It was a sad day for nostalgic gamers everywhere earlier this week when Disney announced that it would be shutting down LucasArts after nearly 30 years in the gaming biz. Things haven't been too hot for the developer as of late, particularly with the delay of both Star Wars: First Assault and the much-hyped next-generation project 1313. But over the years, it's really developed a keen ability to deliver the best of both worlds. It provided players with awesome Star Wars-based experiences, along with original games that will not soon be forgotten.
In the Beginning
LucasArts got its start with the sports combat game Ballblazer, which appeared on the Apple II, Atari 5200 and 7800 consoles, and the Commodore 64. From there, releases included such fare as Koronis Rift, Rescue On Fractalus!, The Edolon and the entertaining PC game Maniac Mansion, which would later become a cult hit for the Nintendo Entertainment System.
From there, more familiar hits began to emerge from the company, including Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders, a pair of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade games (both a graphic adventure for PC and a casual game for consoles), and the puzzle game Pipe Mania (which also went under the name Pipe Dream).
Going Into the 90's
LucasArts began to hit its stride in the 90's with such releases as Loom, The Secret of Monkey Island (and its sequel, LeChuck's Revenge) and the stellar Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. However, it got a boost on the SNES, with some help from JVB, releasing the Super Star Wars trilogy, platforming games that would become highly respected amongst both casual players and the rabid fan base.
From there, LucasArts' PC run continued with such games as Day of the Tentacle and Sam & Max Hit the Road, but eventually, attention turned back to Star Wars, where several games made their debut, including the FMV-powered shooter Rebel Assault, the awesome simulator X-Wing and the thrilling Sega classic Star Wars Arcade, which would later come to the 32X system.
Out of nowhere, LucasArts had a cult hit on its hands with the Konami release Zombies Ate My Neighbors, a hilarious and fun two-player action game where you took on all sorts of cinematic creatures while rescuing innocent folks. The sequel, Ghoul Patrol, didn't fare so well, but the original remains a bonafide hit.
More licensed games became hits in the 90's, including the Factor 5-produced Indiana Jones' Greatest Adventures (which is currently available on the Wii Virtual Console, along with the Star Wars games) and TIE Fighter, a game that gave you control of the Empire's feared flying vehicle. Dark Forces soon debuted after, putting players into a first-person shooter for the first time in the series' history. And, of course, we still love it.
Original adventures continued to come out alongside Star Wars games. While PC owners got to play around with Dark Forces II and TIE Fighter, Nintendo 64 owners got to play Shadows of the Empire, a game that surprisingly lived up to the hype, despite its somewhat low replay value. Meanwhile, original games like Full Throttle, Grim Fandango and The Dig enthralled the PC community.
The Star Wars legacy ended strong in the late 90's, thanks to the release of the Phantom Menace prequel. Star Wars: Episode 1 Racer was a big hit on Dreamcast and N64; Rogue Squadron proved to be a worthy shooter on Nintendo's console; and Sega's arcade racing game continues to rack up quarters today.
Gaining Star Wars Steam
By the time the 2000's rolled around, LucasArts focused more on Star Wars and less on original franchises. Still, it had plenty of energy to go around.
Games like Star Wars: Demolition, Jedi Power Battles and Obi-Wan were quickly forgotten, but stuff like Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader and Starfighter made up for it. And, thankfully, some original titles did emerge, including the fantastic Armed & Dangerous and the role-playing adventure Gladius.
However, it's with the arrival of mid-2000's Star Wars games that LucasArts really took off. The BioWare-produced Knights of the Old Republic was a huge hit for Xbox and PC, while Battlefront entranced both PS2 and Xbox owners with its multiplayer appeal. (The sequel would be even better.)
Other games came out to round out the 2000's, including the LEGO Star Wars games, the enjoyable Star Wars: Republic Commando, and a pair of LEGO Indiana Jones games that were better than expected. However, there were a fair share of duds as well, including the forgettable downloadable game Lucidity and the average third-person shooter Fracture.
Slowing To a Crawl
By the time the current generation of gaming rolled around, LucasArts had lost some steam. The team did produce a pair of killer action/adventure games with The Force Unleashed, though their lack of replay value was quite noticeable. Outside of that, the team didn't get much accomplished, saved for working with Rovio on Angry Birds Star Wars and producing the utterly casual Kinect Star Wars.
Many projects were in the works at LucasArts, including a proposed next-gen Indiana Jones games that eventually got cancelled; a first-person shooter called Star Wars Assault; and the much ballyhooed next-gen project 1313, which was hinted at over the past year. Alas, with Disney closing the company down, it doesn't look like we'll ever see these release.
It's a shame that LucasArts closed down the way it did, but there's no way that Disney will let the Star Wars license stay dormant when it comes to video games. It'll figure something out. Still, we'll hardly see a legacy as good as the one LucasArts created in the 90's and 2000's. It's unmatchable, and well worth re-exploring, especially if you have a good PC.
Rest in peace, LucasArts.