As a longtime Star Wars fan, all that I ever wanted was to control a lightsaber. Many Star Wars games came and went, but when Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy launched in 2003, I knew I had found the one. Seventeen years later, I’m happy to report that Jedi Academy still has some of the most fun lightsaber combat of any Star Wars game, though some other elements might not have stood the test of time as gracefully.
Jedi Academy offered impressive customization for its time
You start by creating your own custom Jedi and lightsaber. It can’t compare to the depth of character creators today, but it’s an appreciated step towards making your very own Jedi. The story follows you as the Jedi apprentice Jaden Korr, going to an academy run by Luke Skywalker. Not long after your arrival, the game turns into a journey about your growth as a Jedi, as well as helping fan favorites like Luke Skywalker and Kyle Katarn unravel the mystery behind a Sith cult. It’s a fun setup that ultimately doesn’t lead to a great story, but it has some good moments for fans, as long as the distinctly unlikable Rosh Penin isn’t on screen.
Some light RPG elements let you upgrade your Force powers, of which there are both Light and Dark Side powers, as well as core Force powers that upgrade over time. The Dark Side powers like Lightning and Grip are naturally the most fun, letting you fry entire groups of bad guys or throw enemies around like rag dolls respectively. On top of being fun, these tactics become essential as Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy progressively throws more Sith at you. However, while most powers are viable, Force Heal is essential and negates the need for health packs.
Before each mission, you’ll get a choice of weapons to take with you. Shooting in first-person works well enough, though it never feels as precise as you want it to be. Aside from some situations with out-of-reach enemies, I found myself using the lightsaber as my go-to weapon. The fact that your lightsaber automatically deflects shots and lets you play in third-person is too big of an advantage to give up. With your lightsaber out, you can execute different swings depending on which direction you move your left stick, as well as unique attacks tied to moves like rolling and jumping. Where it really gets exciting is against Sith lightsaber users. Sith have largely the same arsenal of moves you do, so clashing lightsabers with them often feels tense and exciting.
The controls can be a little awkward at first, but thankfully they can be almost fully customized, including an option to turn off gyroscopic controls. There’s a good variety of enemies to fight, but unfortunately, their AI can be dumb as rocks, often standing completely still despite what’s happening around them. Outside of combat, Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy also presents some light puzzle and platforming sections. These can be a fun break from combat, but the platforming is a little loose and imprecise compared to in modern games.
Solid game design never ages, and in this respect, Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy has fared well enough. In general, the game gives you a batch of missions between major story beats, and it lets you tackle them in any order you wish. Since you can choose both the order of your Force upgrades and your missions, no level ever has to play out the same way, adding some great replay value to the package. For players who want even more reasons to come back or just wish to wreak havoc, Jedi Academy still has insanely overpowered cheats to use too.
There’s an impressive variety of levels in Jedi Academy that can range from stopping a hijacked train to fighting droids on the rooftops of Coruscant. Each level is a chance for different Force powers to shine, like using Force Grip to create human shields in tight corridors or Force Pushing Sith into huge chasms. There’s a healthy amount of both linear and open spaces, as well as fun vehicle sections and tense boss chases. However, objectives can sometimes be unclear and lead to needless backtracking. Perhaps the biggest downside to the levels of Jedi Academy is that exploring off the beaten path to find secrets just isn’t worth the effort, thanks to meager rewards like ammo or health packs.
Online multiplayer is present in the Switch version of Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy. You can play with up to 16 people (or bots) across a decent variety of maps and a small selection of solid game modes. Staples like Capture the Flag, free-for-all, and a fun 1v1 mode are present, and they can often be great fun thanks to the sheer chaos of Force powers and lightsabers flying in every direction. Getting into a match is fast, and online stability during my time playing was solid for both Wi-Fi and Ethernet connections (though respawn times were far too long). It should be noted that, for better or worse, the Switch release currently shares its online servers with the PC version.
Without a doubt, the biggest disappointment is the lack of any local multiplayer options. Considering the portable nature of the Switch and its Joy-Con, this is a strange omission.
There’s no mistaking that Jedi Academy is an old game. Textures in the environment are pretty flat, and the character animations are stiff to the point of being almost robotic. There’s something oddly funny about seeing characters like Luke Skywalker and Kyle Katarn as Doomguy-style talking heads during the mission select screens.
Thankfully, there are great benefits to this Switch port despite rough edges. Each level loads as quickly as you can reach for your smartphone, and the high frame rate makes it a smooth experience all around (except for when it dips in some more open areas), including in handheld mode. Although, the 1080p resolution in docked mode is clean enough to make the even the prerendered cutscenes look a bit dated.
Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy is what you remember
Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy is a game that revels in the right kind of fan service. Its lightsaber combat is still a blast to play with, and its Force Powers provide a ton of options to make you feel like a Jedi Master. Its story and presentation haven’t aged as well, and the gameplay can be a little awkward if you’re at all used to modern action games. Yet, for Star Wars fans, Jedi Academy shouldn’t be missed.
A review code was provided by the publisher.