Two years ago, LucasArts struck gold with Rogue Squadron, an arcade-style shooter that incorporated a wide variety of mission objectives and nearly every spacecraft found in the Star Wars films into an excellent, though flawed, package. Since the release of Rogue Squadron, the Star Wars franchise has seen another film join its ranks, prompting LucasArts to bring us a revision of the Rogue Squadron formula with Star Wars: Episode I: Battle For Naboo.
Battle for Naboo takes place during the events of Star Wars: Episode I, but it skirts around any of the principals of the film, instead following the exploits of Lt. Gavyn Sykes of Naboo's Royal Security Forces as he and his squad fend off the invading Trade Federation. Rogue Squadron, while not directly incorporating any of the action from the original trilogy, put you in the shoes of Luke Skywalker, and LucasArts went so far as to get Mark Hamill to do the voice work for the young Jedi. Truth be told, the tale of Lt. Sykes' adventures, like all of Episode I, does not carry the same impact as the story of the original.
This is not to say that the quality of the missions or the gameplay have eroded since Rogue Squadron - in fact, Battle for Naboo has a couple of new tricks. Instead of piloting only flying craft, you're also put in control of a variety of vehicles, such as a Trade Federation gunboat, a Heavy STAP, and a variety of land speeders. Another new feature is the ability to change vehicles mid-mission during certain operations. In an early mission, you start off on a Heavy STAP, defending farming villages from Trade Federation droids, then halfway through the mission, you switch to a police cruiser and commence a bombing raid on a Trade Federation installment. These improvements aside, the rest of the game is still more of the same Rogue Squadron formula. Your objectives range from escorting ships and defending installments to out and out blitzkrieg missions. The mission variety, combined with Battle for Naboo's newfound ground vehicles, keeps things from getting stale and advances the storyline at the same time. The controls haven't seen any changes since Rogue Squadron, which is to say they've remained tight and responsive.
Not to break rank, the graphics in Battle for Naboo are exactly the same as those of Rogue Squadron, flaws and all. The graphical flaws, namely the slowdown and the shallow draw-in distance, were annoying but tolerable in 1998 - not in 2000. With games like Banjo-Tooie delivering some of the best graphics seen on the N64, all without the use of the Expansion Pak, it's a shame that LucasArts, during the two years between Rogue Squadron and Battle for Naboo, was unable to push out the draw-in distance, clean up some of the slowdown, and add a few extra polygons. The game also suffers from some stability problems, as several times during gameplay, the game simply locked up.
Battle for Naboo's aural production is not as defective as the graphical production, and it features plenty of quality voice work and crisp sound effects. The game puts the N64's MIDI capabilities to good work, as the soundtrack is lifted directly from the film and sounds very close to the real thing. The great blaster effects, when combined with the Episode I score, help to create a very immersive game atmosphere.
There is no doubt - Battle for Naboo shows the age of the Rogue Squadron engine. But it also shows that this old dog can still run. Even with the graphical faults and the general lack of innovation over its predecessor, Battle for Naboo is still a fun mission-based shooter, as well as one of the best Episode I titles to hit the market yet.