Lucas Learning's Star Wars Episode 1: The Gungan Frontier
Review by Kayvon Fatahalian
The Naboo people and the Gungans formed an alliance to defeat the invading armies of the Trade Federation in the Battle of Naboo. However, although this outside attack has been defeated, the Gungans face another grave danger. Their underwater city has become overcrowded and they desperately need to find a new location to spread into and live. The Gungan leader Boss Nass has chosen to begin a new colony on the water covered moon of the planet Naboo. An ecosystem must be set up on this moon to support the new colony. In Star Wars: The Gungan Frontier, you are asked by Boss Nass to set up this stable ecosystem. Fortunately, the Gungans are not making you undertake this mission alone. They have already searched the galaxy and collected an assortment of exotic plants and animals for you to use. Also, R2D2 and the not so helpful Gungan Jar Jar Binks are sent to accompany you on the mission.
On my Windows 95 system The Gungan Frontier autoran and installed itself in a snap. Everything was ready to go in under five minutes. For users of older computers, it may be important to note that the game loads over 120 megabytes of data onto your hard disk.
Once the game was loaded, I blasted off in my spacecraft with Jar Jar, R2D2, and my collection of intergalactic flora and fauna and headed into orbit around the Naboo moon. In playing The Gungan Frontier, I had two main responsibilities: to keep the new ecosystem of the moon growing and stable and, most importantly, to make the ecosystem provide for all the needs of the new Gungan underwater city. Though the gameplay controls take some time to learn, a very useful and brief training mission taught me just about everything I needed to know to play. Taking into account which animals ate what and lived best where, I quickly began setting up an ecosystem on the moon by plopping plants and animals down upon a 2D terrain similar to how cities are built in simulation games such as SimCity or Civilization. However, in the Gungan Frontier, my job was to manage the ecosystem, not build the city (which is handled by Boss Nass). During gameplay, R2D2 constantly speaks up with news about the development of life on the moon and Boss Nass frequently contacts you to inform you of the progress of the new Gungan city. Other than just manipulating life forms in the environment, I could send in droids to terraform the landscape into more useful terrain, such as turning deep swamps into rockier land to grow trees for building. Also, I could instruct the Gungans on how much of the ecosystem should be harvested for use in their new city or I could temporarily lock up animals on the moon so they do not interact with the other life forms. Also, I was not limited to the life forms collected for me by the Gungans, the creature editor allowed me to create my own unique plants and animals.
The Gungan Frontier is a simulation that keeps track of the characteristics of each plant and animal on the moon. The game remembers details such as if an animal is hungry, how often it reproduces, how long it lives, and where it lies on the food chain. Poor planning can make an organism go extinct or multiply into huge numbers. As time progresses, random disasters such as moonquakes and pollution spills can occur that hurt the ecosystem. Other disasters are caused by Jar Jar Binks, who sometimes chooses to press a button on the ship that dumps loads of life forms onto the moon or fires your ship's laser down onto the moon's surface. When the ecosystem is stable, the game let me sit back and watch the new Gungan city grow. Although the factors in the game allow the ecosystem to function fairly realistically, I would have liked to have seen greater detail in the simulation. For example, neat additions would be: different temperatures in different areas of the planet, the passing of seasons over the course of time, or the natural flocking together of a species for safety.
As I mentioned earlier, The Gungan Frontier can best be compared with games such as SimCity and Civilization. However, it differs from these titles in that it places a higher emphasis on learning. The player learns about the relationships between producers and consumers in an ecosystem and works constantly with the food chain. Reminding me of the on-line dossiers sported by Broderbund's old Carmen Sandiego series, The Gungan Frontier features a handy database of information on the organisms in the game and on Star Wars universe history. The player can also consult population graphs and tables of animal statistics for assistance as the ecosystems become complex. These extra educational tools add depth to the gaming experience. Unfortunately, the well thought out gameplay and educational value of The Gungan Frontier are counterbalanced by poor graphics and sound. I was unimpressed by the jerkiness of game animations and by the pixelated appearance of the animals as they move about the planet. The sound in the game is at times clever, but coming from an development team under the label of George Lucas (The Star Wars films have always placed great emphasis on sound effects quality), the audio in The Gungan Frontier is average at best. In short, the game is no technical marvel.
The Gungan Frontier will be most likely enjoyed by young Star Wars enthusiasts largely because of its expansion on the plot unveiled in the recent Star Wars movie and by younger gamers who prefer simulation type games to action oriented ones. Parents and teachers can be assured that the title does offer substantial opportunities for learning about ecosystems and in complex problem solving. It is a perfect title for a classroom software library. The game can be made simple to accomodate 9-12 year olds or more difficult to challenge older gamers. However, I feel that those 15 and up will be dissatisfied with the juvenile tilt of the gameplay as well as the game's technical inferiority to other current on the shelf titles.
Lastly, The Gungan Frontier really needs greater horsepower than what is stated on the box to be run enjoyably. On my Pentium II 300 MHz Windows 95 based system, the game produced very low frame rates at high detail levels. I recommend having at least this setup (or the equivalent on the Macintosh platform) to thoroughly enjoy The Gungan Frontier.
If you do choose to jump into The Gungan Frontier, a great challenge awaits on the moon of Naboo. May the force be with you.
Rating: 3 out of 5 possible stars.
* 166MHz or higher Pentium class processor
* 32 MB RAM
* 120 MB Hard Disk Space
* 4X CD-ROM Drive
* 2MB PCI or AGP Video Card
* 16 Bit Sound Bound
* Windows 95 or 98
* 200MHz or higher PowerPC 603e or, 132MHz or higher PowerPC 604 or, any G3 class processor
* 32 MB RAM
* 120 MB Hard Disk Space
* 4X CD-ROM Drive
* MAC OS Version 7.6 or higher