(Nintendo 64)

Game Review

Star Wars Episode I: Racer Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Martin Watts

Watto way to go

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace may have been panned by film critics and audiences alike when it released back in 1999, but not everything borne out of it was as big a disaster as Jar Jar Binks. One of these truly rare exceptions was Star Wars Episode I: Racer, a sci-fi racing game developed by by LucasArts. The game was a massive success for the developer, selling a whopping 3.12 million copies; its fortune no doubt boosted by the considerable hype for the film. To put that into perspective, that’s more than both the F-Zero and WipEout series — according to Guinness World Records 2011 - Gamer's Edition — although it’s worth noting that Star Wars Episode I: Racer did release on multiple formats.

Nevertheless, Star Wars Episode I: Racer isn’t a success just because it sold well; it’s more the fact that it’s actually a pretty good game that features nice visuals, tight controls and a well-nuanced difficulty curve. The game – unsurprisingly – is based on the iconic pod race from the film, featuring the movie's tracks plus a whole host of other courses set on various planets across the Star Wars galaxy. Players can choose from a number of different pilots, ranging from well-known characters such as Anakin Skywalker and Sebulba to the more obscure ones like Ben Quadinaros and Dud Bolt.

One of Star Wars Episode I: Racer’s most endearing features is its presentation. Each menu screen features its own unique 3D environments, such as the Mos Espa cantina and the pod race garage. The character models are a tad garish by today’s standards, looking rather blocky and lacking in detail, but it’s easily forgiven when you take into account just how good the rest of the game looks. Where Star Wars Episode I: Racer truly succeeds is in how it manages to superbly recreate the sense of speed, danger and authenticity of the pod race that features in the film. It’s not quite on par with F-Zero X in terms of pure speed, but it more than makes up for this with its stunning visuals; the amount of detail is impressive for a game of its type on systems at the time. Each planet has its own distinctive look and feel, and the pods remain true to their film form.

The game also utilises the N64’s 4MB Expansion Pak add-on, allowing for a high-resolution mode. This looks fantastic when playing the single-player Time Trial mode, but the quality clearly diminishes once you add other racers, or another player, to the mix. As is the case with many N64 games, the framerate has a habit for jumping up and down, but for the most part Star Wars Episode I: Racer is a very playable and visually appealing experience.

This is all augmented further by the great track design. Earlier courses are fairly simple in layout, with relatively few hazards to the player. However, as you progress through the game, tight corridors and unforgiving obstacles make for an incredibly challenging experience – on some tracks it just seems impossible not to crash. Thankfully, throwing your pod directly at a wall doesn't cause the race to end — you're just respawned a short distance back. Moreover, your pod’s engines can withstand a moderate amount of scrapes and bumps before being blown to smithereens. The game’s damage system is accurate and balanced, and you're also given the opportunity to repair your pod as you race. The downside is that you lose speed as you do this, but it’s a fair trade-off and one that surprisingly adds a strategic element to the game.

Competing in the many races on offer gives you the chance to win prize money with which you can buy upgrades for your pod to improve various aspects such as turning and acceleration. Performing well in the earlier races is, therefore, extremely beneficial, as the cost of these components does get pretty high as you progress. This isn't helped by the fact that the difficulty curve for the game is a tad steep in places, with some of the later courses being so hard that it borders on unfair. Computer players seemingly never crash, meaning that often just a single mistake is enough to cost you the race. On the plus side, Star Wars Episode I: Racer is very responsive and precise in the controls department, meaning that with a decent amount of practice, you can master most of the tracks.

The game does feature a multiplayer mode, but this is unfortunately where the game falls down a little. There's only a two-player option, and although you can have AI opponents in the race with you, you can't tackle the single-player mode together as per Mario Kart's Grand Prix mode. As a result, Star Wars Episode I: Racer has limited appeal beyond its single-player game, especially when you take into account that F-Zero X, Mario Kart 64 and even Diddy Kong Racing offer superior multiplayer modes.

Conclusion

Star Wars Episode I: Racer is a solid racing game, featuring tight game mechanics, great track design and impressive visuals. Despite being based on a film which most Star Wars fans would rather forget, the fast and frantic gameplay more than makes up for it, and LucasArts should be commended for having developed that fateful pod race into such a sizeable and varied experience. Unfortunately, the multiplayer is disappointing, especially in comparison to other N64 multiplayer hits, making this game more ideal for the single-player. Moreover, the rather harsh climb in difficulty may not be to everyone's taste. Nevertheless, if you're looking for an extensive single-player racing experience, then Star Wars Episode I: Racer is certainly worth a go.

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User Comments (67)

C-Olimar

#2

C-Olimar said:

Ha, I love Ben Quadinaros :)
Well, I didn't know his name 'til I just Googles it then. I used to just call him 'Potato-face'. But I still liked him!

-KwB-

#4

-KwB- said:

This was an awesome game !! A year back I found cheats from it !!

Dpullam

#5

Dpullam said:

I have this game for my Nintendo 64 still, but it didn't get too much use since I liked Mario Kart much more. Even so, I have quite a few good memories of playing this game as a kid. Perhaps I will try it out once more someday.

Zurtech

#6

Zurtech said:

I always wanted a sequel, but now EA's got the Star Wars licence, I'd rather just set my N64 up again.

Jonas87

#7

Jonas87 said:

Definitely my favorite racer on N64 (just a hair more than MK64)! I would definitely pick this up if it came to VC. Though that might be unlikely now with the state of EA/Nintendo relations... I can hope though!

Undead_terror

#8

Undead_terror said:

I loved this game, one of my favorite racers, the strange thing is that I was getting back into the game again a few days ago and then a review came here.

SirQuincealot

#9

SirQuincealot said:

@-KwB- i remember i used cheats to get mad cassh in the game, and then one day it just turned off so i was millions in debt in th game, with no way to buy upgrades, what a great game

SirQuincealot

#10

SirQuincealot said:

so is this game going to get a re=release? otherwise whats the point of this review? to enrage the people who sold there copies 10 years ago? if so well played

Kaine_Morrison

#12

Kaine_Morrison said:

Me and my GirlFriend at the time used to play this for hours on end.
I loved this game so much!
This should get a 3DS make-over!
There is onle ONE thing I hated about this game:
You're "Flying" a "Hover-Vehicle," so why exactly did the Ice and Snow levels make you race like you were in a Ground-Vehicle with all the Slipping and Sliding?

OptimisticLink

#14

OptimisticLink said:

I played the living heck out of this game when I was a kid. I often use Neeva Kee (if that's spelled correctly) for his excellent traction and uniquely designed podracer.

Mizore

#15

Mizore said:

...They never released this on the VC huh? I used to have it for PC, but because its kinda old...it crashes often and there's plenty of glitches. :/
I would like to spend more time with the game, I think the character I went with is that four-armed alien. :p

Klimbatize

#17

Klimbatize said:

This game was packaged with the N64 I got way back when. I played it so much. It blew my mind.

MasterWario

#18

MasterWario said:

Ah, a fun game; at the very least it was satisfying to blow up one of your engines and watch you spin around futility :P It was always so hard to get that secret at the beginning of the snow place.

PatcherStation

#19

PatcherStation said:

The Dreamcast version was the best version. Can't say I've played many Star Wars games, but this was the only good one I played. I wouldn't say no to a sequel on next gen consoles.

Shiryu

#23

Shiryu said:

I still have my cart, boxed with everything. It was amazing back then, playing this before the movie even came out.

skjia

#24

skjia said:

"It's working! It's working!"
Man I love this game. Still have the cart too. I used to love to use the debug cheat and put the max speed at 2000 lol. I miss when games had cool cheats. I really miss the 64 era of gaming.

Dpishere

#25

Dpishere said:

I played this game a bit when I was a kid, never was too good at it though. Still have the cart and box too.

Peach64

#28

Peach64 said:

I used to love this on the Dreamcast, but I also really liked the Phantom Menace game on PC blush In my defence that was back when I was relying on my parents to buy my video games, so would get 1 for my birthday and maybe 2 at Christmas. I'd be lucky to have 10 titles per generation, and when having so little exposure to games, you can't tell when something is terrible.

zipmonStaff

#30

zipmon said:

Ah man, what a great game! One of the best racers on a system with no shortage of awesome racers. I played this all the time back in the day, had no idea it could use the expansion pak either!

Great review Martin! :D

ungibbed

#31

ungibbed said:

I still have this game and my N64 hooked up to my same TV as my Wii U and other systems. I found a brand new copy for only $5 on Craigslist and it was sealed in box. Couldn't ask for better there!

I love retro gaming and while this game and many other greats from Rare here in the US, will never see the light of day on the Wii or even Wii U. That being said, I do often find great deals at thrift shops or yard sales for older games and a spare console or two which I clean up and resell them online. I always wished the Wii Virtual console would have gotten more games for true 480p upscale or the pipe dream of a full 1080p upscale on the Wii U.

There are many games that were once great that aged poorly and you can buy them for a dollar but others like Bad Fur Day and many other games from Rare and Nintendo that are timeless. Anyone up for a game of Waverace 64?

Azikira

#33

Azikira said:

I take offense to your accusation that Episode I was bad. Did you happen to watch Episode II? It's much worse.

Alienfish

#36

Alienfish said:

Great game, but ultimately flawed in design. The racers needed to be constantly repaired but there was only a limited amount of cash to be made in the entire game so if you didn't play well enough you wouldn't be able to win anymore and if you wanted to play more at the end it would cost you performance. Loved playing from beginning to end though.

mikeyman64

#37

mikeyman64 said:

I was in love with this game. It was what I went to after getting everything I could in F-Zero X. I greatly enjoyed the need to repair ships and ability to buy used parts for cheap, it gave an extra dimension to the game.

I remember none of my friends liking it though, which lessened it's value a bit because nobody ever wanted to race me. :-/

chiefeagle02

#39

chiefeagle02 said:

I had this for both the N64 and the Dreamcast. I definitely wouldn't mind playing this little racing gem again. :)

For what it's worth, I also had the Game Boy Color version.

jhuhn

#41

jhuhn said:

Now if only Nintendo had also a partner ship with Disney, to have this game re-released on the Wii and/or Wii U Virtual Console service.

Neram

#42

Neram said:

I just recently acquired this game again. I still love it. Although, I do prefer the Dreamcast version just for the extra fidelity, but the N64 version will always hold my fondest memories.

ungibbed

#44

ungibbed said:

@Nintex right on! I've been trying to track that game down for a while now but haven't had much luck. It did well here in the USA, and the last one I seen was trashed. Torn cart label, permanent marker, the complete works of a finely destroyed cartridge. I couldn't talk myself into buying it since they wanted $20 USD for it and wouldn't budge while the same day I picked up Gauntlet Legends in great shape for half the price. It as a loose cart and thankfully free of game rental stickers.

Back on topic, Pod Racer sells on average for five bucks. I don't ever recall seeing a Dreamcast version for NTSC systems, but my other favorite racer, Rush 2049, did have a Dreamcast release and it was epic. So fluid and smooth. Even with the Expansion Pak that did wonders for the graphics of Star Wars Pod Racer with better lighting and sharp graphics helped the games presentation by a huge margin. Rush 2049 really didn't show much of a benefit from the extra memory. It still was blurry and choppy.

ungibbed

#45

ungibbed said:

@Neram do you know if this game was only for PAL regions? I've never seen it on shelves in the US. If it did, production numbers had to be insanely low...

Void

#46

Void said:

Man, I loved this game, I used to have a copy of it for PC, but I lost it a few years ago.

HawkeyeWii

#47

HawkeyeWii said:

"That kid is out of his mind! uun gaga unn gaga, they're side by side!"

I always wanted this game! I really hope they bring it and Rogue Squadron to VC!

RevolverLink

#48

RevolverLink said:

This game is what I played instead of F-Zero X back in the day. I managed to get pretty darn good at it too, IIRC.

JebbyDeringer

#49

JebbyDeringer said:

Despite being a somewhat crap movie the Pod Race scene was brilliant in every way. The game was also good but it's just slightly better for PC/Dreamcast.

nik1470

#51

nik1470 said:

Due to my rage at the shambles that was episode one I never played this but now I feel like I missed out!

WesCash

#53

WesCash said:

I never owned it, but rented it plenty of times. It's one of the few games that everyone seems to have enjoyed.

ungibbed

#55

ungibbed said:

@Neram did some amazon fishing for the Dreamcast version and the release numbers for the DC version of this game must be low enough to the point where it prices at the same level of Soul Calibur (avg, $50 usd) the N64 version is everywhere and like mine I got new in box a few months ago for only five bucks.

ungibbed

#56

ungibbed said:

@HawkeyeWii I don't know if any VC releases of these games will happen since now the Star Wars franchise is owned by Goliath (EA). I always had high hopes of more N64 games coming out for the VC but at this point, my guess is a rehash of what can already be gotten for the original Wii, being the future Wii U experience.

On the brighter side (and hope), I will bite if the games are up scaled to full 1080p.

Jukilum

#57

Jukilum said:

There actually was a sequel to this game for the PS2. It's not as good, but it is still fun.

I don't think that EA has the rights to all past Star Wars games, just for making new console games. Disney reserved the rights for mobile and social Star Wars games for their internal studios.

shinesprite

#58

shinesprite said:

I remember this. Great little racer, I think I still have it.

. . .despite this, I think I never bothered to play more than the first course.

biglittlejake

#59

biglittlejake said:

This was a great game, I had it. I did not even know Mario Kart 64 existed back then. I was like 8 or 9. I really hope this comes out on the WIi U virtual console.

DRLAdmin

#60

DRL said:

Played this one with the wife today after reading this review. Definitely a good time. Thanks, Martin!

XCWarrior

#61

XCWarrior said:

One of the best racing games I've ever played, period. Wish we could get a sequel or dare I say, a HD remake.

bezerker99

#63

bezerker99 said:

KB Toy Stores back in the day were selling this for $5. I bought them all off the shelf and went right to ebay. Good times.

Austroid

#64

Austroid said:

"not everything born out of it was as big a disaster as Jar Jar Binks."

Really? Even NL is still hung up about it?

fredcaster

#65

fredcaster said:

What an over hyped game this was back in the day. The early part of the game was ok-ish but soon dodgy frame rates and long dull tracks took over. No real excitement to be had. Doesn't stand up well at all today.

Chris2636

#66

Chris2636 said:

lol i just bought this game yesterday at a mini mall for 4 dollars used with a used nintendo 64 for 20 dollars i remember renting this game across the street i missed playing this im glad i found it :3

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