Originally making its debut on the Nintendo 64 in 1999, Star Wars Episode I: Racer quickly became the highest selling sci-fi racing game of all time. That is, the sort of lap-time chaser that was carried out on vehicles without wheels. Beating out both Nintendo’s own F-Zero and the highly popular Wipeout series that made its mark on the Sony PlayStation, it was quite the debut. Cutting to the chase, Episode I: Racer is rather good – it was back in the day and is still great to play in handheld mode on a Nintendo Switch in 2020.
Back to the whole sales thing though, a large part of its success came from the fact that it was a LucasArts title developed and released prior to the cinematic debut of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. A movie release that built up so much hype, pop-up stores sprang up all over the place selling all manner of tie-in weirdness
at a time when the concept of a pop-up store was still a dream in the mind of a soon to be born Don DraperBot 5000.
The Phantom Menace is what it is, and no matter your thoughts on the ways of the midichlorians
a game about Pod Racing set in the Star Wars universe is a wonderful idea. So much so that if this were a full-blown remake as opposed to a bare-bones remaster, we’d have no problem telling Ani how Wizard
it totally is. Kudos to the team at LucasArts for deciding that a Jar Jar-style Mario 64 clone was not the way to go when creating its movie-game for the Nintendo 64. In an alternate universe somewhere we’d be lamenting why the studio didn’t make a Pod Racing game instead.
"Originally making its debut on the Nintendo 64 in 1999, Star Wars Episode I: Racer quickly became the highest selling sci-fi racing game of all time.”
Playable in HD and with a rock solid frame-rate, this remastered Star Wars Episode I: Racer is not without merit – it’s just that it feels more like a HD emulation of the PC and Dreamcast versions rather than something new. In fact, it’s mostly that, in widescreen, featuring upscaled versions of the LucasArts pre-race CGI interludes that couldn’t quite fit on an N64 cartridge. And look a little dated today.
Outside of that you basically get the same Nintendo 64-era textures, low-poly count characters and environments, and the limited music that loves to loop the Duel of the Fates theme over and over and over. Great tune, but nothing but Fates in a long 10-minute race will have you pining for being split in two like Darth Maul
Where it still excels and feels great today comes with the sense of speed, and the thrill of racing beat-up slapped together Pod Racers at hundreds of kilometres-per-hour. The unique boost system that requires you to push up on the analogue-stick and then press a button, in a fashion that feels tactile and not unlike lil’ Anakin Skywalker doing just that in his heated race against Sebulba, is intuitive. Plus, having to manage overheating and repairs adds another dose of identity and dirt and grime-filled Star Wars-ness to it all.
The Pod Racers you can choose from are varied and behave differently, and feature names like Clegg Holdfast, Fud Sang, and Ben Quadinaros. Track design is intricate and chock full of shortcuts and alternate paths and being able to upgrade and buy parts with your winnings encourages you to keep racing. Difficulty though is a mixed bag, in that it takes a while to ramp up, going from laughably easy to challenging in a way that could have been more gradual – especially in this remastered format. Some tinkering to the AI would make the early parts of the game more engaging as opposed to feeling like time-trials after you pass all other racers in a matter of seconds.
"Playable in HD and with a rock solid frame-rate, this remastered Star Wars Episode I: Racer is not without merit – it’s just that it feels more like a HD emulation of the PC and Dreamcast versions rather than something new.”
In fact, that’s really the only problem here - Star Wars Episode I: Racer is more re-release than remaster. A game that admittedly was rushed to market in 1999 to ensure it hit shelves in time for the film’s release. So, the almost-there career mode feels a little undercooked in 2020 and the lack of polish to the AI stands out. But, it’s simple premise – recreating the excitement and thrill of Star Wars Pod Racing is a winning one. For pure high-speed thrills in a galaxy far, far, away, they still don’t get much better than this. And, getting to hear Watto hum the Cantina Theme is probably worth the price of admission alone.