Review: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (Switch)

review-star-wars-the-force-unleashed-switch

May the port be with you (I hope no one else has made this joke)

I’m an action game junkie. So yes, when it was revealed that we’d be getting a prequel/sequel connector in Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, I was there immediately. And I’m happy to revisit it over a decade later on Switch.

It’s just as flawed in 2022 as it was in 2008, but it still has the same level of charm.

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Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (Nintendo Switch)
Developer: Aspyr
Publisher: Lucasfilm Games
Released: April 20, 2022
MSRP: $19.99

To be clear, this is an adaptation of the Wii game, which is already going to ruffle some feathers. Even back in 2008 there was a great debate as to which of the Force Unleashed editions was the “best,” and it came down to two options: PS3/360, or Wii. Like most console war discussions, it mainly came down to better graphical fidelity/performance for the former, and the addition of motion controls for the latter. All these years later people are still arguing about it, as evidenced by the reactions that this 2022 version would be a Wii to Switch project.

To be clear, I’m not really on either side of the fence. Sometimes I’m in the mood to see a sleeker Kashyyyk as it’s presented on the 360 and use traditional controls. Sometimes I want to use motion controls. But the best part of the Switch version is that motion is not forced. You can play via docked or portable mode with classic controls, or rip off the Joy-Con and do your best force push at the TV (with rumble).

Motion is done via lightsaber attacks with your right hand by default, and force abilities on your left. Right handed slashes are tied to different movements (like a forward motion for a thrust), while left handed jerking triggers a force push, with the ability to use lightning and other force powers with triggers/buttons.

It’s a great compromise in terms of controller freedom, allowing motion and non-motion; but Force Unleashed is not suddenly smoothed over on the Switch. It’s still a little janky looking, but from a performance standpoint, I didn’t have any major issues. Note that my threshold of playable is likely lower than some people, growing up on old consoles. It’s fine. It mostly looks like a 2008 game still, and this re-release isn’t going to turn any heads: its objective is to get the job done, not go above and beyond.

Thematically, I was drawn back in immediately. Having the opening level kick off as a playable Darth Vader affair was a ballsy move then, and it still is now. Getting to force choke a bunch of Wookie warriors and hear the crunch of their bones, or their battle cries as you cut them down with your lightsaber: it’s wild stuff.

It’s also a brilliant precursor to the game’s thematic path of violence and a good tutorial. Vader has full access to the game’s repertoire of dark side powers, which you’ll gradually unlock as his apprentice: Starkiller. The Force Unleashed story, pitting Vader and Starkiller for and against each other in an uneasy alliance is still really fun to watch. It’s full of inside baseball type stuff on how the empire and the (birth of the) alliance work, and is smartly housed almost entirely in the original trilogy: some have even argued that this should have been how the prequels played out, rather than demystifying the legend of Anakin Skywalker.

In fact, the storyline here is handled more elegantly than the sequel trilogy to boot. We get to see both sides and the force in full force, with some decent (if hokey) twists and turns along the way. It feels true to the series, touching upon some themes from the films, but with a little more attention at times (and a lack of attention at points). It’s give and take: a modern Star Wars staple.

A big part of the selling point of Force Unleashed is being a Sith simulator, which it mostly succeeds at. Starkiller has immediate access to some simple combos with his lightsaber, which you’ll use to cut up rebel and empire forces alike. A force meter governs skills like push, choke, and lightning, which you can also queue up right away. Leveling up is done via “force points,” which act like experience, and if you die, you lose some and restart at a checkpoint.

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It’s all very simple stuff (which is even more evident in the limited two player local-only no-bot versus mode, which also features characters from the films), but it keeps the flow of the game moving. You can never upgrade if you want and just coast by on pure skill and swift dodging. Or you can embrace the power fantasy and notch-up whatever elements of Starkiller you like playing with. There are a few limiters in place, like linking the dash system to a meter so you can’t spam it, but when coupled with a generous double jump, traversal is generally easy-going: though some of the platforming portions are very 2000s-era pointless and will no doubt still garner some detractors.

A lot of the same problems of the original remain of course, as this is not a full remake. Most of the game’s levels are very linear, which is going to be a turnoff for some people (given studio’s penchant for taking what are ostensibly linear games but forcing sandboxes or “open worlds” in them, it’s easier for me to overlook); not to mention the forced “kill this many enemies on this rote meter” sections that can be pace-killing. Then there’s the QTEs, which are incredibly sensitive, with off-putting and jarring resets if you mess them up.

While it’s often mechanically janky, aesthetically, it nails the feeling of being a “Star Wars game.” The performances are on point (mainly Starkiller, but the rest are authentic, for better or worse), the characters are compelling or go big enough to make an impact, and the soundtrack is straight out of a Star Wars film. It also has plenty of fanservice (particularly for Sith/Vader lovers). Like any Star Wars film outside of the original trilogy, it’s going to be polarizing (the sequel gets even sillier with a clone storyline); but it has just enough camp for me to fully embrace it.

I’d endorse Star Wars: The Force Unleashed in 2022 with caution. Given how low Star Wars inventory is nowadays, it doesn’t have much nostalgia to coast on, and Force Unleashed still has a number of the same issues in tow as it did 14 years ago. But in case you’re inside the temper for a rainy day popcorn sport where you fling horrific guys round for some time and shoot lightning from your arms, you may do an entire lot worse.