Star Wars: Rogue Squadron is renowned for pushing the N64 to its technical limits with its stunning visuals and impressive audio. But it’s also an immensely fun game that’s remarkably replayable despite its short length.
Star Wars wouldn’t live up to its name if it weren’t for the grand battles depicted in each of its films. What Star Wars fan hasn’t watched A New Hope’s Death Star trench run scene or the Battle of Hoth from the Empire Strikes Back and thought about how “cool” it would be take part? It’s a weird thing to romanticise when you consider that there’s a high chance that you’d share the same fate as many of the pilots in those films, i.e., dying.
Thankfully, Star Wars isn’t real and, better yet, we have the luxury of being able to safely experience many of its more dangerous moments through the medium of video games. Star Wars: Rogue Squadron is one of these – and an excellent example we might add.
In case you’re not already familiar with it, Rogue Squadron is a flight-combat game in which you get to fly a number of iconic Star Wars starfighters into battle against the Galactic Empire. Across each of the game’s 16 missions, you get to engage in dogfights against enemy TIE fighters, as well as work towards achieving mission-specific objectives, such as protecting allies and destroying high-value targets.
Rather than recreate the battles we all love and remember from the films, Rogue Squadron instead tells an original story (which is now no longer canon as a result of Disney buying the rights to Star Wars). Set in between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, the game follows the exploits of Luke Skywalker and his newly formed Rogue Squadron – a group made up of the best fighter pilots the Rebel Alliance has to offer. It’s fair to say that there isn’t a gritty or hard-hitting origins story here. But what Rogue Squadron does deliver is a lot of exciting action that’s presented in an authentic and nostalgic Star Wars wrapper.
Rogue Squadron’s visuals – while obviously dated now – were, in fact, a huge selling point back in 1998. It was one of the first N64 games to utilise the system’s Expansion Pak add-on, enabling you to play it with high-resolution graphics. Even now, the game’s visuals look incredibly sharp when played on a small- to medium-sized CRT TV, which is how most people would have experienced it back in the late ‘90s. These graphics come at the cost of frame rate at times though – something that’s common across most N64 games anyway – making some parts of the game difficult to play today.
In terms of gameplay, Rogue Squadron is an action-shooter game that’s relatively simple to play; it’s not a simulation game where your fighter has a lot of advanced functions as per LucasArts’ X-wing game series. The pick-up-and-play nature of Rogue Squadron makes it easy to get into, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of challenging moments. Generally, trying to shoot down enemy fighters can be tricky, as they move quickly and often you must aim your shots at where the enemy will be, rather than where they currently are.
The development of Rogue Squadron was influenced by Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire – in particular, the Battle of Hoth snowspeeder level – which had released two years earlier for the N64. LucasArts brought in Factor 5 as a co-developer; the two companies had previously worked together on Indiana Jones’ Greatest Adventures and Star Wars: Rebel Assault II.
Factor 5 developed a remarkable technical understanding of the N64’s inner workings, enabling it to deliver remarkable graphics and sound for the time, despite the system’s limitations. What’s truly astounding is that the entire game was released on a mere 16MB cartridge, which is all the more impressive when you factor in that it features over 80 minutes of recorded dialogue. It’s also worth noting that Rogue Squadron is renowned for having one of the best hidden secrets in an N64 game.
Much like Shadows of the Empire, Rogue Squadron is sadly not a very long game – you can quite easily finish it in a single afternoon. However, the arcade-style gameplay is addictive, which when combined with a scaled (and somewhat demanding) medal system makes you want to play through the game’s missions multiple times in an attempt to achieve the highest scores possible.
Rogue Squadron’s story is most certainly not one of the most exciting; ultimately, it serves a functional purpose of giving structure to the gameplay. And this is fine, because Rogue Squadron is not about the who, what and where, but rather it’s an high-end audiovisual experience for the N64 that recreates the excitement of Star Wars’ grandest battles. It may looked dated compared to the glossy presentation of more modern releases in the franchise such as EA’s Star Wars Battlefront, but Rogue Squadron looks and feels just as much like a Star Wars game.
What you may like:
- An original (non-canon) story in the Star Wars expanded universe that gives you the chance to take part in battles never seen in the films.
- The simplified, arcade-style gameplay and challenging medal system hook you in and make it fun to replay the same mission multiple times.
- It’s one of the most technically advanced games for the N64, and has some of the best graphics seen on the system.
What you may not like:
- It’s a short game – if you’re not a fan of retreading old ground then you’ll get bored of it quickly.
- High-quality graphics mean that the frame rate occasionally suffers, making the game difficult to play at times.
- Dogfighting is tricky and requires a lot of practice.
Want to learn more about other Star Wars games on the N64?
Check out our post on Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire.