As I have said before, arcade ports on the Atari 2600 have to be taken with a grain of salt; especially those that used graphic techniques that the Atari 2600 couldn't handle. Vector graphics were the coolest graphical trick in the arcades at the time, and only the Vectrex and the Atari 5200 could do that trick. When it came time to port the Star Wars arcade game to the consoles, only those two systems could make spot-on conversions. Fortunately, like with Asteroids, the Atari 2600 port managed to retain the appeal of the original with a few adjustments to work with the hardware.
Star Wars: The Arcade Game (the arcade version) was one of the best examples of a movie licensed game done right. Like most movie games of the time, it focused on one scene from the movie - the battle against the Death Star. It featured three phases: Blasting three-dimensional TIE fighters, destroying towers on the surface of the Death Star, and the climactic trench run.
Not only did the vector graphics shine big time, but the game also featured audio clips from the movie. It was always thrilling to end the trench run hearing Han Solo say, "You're all clear, kid! Now let's blow this thing and go home!" Despite its simplicity compared to today's arcade and movie games, the Star Wars arcade game remains one of the greatest arcade games of all time.
Naturally, the 2600 port couldn't evenly match the arcade original. Sprites had to be used in place of the vector graphics, and the audio clips had to be cut. However, I was amazed at how faithful the game remained. The TIE fighter sprites actually moved faster than the originals, the tower segment showed off impressive scaling effects for the time, and the trench run displayed the best 3D effect I had seen on the Atari 2600. Even the beeping music cues were top-notch by the standards of the system.
Gameplay-wise, the 2600 holds its own against the arcade original. The arcade cabinet featured a fight controller designed to mimic an X-Wing's cockpit. Despite the physical differences, the Atari 2600 joystick matched the functionality perfectly. The one problem I have with the controls is that the stick is locked at inverted. Now, I play a LOT of flight games like Ace Combat and H.A.W.X. I'm used to using inverted flight controls. However, in most flight games, you can either move the vessel (with the target cursor locked dead center) or move the target cursor (with the vessel moving on its own, also known as a "rail-shooter"). In this one, however, the controls move the target cursor, and, when the cursor reaches the edge of the HUD, the ship moves in that direction. I may play flight games with inverted flight controls, but I play first-person shooters with normal controls. The mixing of the two styles led to too many unfair hits and too many crashes into the towers. The developers really needed to pick one or the other.
Despite that, I can't help but be amazed with what Parker Brothers managed to do with Star Wars: The Arcade Game on the Atari 2600. It managed to be more faithful to the incredible original than anyone should've expected from the then-six-year-old hardware. The Force is definitely strong with this one.