Nintendo gamers have generally been luckier than others when it comes to getting good Star Wars games. From the original Star Wars on the NES, to the GameCube's excellent Rogue Squadron games (via the Super Star Wars series on the SNES), the movies have been well-represented on various the Nintendo systems over the years. However, the recent LEGO titles aside, there hasn't been a decent 'serious' Star Wars game for a number of years. Does The Force Unleashed change this? It does, actually, but only to a certain extent.
The game is set between Episode III and Episode IV in the movie saga and acts as a bridge of sorts between the old and new trilogy. You play as Starkiller, a secret apprentice to Darth Vader, and the majority of the game's first half sees you being sent off to various different planets and killing the last of the remaining Jedi.
Before you get to do any of this however you're treated to a short prologue level which sees you playing as Darth Vader. In this level you have to find and defeat a Jedi while killing loads of Wookiees. It's effectively a training mission of sorts but it's a nice way of showing off the different force and lightsaber powers you have and gives a sense of the power you can expect the apprentice to have by the end of the game.
Don't Force It
That said, there's not a huge difference between the apprentice's abilities at first and those he has by the time the story reaches its final chapter. As you defeat enemies you gain a blue essence which gives you points. You use these points to gain new abilities, which you can 'buy' or upgrade from a list in the pause menu. While there are lots of moves on offer though, you start the game with most of them in your possession, meaning once you've bought the four or five new abilities (which you should be able to do by the end of the second level or so) all you're doing for the rest of the game is powering up the skills that you already have. That's not to say these skills aren't impressive, of course. More importantly though they're also extremely satisfying to pull off, partly thanks to the game's controls.
When you strip it down to its most simple elements, the control system is as follows: the Remote represents the apprentice's lightsaber, while the Nunchuk controls his various Force-related powers. This simple setup makes basic moves pretty straightforward, and it doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out that swinging the Remote makes the apprentice swing his lightsaber.
What's nice about it however is the way in which these swings are linked. Rather than any old swing resulting in one basic move, as is the case in a lot of lazily-developed third-party games, The Force Unleashed picks up four different swings: upward, downward, left and right. While this might not sound like a big deal it greatly adds to the sense of immersion.
Combo Number Five
Even better is when you realise that combo moves can only be pulled off when you start mixing slashes. The game punishes you by making sure that simply flicking the Remote down all the time never really leads to any smooth lightsaber combat, and as a result it forces you to mix your swings to make your combat flow better. This may seem like bad game design but in fact it's a clever way of forcing the player to feel more like they're actually fighting with a lightsaber. The usual 'swing, swing, swing' gameplay would have been pretty mindless but it's immensely satisfying to swing a lightsaber downward at an enemy then follow up with a quick left-right slash combo, because you genuinely feel like you're playing a part in it rather than just triggering set animations.