Hear me out on this one.
Star Wars Pit Droids! is a kids game based on the widely panned pod-racing segments from Episode I. If this game was produced by serial arsonists, it could not have any less going for it. You’d be excused for passing it over.
Against all odds, buried beneath a bleak exterior, some designers at Lucas Learning put together a decent Lemmings clone.
In the game, a fleet of pit droids (those lovable slapstick magnets who work maintenance on pod racers) frantically travels from a freight ship somewhere on Tatooine to the Mos Espa Arena. Players lay down an array of directional arrows that guide the pit droids towards the goal of each stage, typically located at the end of a maze. Levels increase in complexity, adding new movement filters and switching from isometric tiles to a hex grid. Though you start with quite a few droid lackeys (an unlimited number on the easiest mode), only ones that survive to the end of a stage will continue on. Should all your droids die on one of the later levels, you have to start over. Hit your quota by the end, and you win.
The game makes great creative use of a small corner of the Star Wars IP. Levels are bookended with slapstick interludes featuring the pit droids; their bumbling work ethic fits perfectly into this sort of game. A few familiar characters pop up during cutscenes and tutorials too, including Watto the junkyard dealer and C-3PO. LucasArts grabbed the original voice actors, which lends some authenticity.
Most of the game’s 300 stages involve routing lines of pit droids through complicated intersections. The droids launch into the level at a regular rhythm, which can lead to all sorts of fun interweaving and interesting timing-sensitive patterns. The occasional oddly placed switch-and-gate puzzle might also stand in your way. Some special arrows and gates will only affect droids with a certain body color, helmet, or tool, lending a managerial aspect to the traffic cop, Chu Chu Rocket-esque gameplay. Despite these extra facets, the game is never overbearingly hard.
In fact, it’s usually pretty easy! Since it was produced under the Lucas Learning label, Pit Droids! has a younger audience in mind.* The game includes all varieties of safety nets, including an optional grid overlay, the ability to hide scenery, a help tooltip provided by R2-D2, and a button that lets you reset the stage at any point. On the easiest mode, pit droids can’t die either. Even at its peak difficulty, it’s not taxing, and a quick restart will usually save the day. The included level editor thankfully features some more challenging stages. As you could guess, though, there was no active community that made or distributed more of them.
Presentation-wise, Pit Droids! nails it. The pre-rendered visuals are crisp and unusually vibrant for such a low-budget game. It looks like a cleaner Fallout, and the interface and sound borrow directly from Episode I. There’s even a well-placed snippet of “Duel of the Fates” during the installation. Make no mistake: this is a LucasArts game that uses its license’s aesthetics for all their worth.
The end product isn’t spectacular but decent enough. The puzzles never rise beyond mildly clever and don’t offer many mind-bending challenges. At times, the wait for all the pit droids to complete their prescribed route can be tedious. But the nonabrasiveness is pleasant too. Pit Droids! is a good puzzle game for those who aren’t looking for a big challenge, especially younger audiences.
You know what, let’s call it. This is the best Episode I-inspired game ever.
*Having played this one as a kid, I can attest that this strategy worked. Puzzles I once found unreasonably hard seem like a cakewalk 10 years later.
UPDATE: For those interested in giving it a shot, Pit Droids! has been re-released for iOS.