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Star Wars: Rogue Squadron review – how does it play today?

by Martin Watts, 10 December 2017

View from a Y-wing cockpit in Star Wars: Rogue Squadron's Assault on Kile II mission (N64 version)

As one of the first N64 games to support high-resolution graphics using the N64 Expansion Pak, Star Wars: Rogue Squadron was a standout title upon release in 1998/99. The game was a hit with critics and players alike, and spawned two Nintendo GameCube sequels. Rogue Squadron understandably doesn’t have the same visual appeal 20 years later, but is it still a fun game to play?

Star Wars: 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 work towards achieving mission-specific objectives, such as protecting allies and destroying high-value targets, while engaging enemy fighters and ground units.

Star Wars: Rogue Squadron Blockade on Chandrila mission (N64)

Rather than recreate the battles we all love and remember from the films, Rogue Squadron tells an original story (which is now no longer canon as a result of Disney buying the rights to Star Wars).

Set in between Star Wars: A New Hope and Star Wars: 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; Rogue Squadron is simply designed to deliver short bursts of exciting action in an authentic and nostalgic Star Wars wrapper, and that’s by no means a bad thing.

Blockade on Chandrila mission in Star Wars: Rogue Squadron for N64

Rogue Squadron is a relatively straightforward game as a result of its arcade-style gameplay and simplified flight controls. It’s very easy to pick up and get to grips with, but that doesn’t mean the game isn’t challenging.

Most missions feature multiple objectives to complete, and you typically have to achieve these while battling a whole host of enemies. You have squad mates with you, who will occasionally down an enemy fighter, but generally it’s solely up to you to get the job done.

Cockpit view of an X-wing starfighter in Star Wars: Rogue Squadron for N64

What makes so many of the missions so entertaining is the pacing and sense of urgency they deliver. The game expects a lot from you, often requiring you to manage multiple priorities at the same time, such as defending an ally from incoming ground and air attacks – while trying to stay alive yourself. Complete an objective and you’ll typically only get a brief break in between all the action before the game throws you into another challenging, yet enthralling scenario.

Generally, Rogue Squadron achieves a good balance in terms of difficulty, but there are some missions that really raise the level of challenge to an almost unnatural degree. They’re certainly beatable with practice, but you may simply find them too frustrating if you prefer easier games, especially as Rogue Squadron doesn’t give you a choice of difficulty settings.

Snowspeeders flying in formation over Fest in Star Wars: Rogue Squadron for N64

Starfighter-to-starfighter combat is also quite tricky, and you really have to learn how to lead your shots. It’s that little bit more difficult when you’re desperately trying to protect or escort an ally and don’t have the luxury of time on your side.

In later missions, you’ll start to notice there’s usually always one particular enemy fighter that will relentlessly target you until either one of you is dead. It’s annoying, as you often end up getting into a long, drawn-out dogfight because the enemy clings to you the entire time, rather than focusing on completing the objectives.

The Battle of Calamari mission in Star Wars: Rogue Squadron for N64

Targeting enemies is also made somewhat trickier by Rogue Squadron’s sluggish frame rate. While it is relatively consistent, it’s noticeably chugs along at points and takes some getting used to all years later.

It’s nevertheless playable, and a small sacrifice given how great the rest of the game looks, especially when you play using an N64 Expansion Pak. The vehicle models sport surprising detail and the game is cleanly and sharply presented when played on a CRT TV or LCD/LED TV using an UltraHDMI mod. Playing in normal resolution on a modern TV, however, results in a very grainy image, and so you’ll want to at least adjust the aspect ratio of your TV to accommodate for this.

Battle above Taloraan mission in Star Wars: Rogue Squadron for N64

These high production values extend to the audio, which is to expected given that this is a Star Wars game. Unusually for an N64 game, the game features a full voiceover and contains over 80 minutes of spoken dialogue performed by renowned voice actors such as Bob Bergen, Raphael Sbarge and Olivia Hussey. It adds to the immersion, and is very impressive given it all manages to fit onto a 16MB cartridge.

Rogue Squadron is a relatively short game to play through from start to finish, and you can easily beat it in an afternoon. Despite this, the game features a surprising amount of replay value as a result of its built-in medal system that grades you on your performance in each mission. There are three medal tiers per mission, and getting one of each medal type across every mission unlocks a bonus stage (for a total of three bonus stages).

Getting gold is by no means an easy feat, but the missions you unlock are worth it (which isn’t the case when it comes to Rogue Squadron’s spiritual successor Star Wars: Episode 1 – Battle for Naboo). Rogue Squadron also has a number of secret vehicle upgrades to find throughout the game, not to mention one of the best-kept secrets in an N64 game.

X-wings and Y-wings flying in formation in Star Wars: Rogue Squadron's Liberation of Gerrard V mission

Star Wars: Rogue Squadron does an exceptional job of capturing the essence of Star Wars’ grandest starfighter battles and distils it into an original and highly entertaining game. It’s dated, but nevertheless still a pleasure to look at when played how it was meant to be (on a CRT using an N64 Expansion Pak), although the lethargic frame rate does take its toll at points. There are a few sudden difficulty spikes that may frustrate, and air-to-air combat can be a fiddly affair.

Otherwise Rogue Squadron enthralls you with its fast-paced, Star Wars-fuelled action, and its high replay value and range of unlockable bonuses will remind you of a time when games taxed your skills, rather than your credit card.

Our verdict

good

  • Original (non-canon) story in the Star Wars universe
  • Missions are well paced and feature plenty of action
  • Excellent graphics for N64, especially the vehicle models
  • Rewarding and addictive gameplay adds considerable replay value
  • Sluggish frame rate impacts gameplay at times
  • Some missions are incredibly difficult
  • "Focused" enemy AI is annoying
  • Playing in normal resolution on LCD/LED TV is very grainy

To learn more about how review N64 games see our review scoring system page. Because we focus on whether a game is still enjoyable to play today, we try to avoid discussing a game’s development history, impact or legacy in our reviews.