“Intense 3D Fighting in That Galaxy Far, Far Away.”
Star Wars games have a long history of being “hit or miss.” When they hit, we’ve gotten some instant classics as a result; like Super Star Wars on the SNES, Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader on the Gamecube, or the Star Wars Trilogy Arcade cabinet. My personal favorite might actually be the simply titled Star Wars released for the NES in 1991 — the one that played like an open world game where you could choose to steal the Millennium Falcon without ever even meeting Obi Wan or Han Solo, if you so pleased.
But for every hit, there is a miss: Flight of the Falcon, Rebel Assault, Kinect Star Wars — the list goes on. But perhaps none are quite as infamous as 1997’s Star Wars: Masters of Teräs Käsi. In concept, a Star Wars fighting game seemed like it would be hard to go wrong. In fact, a quote from a preview featured in issue 12 of Star Wars Galaxy magazine went so far as to claim that it would “be hard to go wrong.” Clearly, the interviewee responsible for that quote was not gifted with Force Vision.™ Masters of Teräs Käsi would be almost universally panned on release, stacked up against such tough competition as Tekken 3 and Street Fighter III. But with that in mind, was it simply a matter of unfair comparison? Is Masters of Teräs Käsi actually an alright game, overshadowed by some of its stand-out peers?
In this article, we’ll be travelling back a not-so long time ago, and not particularly far away either; to examine the rise and fall of the first Star Wars fighting game.** We’ll attempt to make sense of its development, battle our way through the game itself, and measure the impact the release had on both the games industry and the Star Wars franchise itself. Are there any other Star Wars references I should get out of the way up front? Oh! I’ll try “I have a bad feeling about this.” That’s a good quote.
** If you’re willing to dig super deep / count a technicality, this maybe isn’t entirely true? 1997’s Star Warped – a Star Wars parody game fittingly published by “Parroty Interactive” – featured a variety of minigames and activities for players to partake in. Among these was a game titled “Flawed Fighters,” which gave you a choice between three characters (“Leia I. Joe,” “Cool Handless Luke,” and “Pizza Flippin Greedo”) and allowed you to battle it out against an AI. But honestly, this is such an obscure little curio that can only tangentially be called a “Star Wars game,” and so we’re just gonna go ahead and disregard this. Also, it sucked.
“An Ancient and Almost Forgotten Fighting Art.”
Our story begins in 1996, following a pitch presented by Capcom to LucasArts. Capcom were looking to develop their first 3D fighting game, and sought to differentiate it from other fighters of the time in some key ways. Most notably, every combatant would come equipped with their own choice of weapon, making different playable characters feel that much more unique. Having the Star Wars license would help push their game over the top, they thought, and give them an edge over 3D contemporaries in Dead or Alive, Tekken 2, and Virtua Fighter 3. Ultimately, LucasArts declined Capcom on their offer, though they would still run with their concept and develop an original title by the name of Star Gladiator.**
LucasArts took a liking to some of Capcom’s ideas though, and decided to go ahead with their own attempt at developing a Star Wars fighting game. By May of ‘96, they were ready to announce the game at the second annual Electronic Entertainment Expo, with development having begun a mere two or three months earlier by my estimation (based on a reported 19 month development time and October 31st release date). One small problem: Nobody on the development team had experience with programming for the Sony PlayStation, which was the console the game was being developed exclusively for.
“No one had programmed a game on the PlayStation […] We were learning the hardware, how to make art on it, how to program on it while we were developing Teräs Käsi.” ~ Craig Rundels, Lead Artist
Now, of course you can find examples of developers knocking it out the park with their first games for new consoles. But remember: Capcom offered to handle this project for them. LucasArts had their chance to let an established player in the fighting games genre borrow their brand, and they chose to do it all on their own instead. It seemed as if they had some of their own ideas in mind, and were committed to making sure they were “done right.”
First, LucasArts called their friends and collaborators at Industrial Light & Magic to help convert motion capture footage for use in character animations. In typical Lucas / ILM fashion, they sought to push the limits of available technology: Characters of different shapes and sizes would dynamically adjust the angles of their attacks based on the size and shapes of their opponents, which was an innovative [if not totally unnecessary] feature for the time. Next, they would do a deep dive into the Star Wars expanded universe in search of potential characters and plot points to incorporate, as well as establishing new lore that would come to be canonized. For example: The titular “Teräs Käsi” fighting style was a new creation for the game — based on the real Indonesian fighting style of Pencak Silat, and translating roughly from Finnish as “Steel Hand.”
The Teräs Käsi fighting style would be most notably represented in-game / most commonly associated with newcomer Arden Lyn — a tough lady with a metallic arm who would serve as the game’s only non-weapon-wielding character. She would feature heavily in promotion for the game, becoming something like the game’s mascot character. Appearances in other expanded universe stories would soon follow, further detailing her life prior to and after the events of Masters of Teräs Käsi. So, regardless of how the game itself was received, it still ended up serving an “important” role in establishing extended Star Wars canon… Until the “Star Wars Legends” label wiped the slate mostly clean around the time of release of The Force Awakens. Still, it was good of LucasArts to realize the lack of strong female characters in their franchise, and to try and remedy that with the addition of a new one.***
“With this game, aside from Leia there was definitely a drive to get another strong female character. That was part of getting Arden Lyn off the ground.” ~ Camela Boswell, Production Manager
Unfortunately, the longer Masters of Teräs Käsi toiled in development, the less unique its weapon-based combat became as a selling point. While Battle Arena Toshinden with its take on the soon-to-be subgenre had already been on the market since 1995, there was still time to strike while the iron was still relatively hot. But by October 31st of 1997 – the game’s release date – the PlayStation had already seen the releases of Bushido Blade, the aforementioned Star Gladiator, and Soul Edge / Blade (among other titles, I’m sure). Not only that, but two weeks prior to the release of Masters of Teräs Käsi, arcades would see the arrival of Mortal Kombat 4, which infamously introduced unique weapons for each of the kombatants. Now, Masters of Teräs Käsi would have only the uniqueness of it’s franchise tie-in to sell itself on, and the developers would have hope that their gameplay could stand up to the competition in order to carry the game the rest of the way.
** Star Gladiator is an inoffensive enough polygonal fighting game. At the very least, it’s a better game than Masters of Teräs Käsi. You can totally see where all the Star Wars characters would’ve slotted in, which is pretty amusing.
*** Additionally, “Legends” character Mara Jade also appears as an unlockable female character. For those not in the know, her character was a Jedi Master who renounced the Dark Side with the help of Kyle Katarn and Luke Skywalker, eventually marrying the latter.
“The Longer the Lightsaber, the More Health.”
At some point between the events of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, Emperor Palpatine gets a bit angry about that whole “Battle of Yavin” / destruction of the Death Star deal. As revenge, he seeks out the assassin Arden Lyn, and hires her to take out the key members of the Rebel Alliance (presumably your Lukes, Hans, Leias and whoever else have you). However, because the Empire is bad at keeping any of their plans secret, the Alliance catches wind of this nefarious plot. The Alliance makes a counter-move: By appealing to Arden Lyn’s adherence to the traditions of the Teräs Käsi martial art discipline, they arrange to have the battles to come on fair terms. In other words, they agree to one-on-one fights pitting the Rebels against the Empire’s own collection of combatants. Additionally, I guess everyone also agrees that they should fight all of their own allies as well during this time, in order to get some extra practice in I guess?
Honestly, does the plot really matter here? Personally, I don’t care why or how Darth Vader might come to blows against Boba Fett: I’m just here to see what it might look like and how well it plays. If an opportunity presented itself to see Goku fight against Superman, are you gonna waste any precious time asking questions?** And so, the stage is set for some of the most iconic original trilogy characters to square off against each other, in several recognizable locations. Not only that, but some of the greatest hits off of the original John Williams’ soundtracks are present as well, in wholly acceptable CD quality!
To be clear, the game is absolutely no slouch in the presentation department: It looks and sounds every part the love letter to the original trilogy that it is, as crafted by a company who clearly cares about the Star Wars franchise. I reckon the character models are about as on-point as you could ever hope to get on the PS1, and the attention to detail in terms of size variances and providing neat outfits for characters to wear should not go unpraised: Leia in her “Boushh the Bounty Hunter” disguise from Return of the Jedi is the perfect battle armor for her, though I wouldn’t have minded her Hoth apparel as an alternative as well. I certainly would’ve preferred it over… well, I guess we better get to that sooner rather than later.
The game gives you a roster of eight characters to start with, covering most of the roster you might expect a Star Wars fighting game to cover: Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, Fett. Then there’s the aforementioned Arden Lyn, as well as two other “new” characters — a Tusken raider by the unfortunate name Hoar, and a Gamorrean called Thok. Because the Star Wars Legends universe was an absolute nightmare that felt the need to over-explain and interconnect every facet of Star Wars, these characters went on to be given hilariously extensive backstories, described as being “Force sensitive,” and even saw Thok being retconned into being one of Jabba the Hutt’s bodyguards who gets killed by Luke in Return of the Jedi. If you think that’s a stretch, you haven’t heard that Hoar is the sole survivor of Anakin’s Tusken killing spree from Attack of the Clones! Not only that, but he nearly revenge-kills him decades later, only to be thwarted by Tao – Vader’s secret apprentice – despite his former master dealing him a mortal wound moments earlier. And that, my friends, is why we should all be thankful that Disney wiped this convoluted slate clean.
But wait, there’s more! Because no fighting game is complete without hidden additional characters, Masters of Teräs Käsi is kind enough to provide five unlockable fighters: Dark Jedi Mara Jade, Boba Fett impersonator Jodo Kast, an apparently Force sensitive Stormtrooper designated “17786,” and none other than Darth Vader himself. Naturally, these characters serve as mostly cosmetic variations on the default roster (albeit with a handful of unique special moves), with Mara Jade and Darth Vader playing similarly to Luke, the Stormtrooper closely mirroring Han, and Jodo Kast being little more than a slight texture variant of Boba Fett. Of course, that only covers four of the five bonus characters. Unfortunately, the last of the lot is “Princess Leia!” (note the exclamation mark), who serves to provide Leia another additional costume in the form of her Return of the Jedi “slave outfit.” Sure, it’s a predictable inclusion, but I still reserve the right to find it tacky as hell.
As you might expect, each character has their own unique set of attacks and special moves — the latter of which each requiring specific button combos that you must commit to memory. These combinations run the gamut from “intuitive” to “what the hell is this,” with trickier inputs typically rewarding you with the more powerful moves. That being said, there are still some pretty powerful attacks that don’t ask too much of you in terms of execution… perhaps too little, even? When it comes to certain characters, some boast special moves so easy to unleash that deal so much damage, you’ll likely feel the urge to spam them ad infinitum in place of any standard attacks; which is why some of your more powerful moves require building up a four-part “Power Bar” in order to execute them.
Of additional note – and something I was personally quite intrigued by – is a “Stun Meter” nearly-hidden underneath the character names on the HUD. Many fighting games feature the ability to stun an enemy into momentary dizziness or exhaustion if you manage a number of successive hits on them in short time, giving you an additional opportunity to attack them without fear of dodge or reprisal. The thing is, most games don’t give you an indicator of how close you / your opponent is to reaching that point, leaving it to feel sometimes as if being stunned can “come out of nowhere.” Masters of Teräs Käsi solves this issue by just showing you the damned meter, and in a non-obtrusive way to boot. Kudos where kudos is due.
Getting back to the special moves: Certain special attacks require you to either draw your weapon or be unarmed in order for them to be performed. However, the distribution of weapon and non-weapon specials isn’t quite even, with most characters having far more viable weapon specials at their disposal than unarmed specials. Hell, Luke doesn’t even get a single fisticuffs technique, meaning that not immediately drawing his lightsaber at the beginning of a fight is placing a massive handicap on yourself. Once you get that laser sword out though, Luke is given access to a plethora of powerful Force-assisted moves, many of which have the potential to end the round instantly.
You see, Masters of Teräs Käsi employs a “Ring Out” stage mechanic similar to many other 3D fighters, wherein knocking your opponent over an edge / falling outside of the arena will result in a win / loss. In most 3D fighters, this results in an extra layer to combat wherein you must be constantly aware of your position in the stage and make moves to stay away from edges — whether it be by jumping over or strafing around your opponent or whatever else you’ve gotta do. In Masters of Teräs Käsi, there are certain power moves / “Jedi Master combos” that can knock you from one side of the arena to the other with relative ease of execution, resulting in almost guaranteed ring outs from as close as the center of the stage. This is hardly what I’d call fair.
As an example: Lightsaber-wielding characters have access to a move where they toss their lightsaber like a boomerang, dealing massive damage and pushing their opponent probably three-quarters of the length of the arena. Surely, a technique as powerful as this should require some serious input mastery. How about a back-to-front half-circle followed by triangle? If I had known the powers of the Force were this easy to master, I reckon I’d have won a few more fights in my life! Jokes aside, this does illustrate a major issue in not doing enough to gate overly-powerful moves behind trickier inputs to master — not to mention not always requiring a full power bar in order for them to be executed. In effect, Masters of Teräs Käsi is less a game about mastering characters and learning to recognize / how to counter attacks, and more of a race to execute your most powerful move as quickly and rapidly as possible.
On first pick-up for the purposes of this article, I went in more or less “blind” in terms of not committing any of the special moves to memory or reading up on which characters have the most advantage. I struggled to beat even the “Normal”-levelled AI in the Arcade Mode, and generally found myself getting pretty frustrated with my inability to put up much of an offense against a computer executing some of the more basic character-unique moves. One quick visit to a move list later, I returned with a handful of Luke’s combos in mind and managed to clear the Arcade mode on the hardest difficulty (“Jedi”) on my second go, pretty much by abusing a combination of the “Flying Saber” and “Jedi Precision” attacks. Within an hour, I had additionally cleared the mode as Leia, Han and Chewbacca, unlocking the content associated with beating the game as those characters.
Less than two hours in, I felt I had already well and truly mastered Teräs Käsi.
I’ve previously mentioned on this site that I’m not much a fan of playing fighting games, since I generally lack the aptitude and commitment to play them well. But even still, I have a great deal of respect for the genre and for those who take it seriously: The satisfaction in fighting games comes from pitting yourself against better players, slowly but surely bettering yourself, and eventually feeling as if you are earning your victories as a result of countless hours of practice and perseverance. And so, I can see how a game like Masters of Teräs Käsi could be so loathed by so many from that community — written off as a joke and bemoaned as one of the worst fighting games of all time. There’s little (if anything) to actually master.
There are fighting game players who spend years honing their skill at just one or two years-old games, mastering all their minutia and intricacies, and swearing by the specific feel and flow a particular game might have. Present them with something like Teräs Käsi – which took a total amateur like me something like an afternoon to learn pretty much all there is to it – and there’s probably not much they’re gonna get out of it other than a laugh. There’s a near-instant recognition that the outcome of any given fight in the game isn’t left to skill: It’s simply a matter of who is able to get their combo out first at the beginning of a match, and who the game chooses to recognize as doing so. From there, it’s simply a matter of following up your initial attack with a volley of successive special moves – several of which are straight-up unblockable – and locking your opponent into a combo from which they cannot escape. If I can learn how to pull it off, so can anybody.
LucasArts lacked the necessary understanding of what exactly makes great fighting games so great. They failed to recognize that even the most casual of fighting game players expect a certain amount of depth and ladder to mastery in order to feel as if a game is worth investing their precious time in. And in failing to understand this, LucasArts managed the feat of creating a fighting game with practically no hurdles to full-on mastery, save for being able to read the instruction manual and commit a handful of inputs to memory.
In the mission to make players feel as if they can embody Jedi masters and seasoned combat practitioners, they neglected to replicate the training and gradual improvement that the player themselves must subject themself to, in order to feel as if they’ve earned the right to use the more advanced and powerful techniques.*** I could probably end the review portion of this article right here, having said all that probably needs to be said about the gameplay. But for the sake of thoroughness, let’s go through some of the additional game modes and incentives to play that the game has to offer.
The CD does manage to pack in a number of decently-rendered FMV cutscenes, giving each of the primary characters their own unique epilogues in video form. Unfortunately, most of these are pretty vague, consisting of the winning character striking a pose or flying away in a ship set to swelling music. Mara Jade, Jodo Kast, and the Stormtrooper don’t receive the FMV treatment, but actually get a little block of epilogue text instead — which is arguably more satisfying! However, no ending is more satisfying than Darth Vader’s, which begins with a foreboding text effect instructing all to “HAIL THE NEW EMPEROR.” The next thing you get to see is what appears to be a Death Star laser blowing up a planet that looks like Earth! I’m sure this is supposed to be, like, Corellia or Coruscant or something, but I find it way more entertaining to pretend that Darth Vader’s first order as Emperor is to blow up our planet.
In the event you should get tired of the arcade mode, there are two additional game modes accessible to a single player. The first is Survival mode, which pits you against a gauntlet of back-to-back one round matches where your health doesn’t fully recover between them. I’m sure this isn’t the first fighting game to feature such a mode, but it at least makes for something resembling a challenge in the game even after mastering the secret of the special attacks. However, this game mode does end after a dozen matches rather than continuing until you die, as it’s meant to be your method for unlocking Jodo Kast as a playable character.
There is also Team mode, which allows you to select a team of four characters and pit them against a team of four more. Again, this is only really a slight variation on the standard formula, but at least it’s something else you can do with the game. Additionally, this game mode holds the key to the most hidden secret in the game, where holding L1 + L2 + R1 while selecting the Team mode from the menu activates a “BATTLE FOR MARA JADE.” The game will automatically pick the four stock good guy characters for you to play as against the four stock villains, where your victory will unlock the fearsome female Jedi. Personally, I would’ve hid Slave Leia behind this cryptic code and made Mara Jade more easily accessible (perhaps by beating arcade mode as Arden Lyn) — but hey, maybe that’s just me being a prude.
As a bit of optional levity, there are a handful of codes that can be entered before any given match in the game to deform the character models in various ways. For example, by holding Select on the pre-match load screen, you’ll activate a “Big Head” mode — the staple of mid-to-late-90s cheat modes. There’s an additional input for “Big Head, Hands and Feet” that works as well,**** but the problem with both of these codes is that they only affect the players who input them. In other words, you can’t force gigantic heads on your AI opponents as well, meaning you sadly cannot recreate the climactic battle between Lone Starr and Dark Helmet from Spaceballs without the help of a friend. Also, there’s a “Clean Screen” code you can activate by holding L1 + R2 + Select, but rather than removing all elements of the HUD as you might expect, the character names and timer still remain.
Having stated all those features, the fact still remains that they are in service of a sub-par fighting game with a wildly unbalanced roster of characters and special moves. With that in mind, is there any value to be found in this game? Is there even any audience for it at all?
The first time I played Masters of Teräs Käsi was at my cousin’s house, probably within a few months of its release. We were both Star Wars fans, because of course we were: If any teenager in the late 90s told you they weren’t, they were lying. In any event, she was the one who managed to convince her mom to buy it for her first, and so it was my part of the deal to provide my own controller and the “Fruit by the Foot.” She hadn’t unlocked any of the secret characters yet – hell, we didn’t even know about them – so we took turns picking from all the available stock characters and battling against each other in versus mode. Of course, not even bothering to read the instruction manual, we could only hope to luck into the special moves, and so things actually felt pretty fair for the most part.
The point I’m getting at here is, being on a relatively even playing field, we managed to have our fun with the damned thing. Was it the best fighting game either of us had ever played? Almost certainly not (I seem to remember her routinely stomping me in Tekken 1&2), but it had a presentation we could get totally absorbed into while we mashed away at buttons and hoped to see Han Solo pull his blaster out or something equally cool. Masters of Teräs Käsi was never a game intended for the fighting game die-hards: It was a game for die-hard Star Wars fans first and foremost, and part of a push to cover as many genres of game as LucasArts could muster at the time. Maybe for someone out there at the time unfamiliar with fighting games, it served as a gateway into a genre they could learn to sink their teeth into.
Of course, none of what I’m saying should be misconstrued as praise for the game itself: It clearly demonstrates a totally misguided effort by LucasArts to enter a genre they had no business trying to tackle at that time, and it falls flat on it’s face because of it. But you know what? I know for a fact there are worse fighting games out there, and there are certainly worse Star Wars games as well. In playing the game for this article, Star Wars: Masters of Teräs Käsi didn’t make me mad at any point, and I only honestly got bored with it after already having unlocked everything there was to see and do. So, hey, if you’re a fan of classic Star Wars and you’re not too picky about your fighting games, maybe there’s something to be gotten out of this game. At the very least, the ease with which you can learn to absolutely dominate can make it a slightly amusing affair. From there, sucker the best fighting games player you know into playing a match against you, demolish them in short order, and feel free to rub your victory in their face… For whatever it’s worth.
** Goku would win this bout, by the way: Even without the aide of kryptonite – which Goku would probably see as an unfair advantage – Superman’s alternate weakness against magic would render him vulnerable to Ki blasts. Also, “faster than a speeding bullet” probably can’t beat “instant transmission.”
*** In a sort of similar Stars Wars scenario: Star Wars Galaxies was a game that [on launch] provided an incredibly difficult / almost totally secret path to learning how to become a Jedi for characters of any class. As a result, learning the ways of the Jedi felt like a legitimate training, and made the abilities you eventually unlocked feel that much more earned and powerful. Then, at a certain point, they updated the game so that anyone could just choose Jedi as a starting class without putting the work in. Totally coincidentally, the game soon fell into a death spiral from which it never recovered.
**** Various online resources claim that “Super Deformed” and “Small Fighters” codes exist that should be usable in versus and practice, but every time I attempted to input them I simply got Big Head mode again.
“Han Is a Dangerous and Desperate Man.”
The third issue of Official PlayStation Magazine released in December 1997, and came packaged with a demo disc featuring samples of some new and upcoming PS1 releases. Among the demos on this particular disc were a number of fighting games, including none other than Star Wars: Masters of Teräs Käsi. Containing one stage and a choice of two playable characters (Luke and Arden Lyn), it provides a bare-bones slice of gameplay for potential consumers to experience.
Other fighting games included on this disc included Vs. (an American localization of the Japanese Fighters’ Impact, featuring a roster of street gang-based fighters) and Cardinal Syn (another weapons-based fighter that promised a January ‘98 release date, but which would remain unreleased until June that year) — both underwhelming games in their own rights, and arguably far worse titles than Masters of Teräs Käsi. Stacked up against these two, the Star Wars fighting game honestly didn’t look quite so bad! Unfortunately for LucasArts, there was one more fighting game demo which featured alongside their labor of love: Bushido Blade.
Bushido Blade is among the best 3D fighting games ever made, and possibly one of the best games in the entire PlayStation library [in my personal opinion]. It’s weapons-based combat perfected in a fighting game, and it absolutely blows Masters of Teräs Käsi out of the water. Placing the two side-by-side is the worst thing that could’ve possibly happened to Teräs Käsi in terms of trying to sell folk on the game, and I do not doubt that this demo disc played a large part in Bushido Blade absolutely trouncing Masters of Teräs Käsi in terms of sales, with the samurai-inspired slash-’em-up moving 1.16 million units compared to the space opera’s comparatively paltry .68 million (numbers as per VGChartz).
Middling reviews also probably did not help Teräs Käsi’s case. Jeff Gerstmann in a GameSpot review would compare the game unfavorably against none other than Capcom’s Star Gladiator, note the assortment of overpowered moves, and ultimately conclude that the game “has all the surroundings of a great fighting game, but the gameplay simply isn’t there.”** IGN’s Adam Douglas would similarly praise the game for its “brilliant premise,” but eventually lament that “playing Star Wars: Masters of Teras Kasi just isn’t that much fun.” The most generous review I could find from the era [from a “noteworthy” publication] was a three out of five from the “100% independent” PlayStation Magazine, which notes the average gameplay but compliments the title as “probably the best-looking fighter available on the PlayStation.”
In spite of the small handful of critics who may have come to the game’s defense, LucasArts decided it was probably best to steer clear of the fighting game genre for the next several years. However, this would not stop developer Studio Gigante (responsible for 2003’s Tao Feng: Fist of the Lotus) from putting together a prototype they had planned to pitch to publishers in 2005. The brief snippet of surviving footage shows a lightsaber battle between Darth Maul and Anakin Skywalker, in what appears to be a Power Stone-esque 3D arena fighting engine. Given that this was probably little more than a pre-rendered pitch video put together to show to publishers, it’s hard to say that any final product would’ve even remotely resembled this. In either case, Studio Gigante would shutter in July 2005 before they got a chance to develop this game idea further, as well as having to scrap plans for a Kill Bill game they would have also liked to pitch.
CORRECTION (9/24/17): As reader @LanceBoyle94 was able to point out to me, I neglected to mention another Star Wars game to feature a fighting game-style gameplay mode: 2005’s Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith did, in fact, feature a multiplayer game mode which allowed players to battle one-on-one with lightsaber-wielding characters. From what I can gather, most folk seem to have fun with it, for as simplistic as it all may be.
The next we would see of Star Wars characters in the context of a fighting game would be in another non-LucasArts title. As a matter of fact, it would be in the context of an already-well-established fighting game franchise: Namco’s Soulcalibur IV, released in 2008. In addition to the standard roster of beefy men and big-breasted honeys, you also get playable cameo characters in the forms of Darth Vader, Yoda, and “The Apprentice” from Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. Now, Soulcalibur has always seemed to me to be a pretty divisive franchise, where folk claim that blind button-mashing gives you as much a shot at winning as careful and considered execution of commands. All I can say with certainty is, Yoda is an absolute pain in the ass to play against, since he’s so short he is able to dodge probably half the attacks in the game. They really thought that inclusion through, huh?
Now, some believe this marks the last / most recent fighting game to feature members of the Star Wars roster. However, these individuals would be incorrect: Buried inside of the Wii’s conversion of 2010’s Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II (developed independently of other versions of the game by Red Fly Studio) is a multiplayer game mode, which plays something like a Super Smash Bros. game with your choice of eight Force Unleashed characters and six stages. It’s actually surprising how much effort was put into this bonus game mode, which plays completely differently from the main game at hand! That being said, it is reportedly not very much fun, requiring a human opponent to even access it and featuring an incredibly overpowered Darth Vader who “deals literally, like, five times more damage than other characters.”
And so, that’s where we’re currently at when it comes to Star Wars fighting games. Masters of Teräs Käsi remains the sole licensed / dedicated Star Wars fighting game as of the time of this writing. But surely, this has to be a concept that is revisited at some point in the future? I mean, a Star Wars fighting game still has all the potential in the world to turn out cool… or totally serviceable, at the very least. Just because LucasArts blew their shot at it nearly twenty years ago shouldn’t mean the idea should be shelved forever, surely? It’s practically a license to print money at this stage in the games industry! But until that day comes – if it ever does – Masters of Teräs Käsi will still be with us. Always.