STAR WARS Episode 1 Racer
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Age Rating: 3+ Everyone
Release Date: 23.06.20
A code was provided for review purposes.
2 Engines. One Champion. Some Limits…
If real-life hadn’t got in the way, I could have quite easily completed the single player ‘campaign’ of Star Wars Episode 1 Racer in a few sittings. Harkening back to the good ol’ days of the N64 (among other consoles), this re-release of a 20+ year old racing game has the potential to transport a player back to a simpler time: a time when 2-player local coop and late nights gathered around a TV were commonplace. The fact that I would have finished it in such a short space of time is indicative of how well it has recaptured that magic, but it is also representative of how easy it is.
Inspired, back in the late ’90s, by the tense and strategic dogfights between pilots during the podracing sequences of The Phantom Menace film, Star Wars Episode 1 Racer seeks to recreate these scenes in the form of video game medium. There is every reason to believe that this is possible, especially with such tight gameplay mechanics and fast-paced action. It is unfortunate, then, that this isn’t capitalised on: the first 14 of the 21 tournament races are far from challenging. The seven that follow, labelled as ‘Galactic’, require a little more strategy but this tends to be in the form of a rather overzealous difficulty spike. There are so many positives to this N64, GBC and Dreamcast console classic, yet it will become apparent that the issues surrounding the difficulty, or lack thereof, serves to highlight some of the other pitfalls of this title.
The following statement best introduces the problem: I won an 8-and-a-half-minute race where I led for 8 minutes and 25 seconds of it. After taking the lead on the first bend, I didn’t see another racer until the finish line. This was much more reminiscent of a time trial event than it was an iconic film moment involving Anakin Skywalker. It emphasised that the races are too long, and the podracer upgrades available are redundant – for the most part, anyway.
Modern Day Multiplayer Anyone?
There was a reluctance during my playthrough to upgrade my ship for fear that the game would become even easier. This dawned on me after I had completed the Amateur tournament as a series of invitational events were unlocked. I tried one and found it to be quite difficult when compared to the previous races. Instead of immediately making my way to the shop to purchase parts, I attempted the first of the semi-pro races to check how difficult they were. Finding them to be comparable in difficulty to the amateur events, I chose not to upgrade and instead played through the semi-pro events with my podracer in its current state. An unusual way to play, and not how I had hoped to experience it.
Not only did it identify the aforementioned issues, it also cast a shadow on what is otherwise very intelligent track design. The tracks beg for repeat runs and offer opportunities to take shortcuts and learn the best routes, yet the game doesn’t require that you do. The Time Trial game mode does to some extent, however modern-day gaming would see it fit that an online leaderboard of sorts would make this a more inviting prospect. This leads us to another of the game’s oversights: online multiplayer.
If Star Wars Episode 1 Racer had implemented eight player online racing a la Mario Kart, it would have propelled this podracing game from a nostalgic nod to the ’90s to a must-have of the 2020s. The opportunity to play online against human opponents would have ensured this was a mainstay on consoles everywhere and negated the need for difficulty adjustments in the main game. In order for this statement to have any validity, the visuals and performance would need to hold up. Thankfully, they do – where it matters most anyway.
Fits and Starts
If ever a game was going to be a mixed bag for performance, this is how I would have liked it to have been. The racing action is smooth throughout with no issues whatsoever, whereas the cutscenes are poor. Fits and starts end up relegating the lacklustre cutscenes to relative obscurity. Fortunately, they play second fiddle to the fast-paced podracing anyway. With a game that relies so heavily on sharp handling and quick player reactions, it is excellent to see the game perform so well.
The audio and visuals are disparate to the overall gameplay too. Visually, the game is serviceable with the podracers seemingly much better suited to the 21st century than the landscapes they race upon. They still look okay, but there is the occasional issue with draw distances due to the poor graphical fidelity. That being said, it is very much in keeping with the charm from that era and, personally, I wouldn’t have the game any other way. The same can’t be said for the audio which is definitely showing its age. A typically Star Wars soundtrack accompanies the racing, however the noises from the podracers and the environment are tired and testing.
A noticeable inclusion that some will consider an enhancement is the motion controls. There’s a sensitivity to them which takes some getting used to, and I have never found motion controls to be something I enjoy too much, but a new way of playing is welcome nonetheless. In the time that I’ve had the game for review, Aspyr have released a patch addressing issues with the motion controls which is testament to their support for the game.
Rapid Reviews Rating
All in all, there is fun to be had with Star Wars Episode 1 Racer – especially if you are looking for a relaxing and casual experience. There is an overriding feeling that this could have been achieved whilst also bringing it firmly into the modern day and, in doing so, it would have breathed new life into a game that is just over 20 years old. As it stands, Star Wars Episode 1 Racer is a competent port that, motion controls aside, remains just a little too faithful to its original release.
You can purchase STAR WARS Episode 1 Racer on the Nintendo eShop here.
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.