle, you can see small explosions on the surface indicating another battle taking place on the surface below.
Unfortunately, you'll reach the final battle a little too quickly, and that's precisely Battle for Naboo's biggest weakness--it's just too short. You can probably get through the entire game in five or six brief sessions, because the only difficult part about the game is trying to decipher what you're actually supposed to do during a mission, since your fellow pilots sometimes forget to drop hints as to what your target objective is. Once you defeat the Trade Federation control ship, that's it--there's no multiplayer mode and no significant reason to go back and play through the game again.
Though it does have problems, Battle for Naboo is still a fun game. Since it doesn't pretend to be a true Star Wars flight simulator like the X-Wing series, it's easy to look past some of its control issues, especially considering that the game's graphics are improved over its Nintendo 64 counterpart. But there are a few areas where the game could have been improved for the PC. The soundtrack uses MIDI rather than the traditional CD-quality audio of most other games, but it's not so bad that you'll want to turn the volume down. The game's biggest problem is its length. Not only can you complete Battle for Naboo in a few hours, but there's nothing to draw you back in after you've done so.