Star Wars: Episode I - Racer

Star Wars: Episode I - Racer

released on May 18, 1999

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Star Wars: Episode I - Racer

released on May 18, 1999

Star Wars: Episode 1 - Racer lets you participate in the famous pod race sequence that was the critical highlight of the 1999 film Star Wars: Episode I, The Phantom Menace. These lightning-quick vehicles are capable of reaching simulated speeds of up to 600 miles per hour while skimming a mere 4 feet above the ground. You can race alone or against a friend in split-screen mode on more than 21 courses among eight worlds. Take the controls as Jedi-to-be Anakin Skywalker or any one of over 20 pod racers. Feel the full-force blast while avoiding hazards such as methane lakes, meteor showers, and the unfriendly Tusken Raiders.

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The Switch port is great. Handles so buttery-smooth and at an incredible frame rate. The graphics haven't been updated at all, but when you're moving at 800mph, it doesn't matter too much.

But HOOOOOO boy, do the models look horrifying up close. When you're not racing, everything looks hilariously dated. It's kind of charming, but you won't have to look at it for long.

I'm really surprised at how great it feels to drive a Podracer in 2020. Mario Kart's 200cc cup has prepared me for this, and I absolutely love it.

WARNING: The audio is still the compressed garbage files from the N64, so this game sounds pretty bad at times. That beautiful John Williams score deserved better.

I'm not a Star Wars fan but really enjoyed this game. The pods "health" gimmick is pretty good.

Bottom line: What was once a new lap record feels more like a 4th place finish in 2022.

Is there anything more thrilling than crossing a finish line, boost fully engaged, at 1000 miles per hour?

What if I told you that, if you were the fastest to ever do it, that most intense and excited voice in the world would congratulate you with a brazen "IT'S A NEW LAP RECORD!!!"

Who could possibly resist such a temptation?

Star Wars: Episode 1 - Racer, shortened to Star Wars Racer for its modern platform rerelease, is perhaps one of the few good things to come out of the Episode 1 marketing blitz that Lucasfilm dragged well regarded development studio Lucasarts down in the late 90s. Based on the 2nd act finale sequence of The Phantom Menace in which Anakin Skywalker races to gain his and his new friends' freedom from the heat of Tatooine, Racer is a tight, light, and fast as heck arcade racing game that is as fun to play as it is visually ugly.

The gameplay loop is simple: pick a podracer from a limited roster based off of characters designed for the source film, win races set on a limited series of planets to earn credits, spend these credits on better parts for your pod racer, and then keep winning till the credits roll. The main bulk of the game is contained within 3 circuits of 7 races each, with an additional 4 challenge races contained in an "invitational circuit," meant to be completed after you've bested the challenge of the main game. The races and AI opponent AI naturally improve as you progress from the first race to the very last, though upgrades and a mastery of the unique game elements such as engaging your pod's boost and self-repair capabilities often make even the toughest of races trivial, assuming you know when to apply that air break properly.

The game can easily be finished in a few hours with some practice, and later races can often a thrilling example of what allowing for extreme speed can do to a properly tuned racing title. Some of the tracks are a bit long, with some clocking in at nearly 4 minutes with a good lap time behind them. More visually interesting games can get away with it, but Racer's Nintendo 64 limited, hastily thrown together art design makes for an often irritating, bland experience as you race with a vengeance through each course.

As far as licensed games go, its a limited, but interesting experience that has ample room for thrilling competition and skill mastery, but even with 25 tracks it feels shallow and as it ends, it feels like it was never really there. My bird brain dictates that I worship my childhood memories of playing 4 player LAN with my family as a young child, as well as playing through the excellent Dreamcast port in the mid 2000s, but this game is not a feast, but a nice snack.

Also, the modern port's audio is completely busted. Playing it through my well calibrated 5.1 setup produces effects in one speaker and the looped, low quality John Williams music in another. It is QUITE jarring. Toggling a mono mixdown of the two channels solved the issue, but having to get up and mess with receiver settings is a drag.

Fun when you get used to the controls.

A fast paced and atmospheric racing game where you always feel out of control, but that almost feels like the point. As you tear through detailed environments at incredible speeds it only makes sense that ramming into a wall at full speed should only be a moment away. Cheats help, of course, and I made liberal use of them. Whether you're playing fair and unfair, the game is super cool.

The best Star Wars thing out of this fucking franchise.

I wish SW had more podracing