20 years ago, I woke up on a Christmas morning and opened a brand new Nintendo Gamecube. Two of the games packed in were Super Mario Sunshine and Star Wars The Clone Wars. The former, I liked. The latter, I loved. So much so, Christmas day was spent sitting on the edge of my bed in my room, ignoring all calls from downstairs for me to come and collect gifts from visiting relatives. Was I going to put down my new Star Wars game for a few bookshop gift cards from people I saw twice a year? Puh-lease. I didn’t even know their first names until I saw their headstones…
Over the years, I’ve tried to play The Clone Wars by way of emulators, but I’ve never found a playable experience, despite having a fairly decent computer. My last attempt was this summer, and despite it running OK, the audio was choppy, the frame rate was a bit all over the place, and it just didn’t feel “proper.” I resigned myself to the fact that it just wasn’t meant to be. Until one fateful November night. The early hours of November 16th, 2022, to be disgustingly precise. 20 years and one day since the game’s original Gamecube release in the UK. Coincidence, or the will of The Force? Who’s to say…
So, is it still a prime game? Does it hold up today? Has my patience been rewarded? Yes, yes, and yes.
Taking place between Episode II and Episode III, Star Wars The Clone Wars is not your typical Star Wars game. You’re not running around solving puzzles, shooting stormtroopers, or spending weeks grinding away online for that sense of “pride and accomplishment” EA’s recent Battlefront games are known for.
Developed by Pandemic Studios – the same studio behind the original Star Wars Battlefront and its sequel – The Clone Wars is based on vehicular combat. You play through the game as Mace Windu, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Anakin Skywalker, and though most missions are vehicle-based, there are a couple that gives you a chance to swing a lightsaber. These are far from being a highlight, though, with characters feeling “off” and the combat lacking challenge. Instead, these play-as-a-Jedi moments feel like they were thrown in so that lightsabers could be shown on the back of the box.
The early 2000s cutscenes with character models looking like shiny plastic still retain some charm.
Still, these iffy one-and-done missions aside, the rest of the game manages to stand the test of time, and in no small part due to the resolution bump that comes with OG Xbox games running on Xbox Series X. The vehicular combat is meaty, with the main Jedi hover tank feeling like a proper heavy bit of machinery. Strafing and firing at the same time is a solid tactic, and it feels good in the hand, especially when you’re suddenly outnumbered, down to your last sliver of health, and then you smash the speed boost button and bugger off over the bumpy hills in search of health and rockets, all while John Williams’ familiar score toots in the background.
The game actually throws a fair bit of variety at you with missions taking place in the air and on the ground in a variety of vehicles, as well as the occasional living mount, though that particular mission is not a favorite, and I was happy to return to my more comfortable tank when it was done. Still, I appreciate the effort to mix things up and keep the experience fresh as the story plods along.
The story, which may or may not be canon anymore – I don’t care either way – is that Count Dooku is up to no good, duh. He’s trying to get the Dark Reaper machine up and running to help him and the wrinkly Emperor Palpatine in their quest to rule over the galaxy. It’s not a strong story, admittedly, but it’s presented well, and the early 2000s cutscenes with character models looking like shiny plastic still retain some charm. Likewise, the dodgy voice acting is a product of its time, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Hearing the Canadian Obi-Wan Kenobi voice actor struggle to maintain an English accent makes me appreciate the effort all that much more.
While the story mode is good fun for a few hours across its 16 missions, it’s the local multiplayer that had me coming back for more. It’s not strictly multiplayer, though; more like extra modes that can be played solo or in local multiplayer. One such mode has you dumped in an arena with your Jedi tank, and your job is to survive for as long as possible against waves of increasingly difficult enemies. I could play this for hours as a kid. As an adult… I managed two sessions before I had to get up and have a stretch and put the washing on.
The other wave-based arena mode ditches the vehicles and gives you a chance to play as some of the game’s heroes from a top-down quasi-twin-stick-shooter perspective. This mode was the bomb when I was a kid. My mates and I would spend hours on the edge of my bed throwing lightsabers at droids, seeing how many rounds we could survive until eventually losing. We’d also punch the crap out of each other after the dual rounds, only to quickly reconcile before the next proper round began, and we would have to work as a team again.
Sadly, my childhood friends are either dead or live far away. Same difference, really. So, I roped in my six-year-old mini-me, Charlie, to try to recapture some of that childhood magic. And it was great! He was a great Padawan and an absolute monster when he lost the dual rounds, resulting in three weeks of docked pocket money for the bruise to my thigh. It was well worth it, though, and we played for well over an hour, discussing tactics, arguing over who gets the health pack, and generally just having a good time.
Star Wars The Clone Wars might be an ancient relic at this point, given that it’s 20 years old, but it’s one worth digging up. It’s good value gaming at its finest; a game where you unlock extra bonus content by completing bonus objectives, not by opening your wallet. It’s a reminder of what video games used to be. I’d say that I’d love a modern remake, but a quick look at the gaming landscape and… yeah, I’m happy with what I’ve got, thanks.
NEXT: Retro Review: Bioshock