Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (Switch) Review
I have to put on my grandpa hat for this one, but when the Wii was first announced all the way back in the mid-2000s, the immediate want for a game that used the Wii Remote as a Lightsaber came as soon as we got a look at the controller.
It took almost two years, and in just a couple of months of each other, we got Star Wars: The Force Unleashed and the Star Wars: The Clone Wars – Lightsaber Duels. Like all pre-Wii Motion Plus titles, both of these games meant the dream of a 1:1 lightsaber game was never realised.
Sadly Star Wars: The Force Unleashed on the Switch doesn’t have the 1:1 controls, but it has something even better – button controls. Unlike the Wii version, you can play the Switch version of Force Unleashed without waving your arm; these button controls are likely just ripped from the PS2 version, which Krome Studios also made. Yes, this release of Force Unleased is the Krome Studios game made for the Wii, PS2 and PSP. The Xbox 360/PS3 version is seemingly left to the coattails of history. The Wii version looked not as advanced as the HD consoles, but it also had some different story beats, more fluid combat (and not just because of motion controls), and other minor details.
Since The Force Unleashed was released in 2008, the world of Star Wars has changed. None of this game is now canon, but like the rest of the new media around Star Wars, it does provide a story outside the main films. Taking place between Episode III and IV, the Force Unleashed has you play as Darth Vader’s secret apprentice. Found on the Wookie homeworld Kashyyyk as a child, Starkiller (although he’s not named in this game) is a dark force user, trained under Vader to kill Jedi and Empire goons alike – it’s a chance to play a Star Wars game as a bad guy once in a while and lean into the powers they have. It’s a fun little story, it’s not the longest and mostly linear, but it’s not a bloated open-world affair, which is nice.
The story takes place in several different worlds, with your ship acting as a hub to get around. While you’re on the ship, you can plan where to go next, change up the colour and hilt on your Lightsaber, upgrade your force powers and switch costumes.
The combat of The Force Awakens is the most fun part of the game, motion controls or not. Like the Wii, the left Joy-Con controls all of your force powers, which can be combo-ed or manipulated with different button combinations. Because you’re a dark side force user, you can use Lightning, throw people and things, and choke people – all the good stuff. The right Joy-Con is solely for the Lightsaber, and despite what I had to say in my review about the game years ago – I don’t think these controls have aged all too well. There’s some nimble combat here, flipping around, zapping people, striking them with the Lightsaber – it’s just made all the more challenging with the motion controls. They feel slow. You can schwing schwing all you want, but waiting for canned animations to finish and the saber not moving 1:1 is a step backward now. It makes you feel disconnected from the action.
Luckily you never have to turn on motion controls at all, and everything gets mapped to buttons. The combat is faster, fluid and just more fun. The Force Unleashed was undoubtedly one of the more waggly games on the Wii. With age, I’m happy button controls are here.
Some other parts of the game have aged from a gameplay perspective. Remember in the mid-2000s when every game had quick time events? Those annoying little on-screen prompts to smash the right button (or do the proper movement) fail, and you have to do it all again? Those things. The Force Unleashed it in spades, and when you’re playing with motion controls, they’re even more annoying. There’s a reason we don’t do these anymore. There’s also some ancient checkpointing, which on a hybrid system is annoying. Going back and starting a level from scratch is not fun.
The other aged part of The Force Unleashed is the graphics and the sound design. Like most Star Wars games brought to the Switch via the way of Aspyr, you’re not getting too much in the way of a visual glow-up. Aside from the benefits of the game being in HD and a smoothed out performance, there’s not much new going on. You’re looking at some vintage late 2000 Wii graphics. That also means low-quality textures and pop-in and early loose lip-syncing and wooden animation.
It looks like some lighting effects and/or bloom have been added, but it’s just possible it was too had to notice at 480p before. The Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of The Force Unleashed would have translated over better visually, but the combat and gameplay of the Wii game are more fun. I also had to muck around with the game’s sound levels, it was hard to hear a lot of speech, and music in boss fights was super quiet when it should have been there pumping along.
The Force Unleashed contains a duel mode where you are a friend, locally, can smash each other with lightsabers. Skins are unlocked during singleplayer with various characters from throughout Star Wars history. The duel mode is fun enough for what it is, but the same motion controls still limit it.
Force Unleashed had a lot of love when it was first made. For its time, the game provided a new Star Wars adventure with a fun and novel way to play it. Now more than a decade later, games are made differently, and The Force Unleashed features a lot of gameplay mechanics we don’t see anymore. Stiff and repetitive waggle controls are now at least optional, but quick-time events and a wooden presentation make this a great example of what games were a long time ago, in a galaxy not too far away.
+ Button controls allow you to ignore now ancient motion control mechanics
+ Interesting and fun combat
+ A self-contained Star Wars story
+ Smooth visuals at 1080p
- Wii controls without MotionPlus have aged so poorly
- Quick time events sucked then, and they suck now
- Still a short and linear story