Star Wars: Episode I: The Gungan Frontier is basically SimLife for Star Wars fans -- and it's a lot of fun. Released by Lucas Learning, there is an educational intent behind this game, one which should have kids (and even adults) learning while enjoying themselves.
Each mission starts out with "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away" along with the main Star Wars title and the opening crawl, which seem required for any Star Wars game or even comic book. It's kind of silly in this game, though, especially since there really isn't any story to speak of. You can pick between either Obi-Wan Kenobi or Queen Amidala in the beginning (this game is set after the events of the first prequel), but that doesn't have any bearing on the game. In fact, you never see your character once you're immersed in the mission itself. R2-D2, however, is along for the ride to help point out when critters start dying and when you should start releasing more rutiger trees or bubble spores. Jar Jar Binks also pops up every so often to say "uh oh" every time you're having a problem; kids might like him, but, luckily for us adults, there's a way to put him to sleep.
The toughest part of this game is trying to acquaint yourself with the various foreign plants and animals while also figuring out how much of which one to put where, doing so as you monitor the activity on the moon. Take too much time peeking at the information in the Kresch (an encyclopedia full of information about all the animals and plants) and you could find your ecosystem in trouble within minutes! It's a smart idea to put the game on the slowest speed or use the pause feature liberally until you figure out what eats what.
Your job is to set up a thriving ecosystem on a barren moon orbiting Naboo, which is getting too crowded in the Gungans' underwater cities. Not only are plenty of animals from The Phantom Menace on hand, but you also get to choose from Dewbacks and Rancors in the more advanced games (in the easiest mode the plants and animals are chosen for you before you leave). You have to monitor not only the surface, but the Gungan cities as well. Trying to balance the ecosystem isn't easy, and just when you have it nailed along comes a toxic gas cloud or moonquake to make a mess of everything.
The graphics are actually substandard. For example, in the opening scene Boss Nass is animated nicely as he tells you what you need to do, but Obi-Wan and the Queen just stand there. How about some dialogue or movement from them? Even the shots of your ship leaving Naboo for the moon are slightly pixelated and don't move smoothly. When you're on the moon's surface, the animals look more like blobs with some semblance of shape than anything else. There isn't a lot of detail when you're looking at them up close. Given the amount of activity on the screen, perhaps that's to be expected, but I felt like less resources were put into this game than the other Phantom Menace releases (which I'm sure were developed with big sales in mind).
Overall though, this is still a fun game that could even be used in schools to teach kids about ecology in a setting sure to engage them. What kid wouldn't want advice from R2-D2 about where he should be putting his kaadu and rutiger trees?
Graphics: Not as sharp and fluid as they could have been. It would have been nice to see some movement or dialogue from Obi-Wan Kenobi or Queen Amidala.
Sound: Fairly pedestrian as well. The Episode I theme music in the beginning is nice, as are the sounds of the animals which you release into the enivornment, but that's about it. You could play this game with the sound off and not miss anything.
Enjoyment: If you enjoy SimLife, SimCity or any of their variants, you'll have fun with this game. Kids might even learn something along the way.
Replay Value: Challenges abound, especially the specialized missions requiring you to recover from various disasters.
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