There’s just something about being a Jedi that really calls to people in a very exciting and entertaining way. If you’ve even seen one of the movies at some point in your childhood, you inexorably have a tie to the ideas of things like The Force, lightsabers and green muppets giving you advice. Pretending that you open automatic doors with your powers or swinging around a flashlight while making sloshing sounds are pretty much staples of my sad childhood imagination, but I’m comforted by the fact that I wasn’t the only one. Lucasarts really did make some amazing PC games, and nowhere was that more apparent than the Jedi Knight games. Switch players finally have a chance to look into the final leg of that saga (and possibly the biggest chapter of wish fulfilment), Jedi Academy.
Personally, I have a stronger tie to Jedi Outcast because of when it came out and how much I played it as a child, but you cannot overlook the way that Jedi Academy immediately sets things up for the player. You play Jaden Korr, a dude who straight up knows he’s a Jedi, and is here to study under Luke Skywalker himself. Then, as it turns out, there’s a Sith cult that’s trying to resurrect an ancient but powerful Sith Lord, and, for those unaware, Sith are the bad guys. Across multiple chapters, Jaden has to deal with the usual tropes that come with Star Wars. You get to spend time training up your skills, you go on quests to far flung locations to try and learn more about the cult, and you battle other Jedi (both light and dark) as you grow stronger and cooler. Jaden will, eventually, be given the choice to switch sides and become a dark Jedi, which some people will choose because, well, dark Jedi get the cooler powers, but you also get the darker ending if you head down that road. The greatest part is that the whole thing is fairly organic in design and execution, so don’t feel like you NEED to stick to the light side in order to get a good ending. Hell, if you’re just thirsty for Force Lightning, then definitely go Dark Side.
Jedi Academy does a lot right for a game that’s close to two decades old. For one, as a game and as a concept, it’s one of the best first/third person shooters for my money. The objectives are pretty straight forward for each scene and area: locate a person, infiltrate a base, “confront” a specific NPC, and there’s usually plenty to encounter in the space between point A and point B. As someone who is starting to feel pretty motion sick in full first person mode, it’s a relief that the lightsaber action takes place in 3rd person and is also one of the best modes to be in. Sure, you’ve got awesome, canonical blasters to use if you want range and success, but I’m not playing this game to shoot people from a distance: I’m here to flail wildly with a lightsaber, and you get the chance to do that from the word go with Jedi Academy. In comparison to the other Jedi Knight games (particularly Jedi Outcast), there’s no preamble or setup that leads you to discover a lightsaber and then find out you’re Force attuned: you’re going to Jedi Academy, there’s Luke Skywalker, here’s your energy sword, go. In those two regards (easy-to-digest plot coupled with wish fulfilment Star Wars ideas), then you’re good to go.
Additionally, the combat and level design are both particularly sharp. From the early forest levels where you get your bearings, to the tests within the Academy and even into the ruins of Vader’s old fortress, you are firmly in the Star Wars Universe as people knew it before Disney nuked the whole thing. You’ve got different incarnations of Troopers, alien races and Sith Lords from all angles. You can get good as a sharpshooter or just perfect blaster deflection with your lightsaber. When you get into a fight, you figure out how to best utilize solid combo swings with brute force attacks and mix in Force actions (either with some psychic throws, invisible pulls or healing yourself), and the duels can last a surprisingly long time. Even better, you get to craft your own lightsaber in the single player campaign after a period of time, which means that you can shape the solo journey to even more your flavor. Double bladed lightsaber like Darth Maul? Sure, but how about literally swinging around two lightsabers at the same time? That’s what’s up, and it’s perfectly awesome for people who deeply enjoy Star Wars. If you don’t, I’m not particularly sure why you even picked up this game.
Also, again, Jedi Academy is well written, which is so important for Star Wars fans who still remember and acknowledge the older lore. Not only do we have voices for certain characters to help give better tone and shape, the plot actually makes sense. The Sith wanna raise the dead in order to swing power back in their direction. Good guys can become bad guys when presented with classic traits of the Dark Side (fear, jealousy, hate), and you yourself can fall victim to the allure if you decide the temptation is too great. As easy as it would have been for Lucasarts to simply let this game run wild with multiplayer (which feels like a lot of the tone of several more recent Star Wars games), there’s a good ten hour plot here that you can fight through, enjoy, and replay to see how different branches might go. No, there aren’t twenty different endings, but there’s enough between Light and Dark to make them both worth experiencing.
There are some technical issues that prevent Jedi Academy from being a picture perfect gaming expedition on the Switch. Firstly, the game is most certainly a direct port, one that incorporates certain levels of consideration but not others. For example, a lot of the menus and splash screens look distorted and stretched out in handheld mode. The warning screen about using Joycon straps looks like it was lifted from an international Wii game, had some words and pictures swapped out, and then used as is. It’s pretty ugly, and my only thought is that it was to distract from how the graphics did not receive an HD upgrade or anything like that, so nostalgia needs to keep the fire going in some regard. It’s not godawful, but the game is a tad unsightly, which I guess is a fair trade off for performance. There are zero issues with response or reaction time, and I’d rather have a game look mediocre and run great than have a gorgeous title handle like a car with two flat tires. Oh, in that realm, take some time and figure out the button mapping as well: Switch Lite users might want to reconfigure things so that you can properly jump and swing a lightsaber at the same time without getting a handcramp.
Then there’s the matter of the multiplayer, which may or may not be moot by the time this article runs. Some intrepid eyes have found that the netcode for Jedi Academy is the exact same on the Switch as it is on the PC release, which means the game is fully cross platform. While this sounds like something we should all be rejoicing over, keep in mind that Jedi Academy was released in 2003 and I think the Steam release was close to a decade ago if not longer. Not only are mouse and keyboard users well versed in the ways of the Force for all things online (death matches, capture the flag, etc.), but there are a slew of cheaters who are largely ignored because the game doesn’t qualify for VAC bans due to the lack of a competitive scene. New players can quickly get overwhelmed and frustrated by veteran Jedi seemingly appearing out of nowhere and dealing fatal blows without any resistance. There are reports that this will be patched out soon, and I’m on the fence if this is a good thing. After all, fewer players, even fewer cheating players, means longer lobby waits and a cold death to the console scene for Jedi Academy. As it is, I’m able to jump into some death matches without a moment’s hesitation, and no, I’m not doing well, but I still have fun. I guess time will tell if this is a wise decision or not to nix the PC community.
In any case, Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy is the culmination of the franchise in a strong and excellent position. You’ve got a great plot, solid single player, a lot of fun ways to explore and deal with the problems presented, and some great camera handling to keep you on point and on the ball. The technical issues may be less present in docked mode, and they are noticeable but not irredeemable in handheld. A lot to enjoy, a thriving (if potentially short lived) online scene and no better time than the present to really sit down and hammer out your side of the Force. Play or play not: there is no try.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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STAR WARS Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy Review
Gameplay - 8/10
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 8/10
Replay Value - 8/10
This Star Wars blast-from-the-past isn’t without hiccups in a modern port, but still has enough heart, genuine enjoyment & multiplayer madness to make it sing.