Talking to StarWars.com on the 20th anniversary of the first Star Wars prequel film, George Lucas was clear that, "The films were designed for 12-year-olds." Big Ape Productions mustn't have got the memo when developing PS1 Star Wars Episode I - The Phantom Menace though, because a steep difficulty curve, and bewildering design ensures that its 1999 game is not family friendly for a Nubian noob.
You control Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Queen Amidala, and Captain Panaka across 11 film location missions spanning the Trade Federation Ship to the Swamps of Naboo, all building towards an Assault on Theed conclusion. Following Big Ape Productions' work on 1997's Herc's Adventures, and proving that there's always a bigger fish, a 12-hour completion time may surprise gamers expecting a quick blast, as the game Force pushes adventure elements to complement the top-down action.
Door switch puzzles, and push/pull crate conundrums result in a similar 'Con' to Push Square's PS1 Syphon Filter review — a game that also released in 1999 — as it's "easy to get lost and lack direction". There's also a confusing Mos Espa podracer components trading section with Watto on Tatooine. Unfortunately, escort missions where you protect an NPC provide the worst difficulty spikes, since poor AI forced us into an infuriating mission restart after Queen Amidala became trapped within scenery and refused to be kidnapped on Coruscant, as the plot progression necessitated.
The single-player action's not a patch on PS2's 2005 Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, but it's worth learning extra lightsaber manoeuvres against bosses like Darth Maul, so try jumping and spinning your blade, because that's a good trick. Droideka destroyer droids are a frustratingly formidable foe, prompting the use of a variety of weapons including a Proton Missile Launcher, even if Obi-Wan normally thinks blasters are so uncivilised.
Big Ape Productions' presentation is lovingly respectful to its film source with deliberate details, and glorious John Williams' music compositions, including dialogue choices through a mix of original and a replacement voice cast that affect minor gameplay events. A distant camera depicts Otoh Gunga and outdoor Coruscant in a more favourable light, but close-up chunky models and uncanny valley CGI have been hit with the 32-bit ugly stick.
A lack of co-op is arguably Star Wars Episode I - The Phantom Menace's biggest missed opportunity, since 2005's PS2 LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game demonstrated that the prequel films are great material for multiplayer action games.