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Remembering Star Wars Episode I Racer

You can say what you will about the new Star Wars trilogy, but I’ll stick up for it when it comes to two subjects; Natalie Portman and Star Wars Episode I Racer for the Nintendo 64, Sega Dreamcast, and PC. Notice the absence of the Game Boy Color version? That’s because it was complete garbage, unlike its non-portable brethren. Episode I Racer took one of the most memorable scenes from The Phantom Menace and turned it into a video game that was far better than it had any business being.

Just like the podracing scene in the movie, the racing gameplay runs at a very brisk pace. Comparing it to the likes of F-Zero X or GX isn’t too much of a stretch. Having a short reaction time is practically a prerequisite as turns creep up out of nowhere and environments can change (doors close, rocks fall, etc.) with barely a second’s notice. Furthermore, you have a unique turbo system for those times when 500MPH just isn’t fast enough. As you build up speed, a curved meter next to the speedometer begins to fill until an indicator light at the top turns green. When this happens, you have to hold the control stick forward until a second, faster meter fills up and turns the indicator light yellow. This second light is your cue to tap the accelerator button to activate your podracer’s boost. You can only use this boost for a matter of seconds because bumping into a wall, the ground, or another racer will end it immediately. Use it for too long and one of the six sections of your engine will catch on fire and need to be repaired.

Episode I Racer expanded on the podracing circuit from the movie by adding several new racers and multiple tracks on different planets (instead of only Tatooine). Some of these new planets include the ice world of Ando Prime, Aquilaris, a water planet, and even an intergalactic prison established on an asteroid. Each planet provides its own distinctive scenery, style, and vibe. The layouts of the tracks themselves, however, aren’t quite as satisfying due to their somewhat basic designs. With few exceptions, dramatic elevation changes in the tracks are infrequent. Moreover, even with multiple paths and shortcuts, I never felt inclined to actually use them if they weren’t directly in front of me. While the simpler track designs do keep the races consistently fast, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was ready to move on to the next track well before the three-lap race was finished. If you manage to pull ahead early on, you’ll be wishing the race was over even quicker.

Since it had been quite a while since the last time I had played Star Wars: Episode I Racer, I was a little rusty. Because of this rustiness, I hit a wall pretty soon after completing the first circuit. When you hit this wall, which could be sooner or later than me, you’ll need to start experimenting with different podracers. Most of these other podracers are unlocked by taking first place on various tracks. Each one boasts unique stats for traction, turning, acceleration, top speed, air brakes, cooling, and repair. Buying upgraded parts from Watto will boost whatever the default stats are. When you buy new parts for one of your podracers, it carries over to all of them. Don’t bother trying to farm money to buy these parts, though, since you cannot earn any extra money on a track where you finished on the podium.

Graphically, Episode I Racer is a mixed bag due to the generation it was released in. On the plus side, even though the game only runs at 30FPS, the sense of speed doesn’t suffer too heavily. However, in races, the podracer you are using appears to have noticeably better polygonal geometry than that of the other podracers. Environments are not lacking in Star Wars imagination, only in decent textures. The podracers textures look fine, but everything else is a blurry or pixelated mess. The ground and walls of the tracks are usually a horribly low resolution. Also, it’s hard not to be taken out of the experience when waves splashing on the beach only have single digit frames of animation. The music is, thankfully, exactly what you would expect from a Star Wars game; phenomenal orchestral compositions ripped right out of the movies. Voice acting isn’t on the same level due to repeated dialog/insults spoken in the same non-English language by different races of aliens. Jake Lloyd, the actor for Anakin Skywalker, reprises his role in the game and does a good job at making his voice sound consistent with the Episode I movie.

Make no mistake about it, Star Wars: Episode I Racer isn’t the most challenging game in the galaxy. Once you get a feel for the gameplay, you’ll be able to clear the game in a matter of hours. Taking first place in all races will add a little more time to your play-through, but, ultimately, this is a relatively short game. That said, Episode I Racer is still enjoyable while it lasts. The memories I have of this game are fond for good reason. Even if it hasn’t aged as gracefully as I had hoped it would, it is still worth revisiting. If you have a choice, the Dreamcast has the best console version thanks to FMV cutscenes, crystal-clear music, and the ability to delete your save data, a feature the Nintendo 64 version lacks.

About Eric Blue

Often referred to by his nickname “Blue”, the upbeat Eric ‘BlueSwim’ joined Tech-Gaming as its fighting game, pro-wrestling, and Sailor Moon expert in 2011. Although his heart belongs to the classics of yesteryear, this jack-of-all-trades gamer doesn’t shy away from playing the modern-day greats as well.

31 comments

  1. The best thing about the prequels were some of the game they inspired.

    I remember paying $59.99 for this. And people complain about game prices these days!

  2. I really want to hear Blue talk about E1 Racer on the podcast real slow with his Solid Snake voice, while smooth jazz gently plays in the background.

  3. “No Blue, I will not sign any Sailor Moon dolls or WWF Games, ONLY Star Wars items! You got it?”

  4. Man, this brings back memories! I remember playing this in middle school.

  5. Now that was a super bombad racer! *rimshot ;D In all seriousness that was one of my top 3 N64 titles! In there with OoT and Rogue squadron. Great article Blue, more like this pls!

  6. Nobody tops BlueSwim’s comments. You’re the site’s true BLUE funnyman.

    Nice writeup as well. I only rented the game but I remember it being real fast and kind of loose.

  7. eternal nightmare

    Just want to say I enjoy the retro game pieces. I’d like to see this as a weekly feature.

  8. Man, I remember paying full price for this and also one of the FMV Star Wars games for the PS1.

  9. Blue, did you ever play Star Wars: Rogue Squadron for the N64? Once that Expansion Pak was in place, I was in pure Star Wars heaven for a month.

    • Rogue Squadron was one of my favorite N64 games based solely on the fact that you could pilot the Millennium Falcon in it. I always wanted to do that and Rogue Squadron was the first game where I could finally get to live that dream. 😀

  10. You know that there was a PS2 sequel, right? Still got my copy of Star Wars Racer Revenge with the bright yellow cover somewhere.

    • Don’t look directly into the cover! XD

      I never got around to picking up Racer Revenge. Don’t know why, though. I’ll need to keep my eye out for it.

      • Yeah, it’s an improvement in graphics, and destroying your pod is a instant game over which makes more sense.

        For some reason, it’s a little pricey at the game stores here (in West Virginia).

  11. To be sure with you 100%. I would uncertainty, for one thing, however think the idea not well worth bringing up.

  12. Have you heard about the Anakin Podracer experience thats unlockable via a code in the Star War Kinect game?

    If you have any codes, please share ’em!