Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Ask any excitable fanboy and they'll tell you the same thing: The Empire Strikes Back is the best film in the Star Wars saga. It's got everything – action, drama, romance – plus one of the most dysfunctional father/son relationships ever recorded to celluloid. Think you've got it bad? Try learning that the father you thought dead is an evil galactic tyrant.

THQ Wireless has taken this venerable film licence and attempted the impossible: to shrink it down into the compact factor of a mobile game. It's certainly got some chutzpah, but it's also had some experience at this lark, having already released a gazillion Star Wars games on the format. It's interesting timing, however, what with Lego Star Wars currently the gold standard in gaming circles.

The Empire Strikes Back is broken down into seven stages, each of them based on a key sequence from the film. All the classic bits are in here: the Battle of Hoth; the asteroid field chase with the Millennium Falcon; Force training with Yoda. Just to add that extra touch of authenticity, the game also lifts dialogue (written, not spoken) from the film verbatim for its cut-scenes.

Adopting the mini-game approach, each stage offers a different play style. In the Battle of Hoth, for example, you command a snow speeder across the planet's icy surface, dodging laser fire as you try to topple the AT-ATs. When you get close enough, you must type-in a precise key sequence so the harpoon is fired, and then you circle the walker's leg by pressing left and right at the appropriate moment.

In a later stage where Luke tracks Darth Vader in the Cloud City, the game is split between using your lightsaber to defend yourself against Vader and blocking flying objects which are thrown at you. Again, you have to press the action buttons at the correct moment to prevent yourself from succumbing to the Dark side. This stage also replicates the famous sequence where Vader informs Luke about his parentage, and it's kind of funny to see this epic tragedy played out in miniature.

Certain missions have bonus extras that impact the final scoring, so completists will want to take note. Going back to the Cloud City stage, for example, extra points can be earned for locating the scattered remnants of C3-P0's body parts. Choosing between the three difficulty levels also affects your final tally, where available health is traded off for greater points at the end of each stage.

The visuals are impeccable, using an isometric perspective and sharp graphics to replicate the grungy world of Star Wars. Elsewhere, the sound effects are the usual mélange of bleeps and burps. That said, it's nice to hear John Williams's rousing score translated into a MIDI file, and it still sounds great regardless of how tinny your speakers may be.

We have a bit of a problem with the mini-game format, however. It works in that it helps the game stay true to the film it's based on, but none of the mini-games are particularly challenging. Whatever the difficulty level, all that's required of you is to press a button at the correct moment… and that's it. Once the game is completed, there's little incentive to come back to it again.

Don't get us wrong, we're relieved to be playing something that doesn't require repetitive button mashing. But by the same token, Empire Strikes Back relies too much on inputting key-sequences to drive the action, and hence feels more restrictive than it should have been. Free-wheeling gameplay with balanced controls are difficult to bring out in a mobile game, true, and it in this case it looks like THQ has erred on the side of caution. As the venerable Yoda might say, "a masterpiece, it is not."

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

A handsomely produced game which pays homage to key sequences from the film. It's a little too respectful of its source material, however, and the gameplay is rather limited as a consequence
Bulent Yusuf
Bulent Yusuf
Bulent Yusuf is a ladies man, man's man, and a man about town. His endless barrage of witty anecdotes and propensity for drink makes him a big favourite on the dinner party circuit. He likes writing, he likes gaming, and with Pocket Gamer he gets to do a bit of both.