PC, Nintendo Switch,
June 23, 2020
Pod racing is back! More than 20 years after its initial release on Nintendo 64 and PC, Star Wars Episode 1: Racer is now re-released for a new generation on current gen consoles. While the news that this classic game is now readily available to old fans is exciting, having spent some time with the game this past week, I was sadly left feeling a mild sense of disappoint. Having not played it in well over a decade, I was excited at the chance to relive some of my most cherished childhood gaming memories. Although unfortunately the game still feels a little stuck in the past.
Star Wars Episode 1: Racer has seen better days and sadly, has not aged well for modern gaming standards. Improvements are minimal at best, ranging from a boost in resolution to 1080p when docked, and 720p in handheld mode on the Switch. Frame rate works out to be a somewhat smooth 60FPS, but that shouldn’t be too much of an ask considering not only the age of the game, but the the simplified geometry as well. The game was never marketed as a remaster, but the lack of TLC besides added support for motion controls and HD rumble, does leave a bittersweet taste in my mouth. The game was initially delayed earlier this year, so there was definitely difficulties in porting this older game to work on today’s gaming hardware. I just wish that work was more evident on the surface.
For those of you who aren’t like me, and have never heard of Star Wars: Racer, allow me to give you a brief rundown. Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace was the first in a trilogy of movies telling the story of Anakin Skywalker, and his journey in becoming a Jedi Knight. Although none of that really matters, because we got pod racing to do!
Before Anakin was a general in the Clone Wars, he was an ace pod racer on Tatooine. This one story beat in the first film was more than enough reason for LucasArts to greenlight a standalone game based on the sport. And while the older fans hated it, us young fans loved it. We all wanted to be a pod racer!
The game is light on story for today’s standards, with minimal voice acting introducing each new cup or track. The introductory/tutorial race simulates the race from the film. The player assumes the role of Anakin as they face off against rival Sebulba. This brings forth one of my main issues with the game, which is its difficulty curve. The first dozen or so races are embarrassingly easy. The AI racers don’t really pose any significant threat, other than capitalising on your own missed turns or mistakes. It’s only towards the later stages of the game that the difficulty properly spikes, but even then it feels somewhat artificial. If the game received a more detailed treatment, rather than a simple port, these prevalent difficulty issues could’ve been adjusted to showcase a more gradual and fair rise in challenge.
While the varying degree of difficulty isn’t too much of an issue (there is a pretty decent split-screen mode after all!), another thing that detracts from the overall experience is the graphics. Now again, I’ll preface this by saying that I understand this was not intended to be a remaster or remake of the original game. But wouldn’t it have been possible at the very least to use some better anti-aliasing solutions or post process effects to give the game’s graphics a much needed face lift? The game is of its time, but the higher resolution only seems to highlight the game’s older visuals, destroying the game’s original art direction. Play this game on PC with some community mods, and the game is improved immensely in the looks department! Imagine what a team of experienced devs, with access to source code, could’ve achieved with a few tweaks.
“The game is of its time, but the higher resolution only seems to highlight the game’s older visuals, destroying the game’s original art direction.”
Star Wars: Racer will always have a special place in my heart. It was the first PC game disc that was gifted to me from a close family friend. I lost many hours to that game. The words “It’s a new lap recccord!!!” is ingrained in my brain forever, and hearing that sound bite again gets me excited to play every time.
But I can’t help but feel disappointed after playing it again all these years later. We’ve both got older, but it seems I was the only one that grew and evolved with the times. It would’ve been nice if the game had done the same, as I’m afraid not many people besides fans from back then will give this game the time of day.
If you’re happy at the prospect of reliving Star Wars Episode 1: Racer from your childhood then you’re in luck! Just don’t expect it to be the game you remember, and even though games as an art form have improved a lot since those days, be mindful of this game’s shortcomings when comparing it with newer releases. While this pod racer fan has had his fill for the time being, I hope newer, younger fans will discover this classic and create their own fun experiences to remember.
- Reintroduces a classic
- HD rumble support on Switch
- Two player split-screen
- No online multiplayer
- Minimal quality of life improvements
- Very few remastered elements
Star Wars Episode 1: Racer was a trip down memory lane. Although a combination of nostalgia and hunger for a game of this pedigree was seemingly squashed by a realisation that this once classic Star Wars game has not aged gracefully. And when released in this current age of gaming, it only serves to highlight a lot of the game’s shortcomings and as a result is found wanting. There exists a generation of kids who grew up on the prequel series (myself included) who went mad about the idea of pod racing. It hurts to see that those memories remain as simple memories, and that this re-release didn’t scratch the nostalgia itch as much as I wanted it too.
Seeing a classic remastered for not only those fans, but for a whole new generation, would’ve been an incredible thing to see. Reigniting the few moments people loved about the prequel trilogy, and re-imagining them for a modern audience, would’ve worked wonders. Perhaps even fanning the flames of excitement at the slim possibility of a sequel? Who’s to say.