- Developer: Raven Software
- Publisher: Aspyr
- Release Date: 26/3/2020
- Price: £17.99 / $19.99
- Review code provided by Aspyr
Introducing: Jedi Academy Switch Review
An integral part of review coverage is stating your biases so the audience can interpret your words accordingly. For instance, I didn’t have to pay out of pocket for Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy, as noted by the handy bullet-point above, which notes that I received a review code. Yet, that particular bias doesn’t affect my review. The bias that does, however, is the fact that I am a gigantic Star Wars fan. It’s principally important to understand this, as the context that I went into Jedi Academy glowing purely based on the associated IP sets the stage for what is about to follow. I had a wonderful time with Jedi Academy, even in the face of the game’s mountain of technical inadequacies that remove any and all rational justification for non-fans to pick this title up.
The latter is the Bantha in the room, and as such, it’ll be addressed first. To be categorical, I’ve seen fewer games in a shoddier technical state than Jedi Academy on Nintendo Switch. A fair portion of this issue is a direct result of age, and the fact that this is an early 2000s action-adventure title. If I had one Midi-Chlorian for every time a character’s animations bugged out or the game’s mechanics had a hiccup, I’d be very strong with the force. Cutscenes simply do not hold up in even the loosest sense of the term, with models that simply slide across the frame, poorly choreographed and rigged movements, and facial animations that rival Star Fox 64. During gameplay, you’ll find an equal (and equally hilarious) number of graphical glitches and bugs, but the gameplay glitches as well.
One speeder bike mission in particular was egregiously broken to the point of parody, as my Jedi rubber-banded and spastically careened across the environment, leaving me without even a modicum of control. The mission was so dysfunctional it was almost awe-inspiring, and my Nintendo Switch’s album is full of videos chronicling it all. Even when the Jedi Academy is functioning as intended, it’s saddled by 3D game design growing pains. Nothing feels quite as smooth or as precise as you’d like it to. This is a far cry from Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order with respect to polish.
The port itself doesn’t function adequately either. Most offensively, the game crashed on me three times at different points in the campaign. Luckily, I made liberal use of the game’s manual save features so I never lost progress, but the fact that these crashes persist is a black mark on the whole experience. There is also no way to shrink the screen back to a 4:3 ratio, the way the game was intended to be played, which leaves everything feeling blown-out. It’s a baffling decision. I also realized very early on that suspending the game and returning to the home menu doesn’t pause Jedi Academy, and so, when I had to unexpectedly pause during a cutscene to answer a phone call, I returned to the game in a completely new screen, having missed key story beats.
A Flaw in Design
If you can maneuver around these technical issues, though, you’ll find a functionally mediocre third-person action title. Yes, unfortunately, much of the game beneath its technical troubles is flawed as well. It leans heavily into repeated mission design and features some of the most ineffectual and unsatisfying third-person shooting in any Star Wars game I’ve played. The guns have almost no impact or visceral feedback. Shooting a stormtrooper feels awful, yet eventually after a ream of headshots, results in a kill. It takes a lot of the weight out of combat. Luckily, as we’ll discuss later, the lightsabler combat fares much better.
Considering that much of the campaign time is spent traipsing through uninspired locations fighting through hordes of repeated enemy types, Jedi Academy can quickly become monotonous. Then, when the game does try to shake up its basic gameplay structure, it introduces one-off distractions that never loop back around and serve the overall game, or even feel that organic when they are shown off—again, see the aforementioned speeder bike mission. For the non-Star Wars fan, this game is almost roundly irredeemable.
A New Hope
However, as I noted previously, I am a Star Wars fan. As such, now that I’ve rightfully scared away all of the non-fans, we can proceed with an examination of why I’m so smitten with this title on a subjective level. Of course, all of the aforementioned problems apply. However, that doesn’t render everything this game does right obsolete. Of course, to those who aren’t engrained in a galaxy far, far away, the positives probably don’t mean much. For starters, the game’s overarching, narrative thrust really grabbed me. Taking place in a post-Return of the Jedi landscape, Jedi Academy cements itself in expanded universe lore, vibrant material that Disney has rendered non-canon. Getting to see strange corners of the Star Wars universe with such (in a roundabout, niche way) iconic figures such as Kyle Katarn is incredibly compelling.
Spinning out of the larger narrative is the opportunity for true player agency from a storytelling perspective. Jedi Academy offers the player the ability to not only customize their Jedi Knight in appearance, but in action. You can directly assign skill points to either light-side or dark-side force abilities and make key narrative decisions which’ll lead your Jedi down different paths. It’s incredibly engaging, and I found myself connecting with my Jedi in a more substantive manner than I have with my character in other Star Wars titles.
The Power of the Force
Those force powers segue nicely into the crowning achievement of Jedi Academy, which is the game’s lightsaber combat. Now, to the untrained eye, it may look like nothing more than a flashy, chaotic disaster. In many ways, the combat can feel like that, particularly in long duels, where the camera’s inadequacies and the game’s poor tacticle feedback are felt most acutely. But, when the combat fires on all cylinders, it is unparalleled. No Star Wars game, The Force Unleashed, Jedi: Fallen Order, or otherwise can compete. It is empowering and has an incredibly high skill ceiling. This gameplay success is largely a function of how the lightsaber and force abilities synergize. There are a bevy of truly useful force powers to draw on in any scenario, and mastering each is deeply rewarding. They are tied to a force meter, so you cannot go crazy, but it replenishes fast enough that you never have to stand around without being able to call on the force for long.
Marrying those powers with the ability to dismember Stormtroopers in elegant lightsaber strokes is pretty close to euphoric. Understanding the range and utility of saber throws, strikes, and styles and joining them into sequences with force pushes, pulls, and mind tricks coalesces in mighty chain kills that’ll have you wearing down your capture button in no time. My Switch’s album has so many clips of glorious takedowns and room clears that felt so viscerally satisfying I just needed to save them for later. This is the ultimate Jedi power fantasy, so long as you can deal with the decisively floaty movement and questionable hit detection that does put somewhat of a damper on things from time to time.
Everything in Jedi Academy is bogged down by an asterisk of some variety, which is unfortunate. It certainly isn’t enough to keep me from starting a second playthrough, though, this time giving into my temptations and joining the dark side in search of unlimited power. Having an entirely new set of force powers at my disposal and a new ending really entices me to jump back in. I just cannot get enough of the game’s combat and its overarching narrative.
Jedi Power Battles
I’ll also come back for the game’s multiplayer, although that mode isn’t without its flaws either. It’s surprisingly robust, with several modes of play, plenty of maps, and a plethora of customization options. The biggest issue facing the game’s sprawling online is a shrinking player base. At the time of writing, I struggle to even find one full lobby, let alone players populating every mode. That said, the game features the full multiplayer suite for offline single-player as well, allowing for bots to backfill the matches.
While this is far from ideal, it’s a servicable way to experience this portion of the Jedi Academy package. Ideally, you’ll get online, as the excitement of stealing a flag in capture the flag, or force pusing a rival to their doom is genuinely engaging. Even in offline play, though, you can get at least a taste for that excitement, partaking in both one-on-one duels, and larger team-based modes such as capture-the-flag and free for all. This multiplayer content certainly bolsters the overall value of Jedi Academy significantly, even if it has to played in a compromised, solo state.
An Impossible Recommendation
Of course, it would be serious journalistic malpractice if I allowed my Star Wars fandom to let Jedi Academy slide on its wealth of issues. In almost every facet of its construction the game is flawed. Even beneath its technical issues are a suite of problems intrinsic to the game’s design. Polish is not a word in this game’s vocabulary, and neither is technical competency. Well, that’s more of a phrase, but the point stands. I cannot, in good faith, give this game a positive verdict even in light of it being some of the most fun I’ve had with a Star Wars game. Fans can rejoice, as this is certainly an experience that deserves to be seen first-hand. Everyone else, though, should stay far, far away from Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy.
- Empowering lightsaber and force combat
- Engaging narrative
- Robust mutliplayer
- Terrible technical performance
- Shoddy port job
- Stiff mechanics
- Underwhelming design
- Monotonous third-person shooting
Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy is a worthwhile investment for hardcore Star Wars fans and no one else.