Have you played… Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

I have never regretted a purchase more.

Confession: I liked the film. I was 13-years-old when it came out in 1999 and enough of a Star Wars fan to see it twice in its first day, once in a daytime showing with a friend and a second time in the evening with my family. I didn’t notice any plot issues or the dull dialogue, though I did find Jar Jar faintly annoying; my mind was instead entranced by the Darth Maul lightsaber fight, the pod race, the CGI spaceships.

So I bought the Phantom Menace game without reading any reviews from the local WH Smith. It was dreadful. A top-down, 3D action game which stuck close to the plot of the movie. You had lightsabers, which you used to swish through clunky droid combat, before heading down to the jungle surface of Naboo for some jumping puzzles in which you had to leap between tree stumps.

I assume it continued to follow the film’s plot from there, but I never found out as at that point I got stuck. I couldn’t get past the tree-stump jumping puzzles, and I was deeply regretting the £30 (£35? £40?) of hard-earned pocket money I’d spent on it. So much so that I took the game back. I knew it was a long-shot, given it was a PC game and WH Smith often refused to accept returns in case you’d simply copied it at home before returning the disc, but I’d had success at least once before. On this occasion however I was rebuffed by a member of staff, despite my protestations (and lies) that the game was broken and wouldn’t install.

If only I’d bought Episode I: Racer instead.

From this site

42 Comments

  1. tikey says:

    I did, in fact it was the first game I played with my first 3D graphics card.
    I think I enjoyed it back then, but of course I used to have much higher tolerance for bad games as a kid.

    • crowleyhammer says:

      I didnt own it but i had rhe PC Gamer(Zone?) Demo disk which i still own.

      Your right though the game was shit.

      Pod Racer was excellent though.

      • GameCat says:

        I would love to see the remake of that podracer game.

        • Morgan Joylighter says:

          Some of the recent and upcoming Wipeout style games have remarkably similar gameplay and aesthetic to Racer. I saw a trailer for one on this very website a few weeks ago, sadly I don’t remember what it was called.

    • Darth Gangrel says:

      I enjoyed the demo (Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon escaping the ambush aboard the ship/space station in the beginning of the movie), although the gameplay/level design was quite basic and much was scripted. I might have bought the game based off of that demo, but I was too engulfed by other better games back then. Was probably still playing Dark Forces 2, one of my favorite games. Looks like I dodged a bullet/blaster bolt there.

  2. Alfius says:

    I have to confess I enjoyed it immensely, I must have replayed it two or three times. The platforming bits were the weak point for sure, but overall it was a pretty solid action/adventure game for its era.

    Agreed though, Pod Racer was a gem.

    • Vandelay says:

      I’m sure I liked it at the time too. Was probably a similar age to Graham, maybe a year or two younger. I also liked the film at the time too, so my critical faculties were certainly not fully developed.

      But yes, Episode 1 was genuinely fantastic, although it had shit AI. One of the last great Star Wars games.

    • Eleriel says:

      I admit, I liked it too at the time.
      I didn’t get too far into the game – I believe I was waylaid by Podracer, actually… then traded it in – but it kind of gave me the same vibe as Yoda Stories somehow.. I think I imagined it had more depth than it actually did.

      Podracer though… dang that’s a good game.

  3. Guybrush86 says:

    I played this so many times. I really enjoyed it.
    When I got to the pod racing part, I’d quit the game, play the Pod Racer demo (it just had the Tatooine track), then go back to the Phantom Menace game.

  4. sardiaokla says:

    I think you missed out Graham. After four or so levels the gameplay becomes more open-ended and RPG elements come into play. Tattoine is genuinely fun and the end-game is compelling.

    • yeahdirk says:

      The Tatooine levels were high quality gaming experiences. If the whole game had been like that, I honestly believe it would’ve gone down as one of the best games of all time, certainly the best Star Wars game. Watch this and tell me you’re not intrigued: link to youtube.com
      A lot of Qui-Gon’s dialogue was hilariously arrogant in this game.

      • Orix says:

        I loved the conversation between Mr. Jinn and the bartender droid on the podracer starting line level, you keep asking for drinks and Qui-Gon’s all like “Just give me another drink!”, morelike Quite-gone Gin, haw haw haw.

        Seriously though, I was young and also love any game with the words Star Wars on it, so I love this. I detested the difficulty, so I stuck a trainer on while playing it, then went on invincible thermal detonator rampages around Mos Eisley and Otoh Gunga. Fun times ^_^

      • valuum says:

        Woah. Thought I had completely forgotten the game, but I remember nearly all of the scenes in that youtube. Pretty great, though flawed, game (was it really that “ugly”?).

    • Jason Lefkowitz says:

      Ah, one more game designer who should have heeded this classic advice from Old Man Murray:

      Here’s a note to developers regarding what we hope will become an industry-wide policy: if your game has some good parts, try to put them at the fucking beginning. It takes us ten hours of dismal labor to earn enough money to buy your game, so please commence the entertainment early on. If possible, pack something fun right into the box, for instance a balloon.

  5. Greendude123 says:

    I have very fond memories of this game. It was a lot of fun! It wasn’t the most polished game and it had some frustrating bits, but overall I really enjoyed it.

  6. Distec says:

    I remember playing through the first level a lot, and I’m pretty sure I did eventually beat it.

    I guess that would indicate I enjoyed it, but even at that age there were things that felt off and cheap (the camera was complete and utter shit, for sure). I think it’s safe to say I forced myself to like it to some degree.

  7. Caradog says:

    This reminds me of my most shameless return. I took back a copy of Spellbound Dizzy on the Amiga to WHSmiths as the game seemed to be giving me infinite lives, and I felt that was cheating (I don’t know what was going on, I just knew I couldn’t die. The Spectrum version gave no such boons). The shop assistant was amused but let me return it all the same. Couldn’t pull that one off now…

  8. Paul says:

    This game was the start of the decline. It was still somewhat decent, but compared to Jedi Knight…it is suckage through and through. Jedi Outcast and Academy were great, and then…one big fat fuckup after fuckup. It is depressing what happened to LucasArts and Raven :(

    • J.C. says:

      I agree. I played through it when it was first released, but didn’t like it all that much. Definitely a ‘decline’ game in the SW-Game catalog.

  9. corroonb says:

    I bought this too. I was a bit older though so I should have known better. It was awful. One of those terrible tie-in games that have largely been replaced by Lego versions. I still had a copy of it until quite recently.

    I remember buying Star Wars: Behind the Magic cd-rom at the same time and I loved that. It even had deleted scenes in grainy, extremely low resolution video. This was before the films were on DVD and I was starved for Star Wars. I was an expanded universe fan too. All those books. Gone forever.

  10. Apologised says:

    The Episode 3 game was actually one of the better Film Tie in games. Greivious was a bastard to beat, Anakin/Darth had two hard boss fights in the Temple and then there’s 1v1 mode, which is still the best Star Wars LightSaber Combat game made.

    That mode was EASILY worth the purchase of the full game.

  11. davebo says:

    Pod Racer on the PC had such a feeling of speed unlike anything else at the time. The Episode I game wasn’t that awful but I definitely remember having more fun playing Jedi Power Battles co-op on the Dreamcast.

  12. mejoff says:

    Heh. My experience of the game was identical in almost every particular, although I was older and didn’t actually like the film, so I have less of an excuse.

  13. ludicrous_pedagogy says:

    Sorry Graham, but I have amazing memories of this game – but I do know the exact jumping puzzle you’re talking about on the swamps levels that was nearly impossible, pretty sure it was corrected in a patch.

    The Tatooine levels really were a gem and I would wager using a level cheat to play through even now.

    However the thing I’ve always liked best about this game was the way you actually batted blaster bolts away with your lightsaber like it was Virtual Tennis or something. Almost all other attempts at representing this cool ‘jedi move’ have been a passive affair, or a mode you put on (see Battlefront 2 and new).

    This game interpreted the situation of a blaster bolt coming towards you and if you press attack at the right time you would do a different animation and bat it right back at them.

    Perfecting this ability was one of my fondest earliest gaming memories, and for me has only recently be surpasses by the Lucasarts VR experience I had at Star Wars celebration, that reduced me to tears – how I wanted to spend hours just stood there, perfecting my backswing…

    Graham, go back and play again I say – there’s magic there somewhere…

  14. Jmoore4388 says:

    Good grief, this game was a travesty if I ever saw one. I had this on Playstation and it made me cry just as much as the movie did (which was a lot. In bad, bad ways. Terribly embarrassing ways).

  15. Cimeries says:

    I did play this a little, round a friend’s I think. I remember not really clicking with the controls and getting stuck in the shit jumping puzzle area. Mainly I stopped playing because it paled in comparison to one of my favourite games on PS1 – the wonderful (to my 10 year old brain) Jedi Power Battles.

    Now that at least had fun combat, though did suffer poorly from the terrible depth of field on the jumping puzzles (coruscant can forever suck my dick)

  16. Thankmar says:

    You were thirteen when Phantom Menace came out? I´m so old.

    Old enough to think I shouldn´t be excited about such a movie, but my wife says shes never seen me so nervous as just before the curtain lifted. And I wanted to like the movie so much, I focused on the good parts afterwards, but the more time went by, the more the realization crept from my subconscious what a stinker it was. Jedi cooties, my goodness.

    • Darth Gangrel says:

      Graham looks closer to 35-40 on his “What are we all playing” photo, but perhaps that’s just me not accepting that I’m above 30 now and thinking that I’m still younger than most everyone.

    • CartonofMilk says:

      i was 21 and i so did not want to believe it was so bad that i went to see it again the week after. And then i had to really admit it was all rubbish. After the first time i made a lot of excuses,
      well this part or that part were good right?”, after the second time i was just pissed off and i have not found one redeeming quality to this movie since.

    • hpoonis says:

      I recall seeing this movie at the cinema, but also ‘The Matrix’ and after seeing Matrix I already knew which was the far better movie. Phantom Menace should have been renamed Phantom Tedium. Also saw South Park movie and that was also far better entertainment.

  17. GeoX says:

    So I bought the Phantom Menace game without reading any reviews from the local WH Smith.

    “Without reading any reviews” should go at the end to avoid the ambiguity otherwise communicated to Americans like me who don’t know what “WH Smith” is and start confusedly imagining he was some sort of omnipresent game reviewer from the nineties whom everybody looked to for advice.

  18. scaresnake says:

    Loved that game in co-op with a friend, but I think we played on PlayStation ? Can that be true? Oh, my memory.

  19. Werthead says:

    It did have some very funny and weird moments.

    I remember killing a couple of Jawas near the Tatooine junk yard for giggles. Suddenly an entire army of Jawas swarmed me, including several equipped with personal shields and a couple with rocket launchers. I died, almost instantly. That happened only if you started on the Jawas, anyone else was fair game.

  20. MisterFurious says:

    One of my friends loaned it to me so I had the benefit of playing this crap without losing any money. There was a moment when three droids shot at me and I swung my lightsaber and deflected the three blasts and hit all three droids with them at once. That was pretty cool. That’s all I remember about the game.

  21. Jimbo says:

    Maybe I am misremembering but I’m pretty certain I had played and finished this before the film was even released in the UK. I thought the game was great – certainly much better than the film, which the game had already completely spoiled for me.

  22. E_FD says:

    I remember playing this, at about the same age as you. Even at the time, the platforming was obviously rather crap, but I enjoyed it anyway. Especially the Tatooine levels, which were this bizarre digression into a reactive, open-ended RPG.

    If Qui-Gon had been as much of a sarcastic asshole as he is in this game, the movie would’ve been a hell of a lot more entertaining.

  23. Jackablade says:

    It’s one of those games that mysteriously appeared in my collection despite being on legitimate CDs but having never been purchased.

    The best part was that attacking a friendly NPC would turn the entire world against you, meaning you could battle your way from one end of Tatooine to the other reeking cathartic vengeance after the crappiness of the film.

  24. poliovaccine says:

    I was also young enough to have played this game before the age of discretion. However, I was never a rabid Star Wars fanatic, so shortcomings had nothing to hide behind…

    …but when I saw this HYP header, I clicked it assuming the gist would be about how it was a shoddy-looking tie-in, with a shoddy opening, that somehow redeemed itself by the end and wound up being quite fun. A few people already mentioned Tatooine, and as I remember it, the lightsaber combat got more interesting down the line, whether by dint of new abilities or just better level design I now forget. You wound up being able to do some fun looking acrobatics, and I enjoyed deflecting blaster fire from zillions of droids, dodging and jumling my way into their midst so I could cut my way out…

    …I remember as well, tho, that I enjoyed some other pretty questionable selections at that age. I think that was the age I also played a lot of Postal 2. So clearly I wasn’t looking at games with very critical eyes…

  25. buzzmong says:

    I own this. I’ve played it a few times. I actually quite enjoyed it.

    Gets much more interesting out of the swamps, as you start swapping characters and getting more interesting things happpening in the game world. The non-Jedi bits are quite interesting too, although I remember the Gungan level being a bit of a chore.

    Camera was bloody horrible though.