As someone who has a Star Wars tattoo on his arm, I would certainly call myself a fan of the franchise. Even then, for me, podracing was not a very exciting prospect in the Star Wars universe. In a world where there were Lightsabers, Jedi and actual space battles, junkyard racing wasn’t exactly where my attention went.
Likely as a result of this, Star Wars: Episode I Racer was something I never played back when it initially released. Yes, I somehow played the awful Phantom Menace licensed game and Masters of Teras Kasi and somehow missed this. In case you can’t tell, that was a bad move because this is both an awesome Star Wars game and an awesome racing game through and through.
To quote Anakin Skywalker: “Now THIS is podracing!” Sorry, it had to be done.
Star Wars: Episode I Racer is exactly what you’d expect it to be; a racing game focused on podracing. You choose from a selection of pilots and then take part in races across a range of planets which increase in difficulty as you go through them. As you go through, you’ll unlock new racers and races and slowly upgrade your vehicle through Watto’s junk shop.
This setup doesn’t really do much to innovate and that’s okay because that’s not where the focus is. What matters here is the actual racing, which is really really fun. Your podracer is always really fast and feels excellent to control, especially when you combine the ability to shift the angle at which you move. At first, you’ll just be trying to get through the tracks but as you get better, you’ll learn to boost and lean into corners, which feels really good. Each race also has shortcuts to learn, which are what really give you the advantage on higher difficulties.
The racing is helped by the silky smooth frame-rate of 60 frames-per-second docked and undocked. Textures are still really low-poly but that’s to be expected with a remaster like this. What matters most here is the excellent performance and image quality, even if those images include Anakin Skywalker’s creepy face imposed on a Playmobil character. More important is the inclusion of the iconic John Williams Star Wars score, which sounds absolutely fantastic still and makes every race feel much more epic than it has any right to be.
One thing I really liked was the lack of weapons. There’s no cheap shots here, so it feels really reliant on skill-based gameplay rather than a lucky blue shell. The tracks are also pretty much all excellent, and my favourite part of the game was discovering what each planet had that was unique. Although there are technically over 20 tracks, that’s not really the case as most of them are just advancements of previous races that take place on the same planet. Even then, I really enjoyed seeing what changed each time. Beedo’s Wild Ride is an absolute gem of a track.
I’d always heard the polarising thing about this game is the track lengths and how races could take upwards of five minutes. That’s definitely a weird choice for a racing game, especially when there aren’t any weapons to allow people behind to catch up. I personally didn’t mind it too much, but I can see why some people don’t find it suited to a racing game. I can’t pretend like I didn’t find myself looking at the timer quite a lot.
The biggest problem with Star Wars: Episode I Racer is the general lack of substance. There are only two actually interesting characters (Anakin and Sebulba), three tournaments, three difficulty levels and no online multiplayer for whatever reason. That means that you can pretty easily get through all of the content in a few hours if you really get into things. It’s not an overly difficult game either, with the last tournament being the only one that challenged me to any degree.
It’s sort of hard to hold that against Star Wars: Episode I Racer though. It’s base gameplay mechanics feel so good and its maps are so fun that it doesn’t really matter that there isn’t too much to it. I enjoyed going through the tournaments and trying to challenge myself to higher difficulties
With games like Jedi: Fallen Order and The Old Republic, it’s hard to say that Star Wars: Episode I Racer is one of the best Star Wars games out there, but I’d be hard-pressed to find another licensed racer I enjoyed as much as this one.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Aspyr