IT IS A DARK TIME FOR
THE REBELS. THE EMPIRE HAS
LAUNCHED THOUSANDS OF PROBOTS
IN SEARCH OF THE REBEL HIDEOUT
THE EMPIRE FEARS THE STRENGTH OF
THE FORCE WITHIN ONE REBEL
The Empire Strikes Back was the last of the "classic" Star Wars arcade games. This game was actually released a year after the Return of the Jedi title. The games were done out of order because Atari wanted to ship "Jedi" while the film was still big. They had already missed "Empire" by several years, so one more wouldn't really hurt. This Atari Games title was released in 1985 and was available only as a conversion kit for the original vector Star Wars game.
In this game you get to pilot both the Millennium Falcon and a snow speeder in an attempt to complete four different stages. The beginning of the game mentions only Luke Skywalker, but you must be playing as Han Solo for at least half of this title, as Han was the protagonist of the movie scenes that levels three and four are based on. To be successful you merely need to blast everything in sight and collect letters to spell out the word "JEDI" for a large point bonus.
On the first level you are piloting a snow speeder on the ice planet of Hoth. Movie fans may recall that this was where "Echo Base" was located. This is a really confusing stage that has no real equivalent in the movie. The film has but a single "Probot" and in this stage they are everywhere. Just keep shooting everything in sight until the game advances you to the next stage.
The second stage is my personal favorite. You are still on the ice planet Hoth. but this time you are fighting Imperial Walkers instead of wimpy probe droids. You are still piloting the snow speeder, but your armament has been upgraded with the addition of several tow cables that you can use to wrap up the legs of the walkers. You can also take the walkers out by shooting them on a little red square that each one of them have on their head. I usually accidentally fire off all my tow cables in the first second, (you might also), but the red spots are not hard to hit, so you really don't need the tow cables anyway.
The third stage is a throwback to the original Star Wars game. You pilot the Millennium Falcon in an attempt to blast as many Tie Fighters as you can before the level ends. I found that these Tie Fighters are a bit easier to hit than the ones in the original Star Wars game (apparently the skill of Storm Troopers diminishes constantly over time, which is why the Empire was defeated eventually).
The fourth stage seems to me like it is missing something, like they didn't actually finish it before they shipped the game. You simply pilot the Millennium Falcon through an asteroid field, and try not to bump into any of them. Of course we all know that real asteroid fields are nothing like the ones in the Star Wars universe, but this level is fun if you suspend your disbelief.
This title was sold only as a conversion kit for the original Star Wars title by Atari Games (the vector one, not the one that looks like Space Invaders). Separate kits were available for both the upright and the cockpit versions.
This title uses a pair of 1.5 Mhz M6809 processors to run the game code, along with four Pokey chips for audio. The game itself is displayed on an Amplifone color vector open frame monitor. This is a very problematic monitor, but it can be replaced by a Wells Gardner K6100. Even more problematic is the fact that both of those monitors have been out of production for 15 years, so custom repair work ends up being needed eventually on all of these machines.
The machine itself has a real "Darth Vader" look to it. It is very dark and is covered with lines much like a dark version of the surface of an Imperial Star Destroyer. The sideart features a picture that includes Darth Vader, the Death Star, several Tie fighters, and an X-Wing. Most machines will have a sticker placed somewhere on the side labeling them as "The Empire Strikes Back". The marquee shows a painted scene of a battle on Hoth that includes several AT-AT walkers and advertises that the game is "New" (which was a little short sighted I think).
Where to play
You can play the actual arcade version using the MAME emulator. That is probably going to be your best bet. This title didn't really have any decent home translations. There were games with the same name, but the similarities stopped there. Chances are very slim that you would ever bump into a real machine out in the wild. Because vector games are very problematic, and this one was a conversion kit to boot. The original was slightly better, so many owners eventually converted their machines back to Star Wars after the novelty wore off.
This is a great title to add to your arcade game collection if you can find one that works perfectly, and doesn't cost as much as a used car. Remember that "Star Wars" and "The Empire Strikes Back" run on the exact same hardware, and several vendors sell multi-game kits to allow you to switch between titles on a single machine. www.multigame.com sells their high quality multi-game kit for this title for $149 (prices current as of November 2002). It is worth every penny, because a vector game is a large investment, and you might as well get as much out of it as you can.
People who already own machines may want to check out http://users.sisna.com/mattgibson/, where you can order reproduction artwork kits for a reasonable cost.