Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Star Wars: Yoda Stories (PC)

Developer:LucasArts|Release Date:1997|Systems:Windows, GBC

1997 was a pretty big year for Star Wars, perhaps the biggest since Return of the Jedi hit cinemas 14 years earlier. The original trilogy of films were remastered and rereleased on cinema screens with Greedo now officially shooting first, the mighty engines of Lucasfilm had geared up to produce a new movie with two more promised to follow, Timothy Zahn released another Thrawn novel, Dark Forces got a sequel with lightsabers, TIE Fighter got a sequel with multiplayer… and then there was the other game.

But Masters of Teräs Käsi is going to have to wait, because today on Super Adventures I’m taking a quick look at a ‘desktop toy’ called Star Wars: Yoda Stories. It’s basically meant to sit alongside games like Minesweeper and FreeCell and give you something to do for half an hour while you’re taking a break from work. There is one subtle difference between Yoda Stories and the games bundled with Windows though: this retailed for £20 in Britain back in the day. That was enough to buy you a third of a Donkey Kong Country game!

Oops. I was only trying to get used to how he walks around and I accidentally sent him off to another planet by mistake. I can either steer my little bloke around with the mouse or numeric keypad, and either way it seems he’s going to walk like an idiot.

The sprite might look like Jackie Chan from the side, but I’m actually playing as Luke Skywalker himself, who has travelled light years across the galaxy to visit the swamp planet of Dagobah to learn the ways of the Force from the wise and ancient veteran of the Clone Wars himself…

…Master R2-D2.

Hang on, isn’t he supposed to be in the back of my X-Wing handling all the astronavigation? No wonder I ended up landing in the middle of a swamp.

Right, I’ve got my lightsaber and my R2-D2 now, so I’m ready to go off looking for Master Yoda. Except I can’t go hiking around an alien forest with this flat, dull, sensible Windows 8 frame around the game screen. It’s sapping my will to adventure.

Wow, I’d forgotten how blue and plastic Windows XP looks. Though switching OS has made it really obvious that even the inventory panel is taking its design and colours from the standard Windows user interface. The game's actively shunning style and immersion.

I haven’t found Yoda, but I have come across this turtle, squelching around erratically in the swamp water. He can’t come out and I can’t come in, so we’re at a stalemate right now, though I tried dragging my lightsaber onto him a couple of times anyway just to be sure.

There, that’s far more classy now that I’ve switched to the official Microsoft Zune desktop theme (which I admire unironically). It at least looks slightly more sci-fi.

No sign of Yoda so far, but I have found his house at least. Either that or a massive nest containing an undesirable quantity of giant glowing extra-terrestrial insects. Maybe I’ll knock first.

Hello? Yoda? Anyone? Well Yoda isn’t home, and I can’t interact with anything inside, so this was a waste of time. I wonder if I even need to find this guy. Maybe I can climb into my X-Wing and go explore the galaxy without his help.

Well the in-game instructions say ‘get your ass over to Yoda first because you need an item from him’, so I suppose I’ll just have to look harder

Oh I forgot to mention this earlier, but YODA TM STORIES is actually the second game in the LucasArts’ Desktop Adventure series, after Indiana Jones and His Desktop Adventures, and also the last. We may never solve the mystery of why the series never took off, but I think it may have something to do with the games being really bad.

Sorry, I should probably give this more than 4 screens before getting all critical on it. I'll try to get up to the game bit first before judging it as a game.

No, no! Not the Ewoks! Anything but the Ewoks.

Well I’ve found Yoda, and has he got a quest for me! I’ve got to fly over to the forest moon of Endor and look for something called the LANTERN OF SACRED LIGHT, as without it their spirits will be confused. I don’t know, maybe it’s something from those direct to DVD Ewok films. To help me in my task Yoda gives me a holocron and sends me on my way.

Hang on, wait a second… backwards talk, Yoda did not. Seems that the Ewoks aren’t the only ones who’ve got their spirits mixed up today, as I think this may be a rare appearance by sober Yoda.


SOON, ON THE FOREST MOON OF ENDOR.


Huh, what’s the Stormtrooper doing here? I thought the Rebels liberated this place. Oh right, I didn’t even occur to me until now that this game must be set before Return of the Jedi, so the Empire still run Endor. Fortunately this Stormtrooper doesn’t seem to know the difference between a Rebel X-Wing and an Imperial TIE Fighter, so I was able to park my spaceship right on his lawn with no issue. I think I might save before chatting with him though.

I restarted from the beginning when I switched to Windows XP by the way, so that’s why I ended up here this time instead of that desert planet you saw earlier. I think it calculates a random adventure for you whenever you start a new game. But if it’s a desert you’re after…

Star Wars: Yoda Stories (GBC)
…here's a shot of how it looks in the Game Boy Color version of Yoda Stories, which came out two years after the PC game and was loved by exactly no one. This has a password system instead of save games, and a horrifying rendition of the Star Wars theme playing in a constant loop in place of utter silence. The PC version has nothing but sound effects for the most part, and I'm growing to appreciate that now.

Other than that the GBC game actually seems like more or less the exact same thing except with lower res graphics, which says a lot about the PC game really. In fact the GBC version’s screen is actually a tile wider!

Uh, I think I might need to change the batteries in this thing. I’ve figured out how to slot at item into my hand and attack with it, but I haven’t found anyone willing to play along yet. I can't even slay the Ewoks, no matter how much they cry out for my blade with their taunting and their frolicking.

I tried going on a joyride on his speeder bike instead, but Luke wasn’t interested in that either. Fine, let's go asking people if they've seen a magic lantern then.

Oh great it’s the bloody cantina music from the movie, well 10 seconds of it anyway. I love John Williams' fantastic score, and I'm sure back in 1997 it was cool and nostalgic to hear it turn up in a video game, but now it just makes me want to curl up into a ball and cry.

No one here has anything much to say worth reading, and I can't ask them anything directly so I’ll try the next hut instead.

Is this a subtle hint that you’re not happy with how I just barged into your house uninvited?

A LOCATOR huh? Looks more like a chunky floppy disk to me, but I'll give it a try.

Wow, this level’s much bigger than I thought it’d be. This locator seems like a really handy gadget to have as it doesn't just give me a map, but it also tells me what map squares I'm finished with and what still needs doing. Right now I'm standing where the red circle is, with the green puzzle piece showing that I've successfully solved this area's puzzle by walking into a random house and collecting the locator.

The green circle is the landing strip I started at, no puzzle there, so I'll investigate the two squares above that next.

Why does everyone keep telling me I look lost?

This guy turned out to be a real smart ass in the end. He was standing in the way when I met him, so Luke assumed that he wanted to be given a certain item before he'd agree to move aside. Nope, he kindly stepped out of the way without asking for a single thing.

But then it turned out that the tile behind him is impassable without a bridge, which he’s of course willing to part with if I do a small favour for him (ie. get him a certain item). So now I have to go look for an alluvial damper and hope I can remember who wanted it by the time that I find it.


A FEW SQUARES SOUTH.


Well I’ve found a locked door and a whole lot of snakes.

A wave of the lightsaber gets rid of them, but Link to the Past this ain’t, so I basically have to stand still and keep swishing my blade until they throw themselves into it, and even then I lose health.


SOON.


After another encounter with some hostile wildlife I was left wounded and frustrated, and decided to follow Master Yoda’s example and go hide in a swamp for the rest of my life instead.

Fortunately I stumbled across a kindly robot medic along the way back to my X-Wing and he brought Luke back up to full health free of charge. I didn't even have to hang around in a bacta tank for a few hours, as he healed him instantly with magic sparkles instead.

Okay, I've done a bit of exploring now, so I know what squares I can get items from, I just don't quite know how to get them yet. The area I'm at now is a circle of trees with a crashed TIE Fighter in the centre, so I suppose I need to find a chainsaw or something to get in.

... or I could just walk the invisible path leading through the trees I suppose. So now whenever I see a bit of forest like this I'll know to keep smacking my head against every tree trunk in turn until I find the one that isn't really there.

On the plus side I got a drive compensator out of it, which I can sell for cash at the spaceport trade to the one person on the planet who wants it, just as soon as I've found them.

Well it turns out that there are some Stormtroopers on this planet I can kill. I just have to keep hitting them until they finally vanish with a comedy ‘plop’ sound.

I think I've already killed everything killable here though, as these particular dudes with the red shoulders seem to have remembered to put their lightsaber-proof long johns on this morning. I’d try the grenade I found in one of the shuttles, but there’s no point. There’s no XP in this, enemies don’t drop anything, and I'm bored with this square anyway.


A COUPLE OF MINUTES LATER, BACK AT THE LANDING STRIP.


You know what else is a mess? The combat in this game! It’s absolutely irredeemably awful. They should've taken the fighting out entirely and turned this into more of an adventure game because it adds absolutely nothing to the experience.

In fact, why didn't Lucasarts ever get around to making a proper Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis-style Star Wars point and click adventure? How does this game exist, and that doesn't? I realise that the entire budget of Yoda Stories was likely a month's wages plus the cost of one copy of RPG Maker '95, but 'Han Solo and the Curse of Calrissian' would've easily brought in enough cash to make it worthwhile. By the way if anyone from Telltale is reading this, you can have that name if you want to give it a shot yourselves.


LATER.


Oh shit, I’ve ran into the ghost of Obi-Wan Kenobi! I hope he’s got a fusion welder on him because I've been looking everywhere and I need one of them to give to some speeder bike mechanic I met along the way.

Right... so when he said "may the FORCE be with you" he was literally giving me the Force then. Well that’s cool, I guess.


EVENTUALLY.


I also found a power coupling while I was in the forest, and wandered around until I found a guy who wanted it.

In theory this should mean that I can get through this gate now and go explore a few more squares to the east. Speaking of new areas, didn’t the guy at the river earlier want an alluvial damper in exchange for his bridge? I found one of them as well, so can go get that done now too and explore to the north as well.


A FEW SQUARES TO THE RIGHT.


It's Chewbacca, standing next to a really nicely pixelled scale model of the Millennium Falcon! I'd ask him what brought him all the way out here to a backwater forest moon, but I can't actually ask anyone anything in this, so I'll just get on with fixing the Falcon for him.

Seems this thing needs a new sensor array installed, so I need to be on the lookout for that as well. Well, bye then Chewie.

Okay, what the fuck? I traded the alluvial damper to the smart ass NPC to get the portable bridge I needed to proceed north, but right across that river was another river! This deal gets worse all the time.

I tried parting the river using THE FORCE, Moses-style, but dropping the icon on top of the water did nothing. There's some blocks nearby, so I thought about pushing one of them in as a stepping stone, but that plan was soon foiled when I discovered that I can't actually push anything. Well the good thing about this game is that whenever I'm stuck on one puzzle, there's always other places I can be!


SOME OTHER PLACE.


Thanks for that, Luke, but I’ve wasted half my rifle's powerpack blasting away at it from here and it doesn’t want to break! I tried dragging THE FORCE onto it, but again that didn’t do anything either.

Eventually a friend of mine sensed my desperation and said ‘hey, have you tried equipping THE FORCE as a weapon?’ and obviously I hadn’t, because that would be dumb. It also worked though, so that shows what I know.

Shit, I didn’t expect the Imperials to actually come out of their bunker to investigate who was force-pulling their generators around outside. Still, at least this has taught me that sometimes enemies DO drop stuff, as one of them dropped the fusion welder item I need to trade to get the speeder bike. Also more guns.


SOON.


The map shows what tiles haven’t been solved yet, so I was able to deduce that those red-shouldered Stormtroopers I ran into earlier really did need to be murdered for their stuff. Then I walked back over there, whipped out my newly acquired blaster pistol and got it done. One was carrying a key card for this underground snake maze, so it must lead somewhere pretty important if only high ranking Stormtroopers get the key.

The restricted snake caves led to a locked Ewok hut.

Out of curiosity and desperation I tried using my fusion cutter on the door and to my absolute shock it actually opened it up. Doesn’t work on any other locked door, just this one. Then I walked up to the Ewok inside and showed him my Yubnut. He was pretty impressed and gave me a Blumfruit in exchange. I don’t even know what’s going on here any more.


LATER.


Man this is turning into some kind of nightmare now. I'm lost in a double level tree maze, with two different simultaneous mazes connected by ladders. It’s like one of those teleporter mazes except with more walking, and all the enemies are hidden behind tree leaves so I don’t even know they’re there until they’re nibbling away at my health pie-chart.

I'm not having a good time here in case there was any doubt.


COUNTLESS LADDERS LATER.


No!

After all that walking I finally reached the end of the maze and found the sacred Ewok lantern... but this gentleman doesn’t want part with my final quest item until I bring Chewbacca over here to rip his arms off.

C'mon mate, just be a pal and give it to me would you? I'm sure your chief will get a lot more use out of it than you will, and he'll let you look at it whenever you want. GIVE ME THE FUCKING LANTERN YOU DIMINUTIVE CANNIBAL PIECE OF SHIT! Please... please just give me the lantern. I'll give you R2-D2 if you give me that lantern.

You don’t understand, I can’t do the forest maze again, I just can’t! Especially not both ways, seeing as I'd have to leave first before I can come back. I still haven't found that sensor thing I need to get the Falcon fixed, so I can't bring Chewbacca down here anyway. I’m pretty much entirely stuck now, unless I can build a bridge out of mushrooms to cross that river to the north.


ONE TRIP THROUGH THE FOREST MAZE LATER.


Damn, so I was right about these blocks by the river earlier, I just didn’t think to drop R2-D2 on them so he could explain how to push them. Shame I'd already wasted half my Force energy blasting them from different angles. Oh yeah, Force doesn’t seem to be renewable in this, it will eventually just run out.

Well now I can push the blocks into the shallow water, hopefully pick up the sensor thing (it has to be here as I've searched everywhere else), take it to Chewie, get him to come back with my through the tree maze to harass the Ewok into giving up the spirit lantern, then I can get back into my X-Wing and nuke the site from orbit with a few well aimed proton torpedos. It's the only way to be sure.


ONE TRIP THROUGH THE MAZE AGAIN LATER.


Right, I’ve got the lantern, now I just have to put it back where it goes, and then put Chewie back where he goes, so I can put this game where IT goes.

Fortunately the lantern helped Luke find a shortcut out so I didn’t have to walk through the maze a fourth time, and now I'm just a few steps away from handing this thing to the Ewok village elder and getting my ass off this moon. With any luck they'll all get wiped out by flaming debris when the Death Star explodes in orbit later.

HOLY SHIT Yoda out of nowhere! That made me jump… and then burst out laughing.

The second the elder finished thanking me for giving me the lantern I got a blast of Star Wars music and Yoda's face flashed up on screen. Yes, win I have, 658 points earned did I.

Well that’s foreboding.

R2-D2 suggests selecting NEW WORLD from the menu to start another game, but I think I’d rather do anything else.


CONCLUSION

I've sometimes wondered when exactly George Lucas grew to resent the Star Wars franchise he was chained to, and I think now I've formulated a theory. I can imagine him playing a beta version of Yoda Stories on his office PC between typing up pages of the Phantom Menace, and slowly coming to despise everything he'd created. After hours spent suffering though this irritating computerised representation of everything he hated about the series, he suddenly comes to an epiphany; a game like this can easily be ignored, but if he were to channel this raw frustration he was feeling into an irritating computerised character... such a thing could drive fans away from the Star Wars forever! And then he'd be free at last to make his arty indie movies instead. Basically I'm trying to say that this is the Jar Jar Binks of Star Wars games.

There's nothing really wrong with the concept of making a low spec video game toy to play on office PCs, but with Yoda Stories they screwed up in two major ways:
  1. It's a massively simplified game experience but it wasn't massively cheaper than the typical PC game of the time. I don't usually mention the price of games because I tend to play older titles and I don't think it's all that relevant, but some folks try to give this game a free pass as 'it's not meant to be a real game', and the cost says otherwise.
  2. It imitates the retro game look but they forgot to include the gameplay. Seriously, imagine Zelda without a sword or Pokémon without the pokémon and that's kind of what this is like. Sure you get a lightsaber and you can fight creatures, but the combat is so terrible that there's no joy in it, it's just a hassle that you have to get over with on your way to anywhere.
  3. Actually here's a bonus complaint. On a 640x480 monitor from 1997, that tiny box you're viewing the world through would take up just a quarter of the screen. On a widescreen monitor in the year 2015 it'd be a fair bit smaller than that and there ain't nothing you can do about it.
There are some things I have to praise it for though. The map for instance makes figuring out where you've been and what you need to do far less painless than it could've been. Also having short randomly generated adventures is a really smart idea for a software toy diversion meant to kill a little time during breaks, and you can customise the size of the world you're playing on to adjust the time it'll take to finish. There are only actually 15 quests in the game, but it generates each new world from a decent number of hand crafted rooms, so I imagine it'd take a while to run out of new content to see.

But really, you'd likely get more entertainment out of Hearts or Minesweeper than this, and I can't really think of any reason you'd want to play the game besides curiosity, or to make Knights of the Old Republic seem really really good by comparison.


This text is a helpful friendly reminder that your comments are welcome here. Whether you want to talk about the game, my writing, the website or whatever else seems relevant, the box below has room for your words.

Next time: it's the final 'Y' game.

7 comments:

  1. It's funny that you mention Indiana Jones a couple of times -- and a Fate of Atlantis style Star Wars game would have been ace -- because you can meet him somewhere in the swamps, in a hilarious cross-genre cameo.

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    1. Well I'm glad we can finally pin down "A long time ago" to be at some point in the late 1930s.

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    2. I had forgotten about that Indiana Jones cameo. Luke makes the obvious joke about him looking like Han Solo.

      I enjoyed this game, but I knew what to expect going in. That and I'm a sucker for the scaled artwork of the ships and vehicles. The fact that I got it for a song from the computer store's clearance bin helps too.
      Using the lightsaber was admittedly awful, but I thought blaster combat was fine for the type of game it is. The Force was way underused, as it seemed that 9 out of 10 missions could be completed without it. If you run out of Force, visiting Obi-Wan again will give you a fresh bar.

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  2. So this game is sequel to "Indiana Jones and His Desktop Adventures" that i very like when i was teen.
    Good to know

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  3. The Indiana Jones game is much simpler and fun to play. I never got anywhere in Yoda Stories, because the solutions to the "puzzles" were too obscure at times.

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  4. Taking pointers from the Windows UI used to be the thing to do. It's visible in games like Outpost and Master of Orion 3, or to list ones that aren't awful, the Windows versions of Civ 2, Simcity 2000, and a pile of the other Sim games. Was grey and blocky just the high-tech look of the time?

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  5. YEEEEEESSSS!!! I remember this game from when I was a kid! I only played the demo though (this and the Indiana Jones one, those snakes were bitches). I also remember the sound effect for being unable to use something was comically loud and abrasive, so of course that required me to spam it over and over.

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