Levels of Hell – Raid on Sullust (“Star Wars: Rogue Squadron”)

By Marshall Garvey Welcome to the first edition of Levels of Hell! In this series, we’ll explore the most infamously difficult and frustrating levels in gaming history. We’re talking about the ones that drive you up the wall even after you finally beat them; the stages that interrupted otherwise seamless playing experiences. Ones that wore…




Read time:

7 minutes

By Marshall Garvey

Welcome to the first edition of Levels of Hell! In this series, we’ll explore the most infamously difficult and frustrating levels in gaming history. We’re talking about the ones that drive you up the wall even after you finally beat them; the stages that interrupted otherwise seamless playing experiences. Ones that wore out your reset buttons, elicited profanities, and had you scrambling for your guidebook or online walkthroughs to figure out. This is going to be a unique focus, as it’s not a conventional “worst of” series in which we endure the worst of gaming incompetence for angry humor.

To the contrary, a good number of selections (perhaps even most) will come from acclaimed games, which probably makes more sense. After all, it’s within an excellent game that a painful level has an exponentially greater impact. (The first and most famous of course being the Water Temple from Ocarina of Time, which we’ll slay anew.) Altogether, this might not be as frequent a feature as Hall of Fame or general nostalgic pieces, considering the varying degrees of accessibility for each level as well as the understandable reluctance to endure them again. But it’s one worth doing anyway. And if we never have to sit through another water level ever again as a result of our efforts, the gaming world will damn well be better off…

To kick off this line of torturous recollections, I’m actually starting with a level I’m currently stuck on for the first time, from the 1998 N64 classic Star Wars: Rogue Squadron. Although I rented and played this title as a kid, I only recently bought it to start playing all the way through. The entire game will be honored in a Hall of Fame Review very soon, but one stage merits a great deal of dishonor: The Raid on Sullust. Taking place around halfway through the story as a pivotal revenge strike by the Rebel pilots after an Imperial blockade, the objectives are simple: Destroy all the sensors on the ground to eliminate a force field barrier, which protects the main apparatus you need to blow up. And that right there is where the simplicity ends.

The foundation of this level’s truculent dose of torture is how dark it is. And when I say dark, I mean dark. Pitch black to the point where even Riddick would have trouble navigating it. So dark that if Bruce Springsteen redid his albums to address interstellar themes, he’d change Darkness on the Edge of Town to Sullust on the Edge of Town. (Or edge of the galaxy? Only my mind ponders how the Boss and Star Wars can intersect…) Taking place in an enclosed pit on the volcanic planet of Sullust, the only lighting comes from a blood red sky and a few craters of lava, making navigation an unnecessary chore.

It’s often difficult to tell where enemies and required targets are, as well as the crater walls you can easily fly into. Worst of all, it’s even harder to shoot turrets that can hit you from a great distance, but are obscured by darkness and only become visible after they’ve pummeled you a half dozen times. This isn’t helped by having to fly the Y-Wing to beat the mission for the first time, for while it has a strong shield and many bombs, its anemic laser can’t take out turrets from a distance as efficiently as an X-Wing can.

Osama Bin Laden and Waldo both considered hiding here, but decided to be merciful and give their pursuers a chance.
Osama Bin Laden and Waldo both considered hiding here, but decided to be merciful and give their pursuers a chance.

But oh boy, all of that is just the beginning of why I think this level was nothing more than the brainchild of a sadistic developer who wanted to punish gamers for no other reason than he could. Next is the overwhelming density of enemies, particularly turrets. Often throughout the course of Rogue Squadron, the player will predictably be challenged with hectic scenarios, whether it’s an abundance of AT walkers or a sudden swarm of TIE fighters at a critical objective point. But even the most challenging of these at least grant you some sort of reprieve, or at least an area where you can take cover and strategize your next move.

On Sullust, there is absolutely no moment to catch your breath. From the opening you’re thrown into a seemingly endless thicket of laser cannons, AT-AT walkers, and those goddamn missile turrets. Oh wait, I’m sorry: those goddamn seeker missile turrets. These things launch missiles that will track you endlessly and eventually hit you unless you do an evasive maneuver. On previous levels, this can be stressful when there’s one or two of them placed in a key area. Here, they’re everywhere, constantly bombarding you even if you’re sure you’ve taken a good number of them out. And they make an ungodly bleeping noise with each missile fired, a sound you’ll hear on infinite loop well after you’ve shut your N64 off in a rage.

As a result, the level is pure chaos. You’re being shot at by projectiles at all times, many of which you can’t see, while searching for sensors that blend into the dark setting and are heavily protected. There’s no extra area where you can fly around to strategize for long, without a relentless fusillade of seeker missiles or lasers raining down from all angles. When you die, you’ll likely respawn right in the area you were shot down, often into an instant volley of missiles and lasers from the two or three turrets you missed while barely taking out just one. To rub it in further, Luke Skywalker’s dialogue becomes increasingly annoying and repetitious in this punishing context. For my money, every time he sneers, “That didn’t even scratch me!” after being hit, I’m almost inevitably pummeled with three missiles to take the ship’s health down to dangerously low levels.

If Obi-Wan spoke to you like he did in the first film, his eloquent wisdom would probably be: "The Force can't do shit for you here man!"
If Obi-Wan spoke to you like he did in the first film, his eloquent wisdom would probably be: “The Force can’t do shit for you here man!”

What exacerbates the annoyance factor of this level is one of the game’s biggest flaws, and one I’ll touch on in my Hall of Fame Review: No retries. The start menu offers no option to retry a level, only to abort it and go back to the mission selection. This is not only inconvenient, but expedites your path to a game over if you don’t beat the mission on the next try. Thus, if you’re suffering it for the first time like I am as of this writing, you’ll be giving the reset button on your console a hefty workout.

It'll be your best friend, I promise.
It’ll be your best friend, I promise.

As I said earlier, it’s likely to fume over cruel stages the most when they stick out egregiously in outstanding games, and this is no exception. Star Wars: Rogue Squadron is a stone cold classic, and the best game George Lucas’s franchise ever produced for the Nintendo 64. But the Raid on Sullust deserves to be hated on the same level as the water levels from Zelda and Conker’s Bad Fur Day in the system’s lore. It’s so trying and overwhelming, I doubt any level of shooting womprats in Beggar’s Canyon back home could prepare a pilot for it.

Oh, and a video to illustrate the pain:


12 responses to “Levels of Hell – Raid on Sullust (“Star Wars: Rogue Squadron”)”

  1. Wow, so this is what I have to look forward to! I’m playing through Rogue Squadron for the first time ever at the moment, it’s a really good game albeit frustrating at times. As you mentioned, the lack of a restart option is a big component of that. I suppose the one upside of this level compared with others is that it drops you right in the action. Some of the other levels were tiresome (as opposed to just difficult) to replay because there are slow, easy sections before the action gets heated and the going gets tough. So I’d rather have it be immediately tough, and not have to repeat several minutes’ worth of fairly easy going stuff to get to the meat of the level.

    Anyway, I’m looking forward to your “hall of fame” post on this game, because it was a very pleasant surprise for me. I enjoyed Rogue Leader back in the Gamecube days, but I think so far Squadron has slightly better missions? More up my alley, at least. It’s hard to say though, they’re so similar, and that’s exactly what surprised me! I was expecting Squadron to be a little on the primitive side by comparison.

    1. Thanks for the comment! I’d usually love to be tossed into the action myself, but this level is not only as overwhelming as I described, but also in an enclosed space so you can’t break away and strategize too easily (as I like to do). Levels that have slow intros at least give me a chance to really think what I could do differently the moment things heat up. This one just spikes my blood pressure right away!

      I’ve never played Rogue Leader for Gamecube myself, but I had always remembered Rogue Squadron for being a replete game and it’s definitely validating that as I play it through for the HOF review. The missions are complex and original, voice acting is terrific, and it meshes arcade-style shooting with a developed plotline. I can understand why you would expect it to be primitive, but it does hold up really well, significantly better than the first big Star Wars game for the console, “Shadows of the Empire” (a childhood favorite I covered in a review here as well, but while solid it has shown its age).

    2. Took me a little bit, but here’s the Hall of Fame Review of the entire game I promised. Let me know what you think!


      1. Thanks, I enjoyed the review. As someone who’s not into Star Wars as a franchise it’s interesting getting your take on the lore. Personally, I think the voice acting in the game is impressive (particularly for its day) but it wasn’t something I’d paid too much attention to, mostly because there’s so much of it! It kind of washes over me, plus you can usually infer what you have to do from the radar screen alone. I’ve put the game down for a while but I ought to pick it back up and try and get to the Sullust level, I’m still not there yet. I think I’m on the second chapter now – it was a cool idea to split the game up that way I think, gives the experience more depth.

        It’s very timely though that you wrote the new post, because just last night I recorded a segment on my podcast about your posts (even though the new one was, then, not posted)! Specifically I talked about how you’d split the game into two posts, one on the Sullust level and the other on the game as a classic, and how it made me think about the relationship between those two aspects of the game, it’s difficulty on one hand and it’s classic status on the other. My feeling is that high difficulty is essential for a game to be memorable. (Helps in my case that I’m a complete masochist when it comes to games.) So I hope to have the podcast edited and uploaded in a few days’ time, and I will link to your posts if that’s alright with you. Thought it’d be best to warn you about that and also to thank you for these two well-written posts!

  2. […] when a quick restart option would mitigate the difficulty (as I fumed in my Raid on Sullust piece: http://lasttokengaming.wordpress.com/2014/06/29/levels-of-hell-raid-on-sullust-star-wars-rogue-squad…). Also, Game Overs can lead to having less or even no extra lives on the next retry. While many […]

  3. […] difficulty. This discussion came out of two posts over at Last Token Gaming, the first of which looks in-depth at Rogue Squadron’s maddeningly difficult ‘Raid on Sullust’ stage, and the second, a “Hall of Fame” review of the very same beloved game. In the […]

  4. oh boy, I quarrel with this “Sullust”-battle right now. Tried it several times, with no chance of beating the level. I hate the missiles and their “ungodly bleeping noise” – and, indeed, it’s very dark around there. So, I give it another try today. Wish me luck, that the missiles don’t even scratch me.

    1. Ha ha, good luck with it. It got so bad for me that after writing this article, I still couldn’t beat it fairly, so I entered the unlimited lives cheat code (IGIVEUP) and finally advanced. Amazing game overall, and I love a challenge, but this one is just too much.

  5. […] to the demo that’s already made the rounds in other reviews: the difficulty. Especially after my “Levels of Hell” piece about Raid on Sullust, I want to make it clear that I have no problem with a game being substantially difficult. If […]

  6. […] this past year. Granted, it made for one of the most punishing experiences of my gaming life when I struggled with the Raid on Sullust, but besides that it was just as engrossing as when I rented and played it growing up. As I said in […]

  7. […] difficult stages in video game history! The first installment had me spewing acid over the Raid on Sullust from Star Wars: Rogue Squadron, the thought of which still makes me boil months […]

  8. […] behemoths provide an immersive experience into the world of Star Wars. The same can be said of Sullust, with the war-torn landscape and brown, earthy level design complementing one another. It all comes […]