Platform: Nintendo Switch
Version Reviewed: eShop Download
No. of Players: 1-2 players
Release Date: June 23rd, 2020 (Worldwide)
STAR WARS Episode I Racer first released on the Windows PC back in 1999. Developed by LucasArts, the racing game is based on the fictional racing phenomenon that is known as Pod Racing. Pod Racing features in the film STAR WARS Episode I: The Phantom Menace.
As regards the game. It also saw release on the Nintendo 64, Dreamcast, and Gameboy Color. Unlike the console versions that featured 3D models and environments, The Gameboy Color version was played from a 2D, top-down perspective.
STAR WARS Episode I Racer received reasonably favorable reviews and even earned itself a Guinness World record. The record was given for reaching worldwide sales of 3.12 million, beating the likes of F-Zero and Wipeout. As of 2011, STAR WARS Episode I: Racer is still the best selling Sci-Fi Racing game of all time according to Guinness World Records.
Two titles were published after the first game’s initial release: STAR WARS: Racer Arcade and STAR WARS: Racer Revenge. The first was a video game developed for Arcades in 2000. The second was a sequel of the original game that released on the Playstation 2 in 2002.
The Nintendo Switch version of the game was developed on the original Nintendo 64 version. It includes all the original features and textures that have been buffed, tweaked, and remastered to provide a fresh look whilst keeping the original feel of the game.
Welcome to the world of Podracing! Set in the STAR WARS Universe that takes place somewhere during the events of Episode I: The Phantom Menace. It is not exactly canon to the story of the film. Characters from the Podracing Sequence in the film make a return to race against each other, across several racing circuits on different planets. Known characters include Anakin Skywalker, Teemto, and Sebulba.
The racers compete in levitating land speeders known as Podracers. Podracers consist of a cockpit that seats a single pilot that is pulled by two large engines (kind of like futuristic Roman chariots without the need of horses). The sport of Podracing is extremely dangerous as a single mistake at high-speed can result in certain death. The fame and glory that comes from being a successful Podracer are what motivates the racers to risk their lives in such a dangerous sport.
STAR WARS Episode I Racer is a futuristic, hi-speed racing game that has 12 pilots compete against each other in a series of tournaments. Each tournament consists of a number of racing circuits that take place over multiple planets. There are 3 laps on each circuit and some can be much longer than others. Some circuits have shortcuts and multiple paths that can sometimes edge you ahead of your competitors. You must also keep an eye out for hazards like falling rock pillars, closing doors, fire geysers, and lava pits.
Making a simple mistake can damage your Podracer’s engines and even destroy your craft outright. If you suffer a full-on crash, you can spawn back into the race after a few seconds but it can cost you your position in the race. Your engines can take some bangs and knocks if you don’t crash completely. Each engine is broken into three segments. When a segment takes a whack, it will begin to change color from Green, to yellow, to orange, and finally red. Too much damage will cause the Engine to blow up and cause you to… you guessed it. Crash.
As well as going flat out fast, you can go even faster with a boost. By filling up the speed gauge on the lower right side, and hitting the A button when it is full, you can boost at even higher speeds. When you boost, the engines temperature will rise and if it gets to high, you can cause an engine fire. This can be repaired as well as any damaged engine segments by holding down the repair button (X). This will slow you down and risk being overtaken. Knowing how to take each corner and when to slow down and speed up makes all the difference. The difference being whether you get away with a light scratch or end up like a fly on a windscreen.
Only a select few pilots are available from the start but you can unlock more by beating the track favorite and their times on each circuit. There is a total of 25 playable pilots. 23 pilots can be unlocked naturally and 2 secret pilots can be unlocked by other methods. Each Podracer has its own set of parameters like acceleration, top speed, traction, air brake, etc. These can be improved upon by purchasing upgrade parts with the in-game currency.
You can earn a currency called Truguts by placing high in races. On races that you haven’t participated in, you can even adjust the winnings to be Fair, Skilled or Winner takes all. Truguts are needed to purchase new or secondhand parts to improve your Podracer. You can also purchase Pit Droids that repair your craft between races. I should point out that any parts you buy work across all Podracers, not just the one you are buying for. The winnings are also finite so you can’t replay races in the hope of earning more funds.
CONTENT & FEATURES:
STAR WARS Episode I Racer has three single-player modes and one multiplayer mode. The single-player modes consist of Tournament, Free Play, and Time Attack. In Tournament, you can create a profile and take part in 25 races divided between 4 tournaments. Races are progressive so you can’t take part in the next race until reaching a certain position in the last one.
Free Play allows you to replay any races you have curently played in Tournament Mode. Unlike Tournament Mode, you will not earn anything for placing high in a race but will still have AI competitors to race against. Time Attack is similar to Free Play mode in which you can replay any track you have already unlocked.
The added benefit is that you are the only racer on the track and can concentrate on getting the best time and lap on each circuit. In both Free Play and Time Attack, you have the option to play a mirrored version of the track. Mirror Mode is not available from the start and has to be unlocked first.
2-Player Mode is Multiplayer. Two-players can race against each other in Horizontal split-screen. You can race on any available track that has already been unlocked. Along the split in the screen, two flags representing the players can be seen. They show the distance between the players in relation to their position on the track.
Free Play, Time Attack, and 2-Player have options that you can alter. The aforementioned Mirror Mode is one such option. You can also change the number of laps you want in each race as well as the number of participating racers (except Time Attack where it is only one single player racing).
The options have a number of features that can be altered as well. As well as the usual Music, Sound, and Controls, you can also turn Motion controls and HD Rumble on and off. These are nice little features to have in the game and can make some interesting experiences as you feel every bump and scrape.
Another feature that some folks may be interested to know is that like in other racing games, you can change the camera angle. You can set the camera angle to be behind the Pod engines, in front of the engines, far behind the cockpit or the default position. You can temporarily look behind you to see if anyone is coming up from behind. With the game being as fast-paced as it is, you don’t want to look behind you for a split-second too long in case you crash and burn.
What most people who played the original game may be interested in knowing is that Cheats do make a return in STAR WARS Episode I: Racer. The cheats in question are the same as those from the Nintendo 64 version and can be inputted the same way. When the Switch version first released, the cheats didn’t work very well but after the 1.0.1 update, they now work fine. If you are interested in what the cheats are, be sure to check out our guide.
STAR WARS Episode I Racer reuses the same orchestral soundtrack as the film the game was based on. This means that you can enjoy the many incredible musical compositions of John Williams as including Duel of the Fates as you race. The music’s fast-paced tempo complements the gameplay and makes the game feel all the more exciting.
Every playable character and even some unplayable characters are voiced. The likes of Jake Lloyd and Lewis MacLeod reprised their roles as Anakin and Sebulba respectively for the original game. All the voice work, sound effects, and music has been remastered for the Nintendo Switch version using the assets of the original.
During the races, you can hear your racer as they respond to crashing, grating alongside the environment or other racers, or even repairing parts of their engines. You can even taunt your opponents and listen to them taunt you as they overtake you. Watto is probably the most verbal of all the characters and he isn’t even playable. The trader talks to you as you look at his wares and even mumbles to himself, much like he does in the film. I do love these little nuances that give each character their personality.
VISUALS & PERFORMANCE:
Well, I suppose this part is what really matters. Back in its day, this game was considered cutting-edge stuff. Unfortunately, the years have not been so kind and we really are spoiled with what is possible today on current-gen consoles. Even with the HD Remaster, only so much can be done with the game’s visuals.
I don’t deny that the vehicle and pilot models look much sharper and defined than before. The environments and textures might not look much different from the original game but they have also seen some refinement. The HUD display and text have been given a visual overhaul to make it look cleaner and easier to read.
The performance during my time playing STAR WARS Episode I Racer has been very smooth. The whole principle of supposedly racing at high-speeds relies upon the performance being as fluid as possible. I found no issue whatsoever like drops in frame rate or dips in resolution. It has been reported that some glitches that existed in the N64 game also pop up from time to time but I didn’t come across any myself and I have beaten every race. However, my experience and your experience can be very different.
When STAR WARS Episode I Racer was announced to be making a return, I immediately jumped for joy. My brother Jack and I would play this game a LOT on the Nintendo 64. Having the opportunity to play this game again after 20 years was not one I could pass up and I was not disappointed. The music and gameplay is exactly how I remembered it, even though the controls have certainly been tweaked to be more responsive.
While the visuals may look rough to some people, nostalgia does help play a part in looking past what is seen at face value. What must be taken into account is that STAR WARS Episode I Racer is a remaster and not a full-on remake. If too many visual improvements were made to the game, it would basically be a whole new game.
STAR WARS Episode I Racer can feel like quite a short game. After all, once you have played through every race in Tournament Mode and possibly gotten all the best race times, there is little else you can do. Well, you could play through every race in Mirror Mode as well but after that, you’ll think to yourself what’s next?
Fortunately, the fun can keep going when you have friends around. Taking it in turns to race each other is as entertaining as it is to watch. A 4-Player Mode local co-op may be a bit hectic in handheld mode but it would definitely be more immersive for those playing. A Local Wireless Mode or Online Mode would have been a welcome feature as well. Local Wireless could have taken the place of the PC version’s LAN-based Multiplayer and could allow up to 8 players to race against each other. Imagine the fun that could have been had with that!
Whether playing alone or with a friend, STAR WARS Episode I Racer is an exciting, fast-paced racing game that is still fun to play now as it was 20 years ago! The option of being able to play on the go as well on the Switch is an added bonus.
THE VERDICT: 8/10
*A Review Code was provided by the Publisher for the purpose of this review
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