Eat my exhausts!

So many Star Wars games, so many memories. From 1997 when the original films were re-released in theaters, to 2005 when the last prequel film came out, LucasArts put out so many Star Wars titles, it was practically its own genre. From first-person shooters (Dark Forces, Republic Commando) to RPG’s (Knights of the Old Republic) to third person action-adventure (Bounty Hunter) to R-wing strafers (Rogue Leader) to movie tie-ins (Battle for Naboo)…. Let’s just say we were starting to see orchestral opening title scrolls in our sleep.

With every market niche tapped, a racer was as common sense as not including a vent port on your otherwise indestructible battle station. Star Wars: Episode 1 Racer was the product of that reasoning, and save for a few kinks, it’s still a pretty awesome game.

Obviously, following the chariot-inspired pod races in the Phantom Menace, the game gives you an assortment of characters and vehicles to choose from. Anakin is the most balanced and quite frankly, this is Darth Vader we’re talking about – why would you want to be anyone else? Managing your pod is half the fun and aside from upgrading your ride at Watto’s garage, you can also periodically check in on the status of your pod’s cuts and bruises. Standard stuff, but in the essence of ticking boxes, this racer had most of it down.

Look’s Like You Need A Pit Stop, Buddy!

There’s a fair amount of stages divided into several tiers and the challenge does escalate rather quickly.  You can win the first four or five tracks by a landslide without upgrading your pod and then soon find yourself getting absolutely destroyed by more difficult environments that force you to think on a dime and manoeuvre your craft with expediency. You will crash a lot until you play enough to know what obstacles are coming… or until you master the force (oxygen mask breathing).

star wars pod racer

What’s the legal driving age for one of these things again?

What’s critical is that you really got a sense of speed, a la F-Zero or the later Burnout. Keep in mind that one of the key marketing points of the film when it came out was the pod race, which showed on TV spots at least a million times. Yes, it was a fairly useless scene in that it didn’t really advance the plot, but visually it was awesome and sort of mustered up old images of speeder bikes zooming through the forests of Endor. It was cool to watch, and Racer did that scene justice, making you feel like a pro at making the Kessel run in under 12 parsecs.

Some of the latter stages did start to feel exceedingly drab with a saturation of greys often leaving you literally flying blind.

For a late N64 title, the game was par for the visuals. The worlds were barren, yes – after all, these were race tracks – but they were compensated in variety. You had your snow, desert, swamp, and mechanical levels. Some of the latter stages did start to feel exceedingly drab with a saturation of greys often leaving you literally flying blind until you met your inevitable doom at the side of a hidden turnpike, but hey, that just meant you weren’t heeding the wise words of Alec Guinness.

Audio ran into the same hit and miss story. Despite the sound effects all faithfully cloning those of the films, what bunch of nerf-herders were in charge of the music? You get an opening theme at the menu – also repeated during a paused game – but that’s it. Forget the orchestral power of Johnny Williams when you’re playing Star Wars: Episode 1 Racer, because all you’ll be hearing is the sound of a vacuum in deep space. Pitiful band.

In any case, this is one of those obscure Star Wars games that’s really not so bad, but flew lower on the radar when compared to PC hits like Jedi Knight or critically acclaimed console adventures as in Knights of the Old Republic. Stretch out with your feelings and give it another shot.

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