A long time ago on a gaming platform far, far away…
Of all the great titles and licenses available on Nintendo Switch one core franchise remains noticeably absent, and that franchise is Star Wars. Like it or hate it, Star Wars is one of the most famous brands in the world and its reach extends to just about every form of media you can think of, especially video games. Though it looks unlikely that we will be getting any “new” Star Wars games on Switch anytime soon due to the current license holder being greedier than a Hutt Cartel during a depression, fans of a galaxy far far away have a new hope in the form of Aspyr Media. Emerging out of lightspeed on March 26th with the sudden announcement that they have ported Jedi Academy to Nintendo Switch as a follow up to their previous port of Jedi Outcast, but is this outing from 2003 a dose of classic action that we remember? Let’s take a look.
Return of the Jedi Academy
Before Disney acquired the Star Wars rights and set about creating their sequel trilogy, the events that followed “The Return of the Jedi” were crafted into some much-loved books and games. Chief among them was the story of Luke Skywalker creating a new Jedi academy to train a new generation of Jedi. Jedi Academy focuses on this aspect by putting you in the role of Jaden Korr.
As Jaden, you become the apprentice of Kyle Katarn and must undertake a series of missions across the galaxy to hone your skills which grant you access to a wide range of light and dark powers. From the basic ability to push or pull your enemies, you will also gain access to protective powers like healing and protection and more destructive powers like lightning and force choke. Though your character progression is to advance through the ranks at the academy from apprentice to Jedi Knight, your ultimate goal is to get to the bottom of a sinister plot put into motion by a Sith cult known as the Disciples of Ragnos who are bent on cheating death Palpatine style by resurrecting the ancient Sith Lord, Marka Ragnos.
Let’s keep a little optimism here
As much as Jedi Academy is a fondly remembered title and rightfully so, it’s important to remember this is a title from 2003 and it shows. This is more or less a straight port not a full remaster, blocky animations and character designs, questionable hit detection, environments that look the same are all present. Spending a fair bit of time with Jedi Academy is certainly a trip down memory lane to a time when games were “simpler” but challenging due to their designs, it’s easy to see how spoilt we have become with graphical fidelity and smooth gameplay over the years, especially when you compare Academy to the likes of Jedi: Fallen Order and to a degree, The Force Unleashed.
Jedi Academy is primarily played in the third person which is especially useful when waving your lightsaber around. From the start you create your Jedi as either male or female with a selection of races and appearance options to choose from, you then have options for creating your lightsaber from hilt design to blade colour. As you progress you can unlock more combat options from various fighting styles to dual wielding and even get access to the infamous double-bladed lightsaber to embrace your inner Darth Maul.
In its day, Jedi Academy had the most impressive lightsaber combat available and it can still be admired today, blades clash and sizzle against each other as you duel against the disciples or deflect blaster bolts. Although the animation and impressive range of moves on hand is fun it is also frustratingly hit and miss, literally, the hit detection doesn’t always seem to register, most enemies will go down in one clean swipe as they should do where others will just stand there as if you are blowing them a kiss instead of being hit with 3 feet of burning plasma. Jedi Academy also puts a lot of emphasis on the agility of a Jedi, allowing you to use various force powers such as Force Speed and Force Jump to reach the high ground and explore your environments.
If you feel that hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side then you are in luck, Jedi Academy gives you access to a range of firearms from standard blasters to chewies crossbow as well as thermal detonators and more. Opting to use firearms is a viable option for most sections and can be played in good old first person or third person. Sadly the hit detection once again feels out of sync as certain enemies will go down in a few hits whereas others will sponge blaster fire and grenade blasts just because they can, coupled with poorly designed checkpoints that often start you back at the beginning or at the midway point in a level and these longer missions can soon become a chore to grind through.
It’s an older code but it checks out
Missions are numerous and although most will follow the same formula, this is broken up here and there with some vehicular combat which on paper should come as a nice break from lightsaber and blaster combat but sadly the controls and sheer feeling of broken code completely ruin this experience. One mission will task you specifically with escaping on a speeder bike while being pursued. This seems like a fast-paced fun level idea but that fun soon turns sourer than a long car ride with Jar Jar Binx as the controls have a mind of their own, your bike will just pull left and right at random as if it’s attached to a bungee cord, the aiming is bad to the point of not being worth attempting, using your lightsaber to slash at approaching enemies is the most effective method of defence. I had to restart the level several times due to the bike becoming possessed and crashing into a wall, the only thing that kept me going was the entertainment factor from the elaborate death screams of the enemies coupled with a slow-motion “cinematic” death cam which again hints at greatness in the design.
This is where the fun begins
If you need to take a break from tackling the main campaign, then you’ll be pleased to hear the multiplayer portion of Jedi Academy is alive and well… well alive anyway. Featuring an impressive range of game modes featuring Free for All, Team Free for All, Siege, Capture the Flag, Duel and Power duel for up to sixteen players online there is plenty to keep you busy if you can find a match.
In an effort to keep the user base full, the servers have been merged with the PC version causing two issues. The first, PC players have been playing Jedi Academy for years and have a distinct advantage over switch players. The second, the lobbies are pretty baron, in the absence of private matches or being able to invite your friends it’s a struggle to find a populated game outside of Free for All and Team Free for All, which is a shame as Jedi vs Sith Capture the Flag has plenty of potential to be good fun especially with the high level of character customisation and a most impressive selection of maps.
It may seem like there are quite a few negatives about Jedi Academy and I must be frank your majesty, there are. As mentioned at the start of the review, this is pretty much a straight port of a PS2 era title, though with some of the controls feeling a bit tighter with the option for motion aiming and the resolution bumped up slightly during gameplay. Jedi Academy will be a hard sell to anyone other than retro purists and die-hard Star Wars fans. This reviewer fall’s into both categories and despite the poorly aged physics, there is still fun to be had, albeit fun that is driven by nostalgia. Aspyr’s instincts do them credit, bringing classic Star Wars titles to Switch fills a hole and with Episode 1 Racer on the way, the catalogue is slowly filling up. We can only hope they manage to patch out some of the poor controls and give some dedicated servers to Switch players.
Review code provided
Platform: PC, Switch, PlayStation, Xbox
Release Date: 26/03/2020
No. of Players: 1-16
Category: Adventure, Action
Developer: Raven Software
Download link: eShop