Welcome to the first Rewind Review. These will be reviews of games, movies and shows that we either didn’t get to around release, or older/retro stuff that we want to review. What better way to start this off than with a classic Star Wars game.
Star Wars Episode 1 Racer originally came out in 1999 for PC and most famously, the N64. It also had a Dreamcast port a year later. 20 years later it was remastered and re-released for PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch with smoother textures and now running in 60fps. That’s the version I’ve been playing recently. While it does show it’s age in some minor areas, I’ve found that game holds up remarkably well against modern racing games.
Based on the podracing sequences from The Phantom Menace, the game plays much like other extreme speed anti-gravity racing games WipeOut and F-Zero. You choose a racer from a cast featuring young Anakin Skywalker and other podracers like Sebulba and move through tracks and blistering speeds all while trying not to crash and explode. It’s all given a Star Wars flare obviously with tracks set on planets from the Star Wars universe and an incredible soundtrack that includes Duel of the Fates among other Star Wars tunes.
The modern re-release runs in a stable 60fps and it’s smooth as a baby Yoda’s bottom. As I said before, this game still hold up gameplay wise. The controls are as tight and responsive as you would want in a game where 500mph is considered slow. You can feel the speed of the podracer as your controlling it but it never becomes hard to control even pushing 1000mph. You’ll need to be able to make some split second movements to avoid crashing and if you know what you’re doing, the podracer will always do what you tell it. Track design is also largely excellent. There’s 25 tracks across a handful of planets and if you strip away the Star Wars paint job, you would still be left with well designed tracks full of twists, turns, jumps and shortcuts. There was only 1 track I can say that I actively disliked, all the others range from fantastic to good.
Surprisingly for a racing game from this era, the A.I. is very fair even on the hard difficulty. There’s no rubberbanding to be found here. On the hardest difficulty, they’ll put up a fight but if you can outmaneuver them, it’s quite easy to still leave them in the dust. Sometimes it’s too easy though. On the simpler tracks, even on hard, it’s comically easy to get an early lead and get so far ahead you don’t even see any A.I. for the rest of the race. This is possibly on the more complex tracks as well if you’re incredibly skilled but on those tracks the challenge becomes just as much about not crashing as it does about keeping up. Hitting anything will damage your engines, take enough damage and you’ll explode. If your going fast enough you can also explode on impact. While you do respawn, it can obviously impact your race standing so it’s best to avoid it. If your engines do get damaged, you can repair them during a race but this slows you down giving your opponents a chance to catch up and pass you. It’s a tight balance between expertly maneuvering the tracks and going as fast as humanly possibly.
If you are finding the A.I. too easy then there is a multiplayer mode. Unfortunately the modern release does not include online so you have to get a friend in the same room with you. I’m a strong advocate of local multiplayer but it would have been nice if this also had some form of online, though I understand why they might not have been able to add it as it is mostly a straight port. Also rather unfortunately is the multiplayer is 2-player only. This was true of the original release as well and it’s a shame they couldn’t update that to accommodate 4-players.
Single player offers you 2 modes. Tournament, Free Play and Time Attack. Tournament has you going through 4 circuits, 3 that are 7 races and 1 that’s 4. As you go through these you’ll earn money you can use to upgrade the stats on your pod and winning races unlocks more racers to use as well as unlocking the tracks for use in Free Play and Time Attack. Free Play lets you race on any track you’ve unlocked against A.I. and Time Attack is you against the clock. Pretty bare bones by todays standards but standard back when it was originally released.
Other than the sometimes too easy A.I. and dearth of modes, my only other complaints are even more minor. While the modern version does clean up the muddy N64 graphics to a serviceable degree and you’re usually going too fast to really notice the ugly textures, some of the darker tracks are sometimes hard to see because of the blurry textures on much of them. It didn’t affect my enjoyment too much but there were moments on those tracks where I really had to strain myself to see where to go. The other minor complaint is just something that did not age well and that’s the mini-map. Granted, you’re going so fast that you’ll mostly be paying attention to what’s in front of you but even if you did ever want to look at the map for any reason, it’s so useless that it isn’t worth it. It’s a simplistic dotted green line where you are represented by an X. On simple tracks, it’s good for seeing turns coming up but on complex ones, lines will frequently overlap so looking at it will just confuse you as to where you are and where you’re going.
Overall though, while this is a pretty straight forward extreme speed racing game, it’s core racing gameplay holds up incredibly well. Offering an intensely fun experience that matches most modern racings and even surpassing some of them as well.
Rating: Kept Up with Paddington 2 until it’s Engine Blew Up in the Third Lap
This review used our old rating system, The Paddington Scale. To learn more please read this post