Star Wars Episode One Racer: Tonight we’re gonna pod race like it’s 1999…
Whatever you think of the Star Wars property today, 1999 and the prequel era, in general, were a dark time for fans of the franchise. The movies were all real, real bad and don’t let any revisionist tell you otherwise. But, there were silver linings that emerged miraculously. Both of the animated series based on The Clone Wars animated series was that came along a few years after are very good and it was actually a pretty good time for games based on Star Wars.
You had ones directly based on the movies such as the very first in the long-running series of Lego games based on popular properties, Lego Star Wars and ones based on older movies such as Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader. One very fun game was even just entirely built out of one segment of one movie!
Seriously, though the pod racing sequence in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace is really fun and arguably the best scene in a mostly terrible movie, it’s hard to imagine you could build a good video game just based off one sequence in it (and in fact, they made two with Racer Revenge coming out three years later). Not to mention racing is not generally what people think about or want to do when it comes to Star Wars. They either want to be a Jedi or fly a spacecraft.
And yet miraculously, Star Wars Episode I Racer, originally released in 1999 on PC, (though I definitely remember first playing it Nintendo 64) was pretty good. It had the great music of Star Wars some really out there courses not based on anything in the movies, along with some characters that hey, you may not know or care who they are but their pods could be pretty cool. Most importantly, it FELT like that sequence in the movie, high speed, high risk with an incredibly delicate machine that was not a go-cart and couldn’t withstand much abuse before it blew up.
Fast forward to 2020 and re-releasing classic Star Wars video games is definitely a thing. I have numerous ones on my PS4 ranging from SNES classics to fondly remembered PS2 and PC titles. The latest to join that trend (and also out on Nintendo Switch as well) is Star Wars Episode I Racer.
While a lot of the recently ported classic Star Wars games have come with some extras, Star Wars Episode I Racer is really just the same game you played two decades ago. But hey, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. For a pretty reasonable price ($15) you can play it on modern TV without hunting down an old copy and dragging some system out of your closet or storage, even portable if you got it on Switch.
What is the bad part is to some extent how bare-bones this game feels today. The presentation is actually pretty choppy, with the cut-scenes all quite noticeably stuttering even though these are literally just intros to each racecourse and that’s all they are there for. The courses look incredibly pixelated and it’s honestly hard to see what’s going on sometimes and that inevitably leads to crashes that seem incredibly unfair.
The modes are very limited as well. There’s no online-multi-player, no online leaderboards, no race variety, etc. This makes for an arguably incredibly low replay value.
Additionally, while you can earn money to buy parts buy winning races, once you’ve placed first, you can’t get any more money running that race again and your options are to trade parts in to save a little money on a new part but it’s not nearly enough. I don’t want to be able to max out every stat but I also can’t try a different build unless I want to just start over and that’s a little ridiculous.
Yet that still isn’t a deal-breaker because one thing Star Wars Episode I Racer still does incredibly well is make you feel like you are an incredibly tense high-speed race. The game is incredibly fast in a way very few other racing games have accomplished and that is an enormous plus. Add to that the always great Star Wars soundtrack and it does instantly take you back to playing this back in the day and that’s worth something. If you can let go of the criticisms, which are valid but not deal-breakers, and just feel the game it’s a pretty worthwhile experience.
Ultimately I’m recommending Star Wars Episode I Racer I but with some big caveats. It doesn’t look pretty, it’s very limited in options, but if you like Star Wars and/or remember this game pretty fondly I’d say it’s still well worth a pick-up. That’s all for now, see ya real soon!