Star Wars: Bounty Hunter brought The Mandalorian to gaming way too soon

If you want it short and sweet, gaming history tends to read like this: We originally had some 2D games with intuitive controls, then 3D games came along and stumbled with that extra dimension. Nintendo figured it out on its first time, but it still took decades for everyone to truly figure things out. Sometime in that dark period, we saw the release of Star Wars: Bounty Hunter, and that’s a shame. More than 15 years before Disney+ banked on Boba Fett’s race to carry a huge Star Wars side project, Bounty Hunter was center stage on the PlayStation 2. It brings everything you’d want out of an exploration of this side of the galaxy far, far away, but its 2002 release date holds it back. In a way, we’ve only just reached a time where playing as The Mandalorian could possibly achieve its inherent potential.

The Mandalorian’s original gaming adventure

But to understand Bounty Hunter, it would help to know some context of where Star Wars was way back in the PlayStation 2 era. The story of Bounty Hunter serves as the backstory for Jango Fett, one of the new characters introduced in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones a few months earlier. During the prequel trilogy, LucasArts was very productive, putting out a slew of titles taking advantage of the revived interest in their space opera. Everything from well-remembered racers to character action to nightmare fuel was on the table. From the days of The Phantom Menace all the way to Force Awakened, Star Wars fans had plenty to play, even if the quality of each release varied wildly.

ALSO: How Jedi: Fallen Order makes Star Wars games even more authentic

Speaking of, Star Wars: Bounty Hunter received mixed reviews when it hit the scene. Our own reviewer at the time spoke about issues with the game’s camera and targeting. Other critics were a bit more kind, mostly due to the excellent Star Wars presentation surrounding what can only be considered a mediocre gameplay loop. Either way, players were in this more for the lore than the gameplay, something that rarely happens nowadays. If you’re looking for a movie tie-in game today, the best you can expect is a fun cameo to the side of a match-three puzzle board.

Scouring the Jedi archives for answers

Even the critics who didn’t mind the gameplay back in 2002 would probably find it hard to go back today. Playing it myself via PlayStation Now, the game actively fights against years of built-in expectations for third-person games. I can barely remember a time when it made sense to put both camera and movement controls on one thumbstick, but I’m glad those days are past us. As it stands, even after hours of trying to adjust, my version of Jango still wobbled around Coresant like a reveler high on death sticks.

That one simple control flaw takes the wind out of any modern player’s sails. The real tragedy is that the rest of the game doesn’t disappoint. The promise of being an actual bounty hunter comes to life in a set of interesting and probably overly complicated mechanics. You need to switch off of whatever firearms you’re packing onto a helmet visor that can scan enemies. If you find a wanted man, woman, or alien, you need to then tag them, switch to some sort of rope launcher, and tie them up. You walk up to them, press a button, and they vanish into a puff of smoke. It’s the PS2 era, it’s not hard to let the lack of realism slide.

Rewriting Jango’s journey

This mechanic alone has enough promise to drive a whole video game. However, since Bounty Hunter released in 2002, the whole system serves as a side option in an otherwise run of the mill third-person shooter. It’s not a shock that a Star Wars game has laser guns in it, but capturing random minions in an action scene is what’s unique about this specific Star Wars game. There’s a balance there between staying alive, doing your job and focusing on the main quest that is years ahead of its time. There’s easily room for a team to take these types of mechanics and put them in a Star Wars open-world experience.

Landing on one of several distinct Star Wars universes, your customizable Mandalorian hero has nothing but a face scan to go on. They have to interview the head of the local cantina, overhear sensitive conversations, and maybe even intimidate a witness or two. Thanks to the massive improvements in graphics, we can expect the player to pick out their prey from the crowd, with the chance of getting it wrong and bringing heat from local space cops. When they find their prey, maybe they give up the goods on another, better-paying mission to save their own skin. Maybe there’s player choice involved in which mission you choose to pursue. The possibilities are as endless as the stars themselves.

Star Wars: Bounty Hunter‘s wasted potential

Games no longer have to focus solely on combat if that doesn’t make sense. We don’t have to have Tim “Toolman” Taylor fighting off giant scorpions in a “movie studio” like some sort of surrealist nightmare. Designers have a lot more freedom to look at what makes sense for a character and implement it into gameplay. For a character like Jango Fett (or the mysterious lead of Disney+’s The Mandalorian), there will definitely be run and gun action. However, there should also be some down and dirty investigation. A well-written take on these mechanics in a big city environment could be an engrossing prospect should EA and Disney ever want to spin-off their new spin off. Of course, combat could play a role as it will probably have to, but there could be deeper systems that take the lead.

Alas, that probably won’t happen. Games are expensive nowadays, and a Star Wars game that doesn’t feature a Jedi has proven to be a hard sell for a long while. Still, it’s fun to look back at a more fruitful era of Star Wars video games and pick and choose what could work in a modern setting. Outside of the ravages of time, there’s nothing wrong with Star Wars: Bounty Hunter, and most people probably would have loved it back in the day. It’s got that weird spin-off spirit that used to happen a lot more when franchises were less protective of their tertiary material. Let’s hope that the team at Respawn can capture just a fraction of that with Jedi: Fallen Order.