Star Wars Episode I: Racer (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Neil Flynn 24.06.2020 4

Review for Star Wars Episode I: Racer on Nintendo Switch

After causing quite the storm, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace divided many Star Wars fans - young and old - about the direction of the franchise. However, no matter how split the fan base was back in 1999, there was a unifying factor in that all agreed that the pod-racing scene on Tatooine was one of the most gripping elements of the entire movie. LucasArts was also smart enough to build an entire racing game from this and turn it into one of the best-selling sci-fi racers of all-time. Over 20 years later, Star Wars Episode I: Racer makes the jump to Nintendo Switch, but is it still worth playing after all this time?

A relic of its time, Star Wars Episode I: Racer initially launched on the Nintendo 64, making good use of the most powerful console at the time, and gave F-Zero X a run for its money. Arguably, Star Wars Episode I: Racer was a faster game than the Nintendo futuristic racer; it even looked better, with much more detailed tracks than F-Zero X. Star Wars Episode I: Racer wowed audiences at the time with its spectacular 3D environments, fast speed, and varied landscapes set across eight worlds and 21 tracks. The main content is packed into tournament mode, which hosts seven races, broken down across three difficulty settings. Progress is made by beating each track and finishing in a top position.

Screenshot for Star Wars Episode I: Racer on Nintendo Switch

The racers themselves are taken from The Phantom Menace but are hardly recognisable outside of the duelling Anakin Skywalker and Sebulba. Nonetheless, there are numerous pods and racers to unlock across tournament mode. Players are rewarded for winning and placing higher in races by being given more in-game currency, Truguts, which can be traded with the junk dealer, Watto. As per the on-going thread in The Phantom Menace, Watto will trade or sell parts to upgrade the pod racers, which can be anything like improving attributes, such as turning capabilities, top speed, and durability. The last of those being quite important in races, as going at ultra-fast speeds can, more often than not, overheat engines or see a number of collisions. Colliding with a wall at a fast speed will incinerate the pod and it will respawn back on the track from a standing position. However, more resilient pods won't always smash up first time and can be repaired by pressing the appropriate button command to do so, at the temporary sacrifice of acceleration.

Pod handling has been vastly improved, or this could just be improvements to the input device given the Nintendo 64's rather temperamental joystick and the Dreamcast's sometimes awkward 3D control stick. There used to be a time where it did feel like pods would be gliding with very little grip in the original renditions. However, the Nintendo Switch version seems to make pods a bit more glued to the ground, which has improved the way that pods handle, although has taken away some of the difficulty of slamming on the air brake and glide to make an educated corner. Remapping the button configurations is somewhat of cumbersome beast, with two traditional control schemes available, one being the original button mapped affair and the other using the triggers to accelerate. However, each button mapping control scheme has its own issues, and both have the uncomfortable button placement for ship repairs, which is mapped to the R button.

Screenshot for Star Wars Episode I: Racer on Nintendo Switch

This can be tricky when having to use the ZR or A buttons to accelerate. Fortunately, the Nintendo Switch's OS button remapping can help resolve the lack of a native customisable control scheme. Interestingly, it seems that Nintendo has been fortunate enough to get additional control schemes in both its versions of Star Wars Episode I: Racer, with the Nintendo 64 having a unique dual throttle controller scheme that utilised two controllers plugged into controller port 1 and 3. Now the Nintendo Switch version includes an advertised dual Joy-Con motion control function. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, this has not been included in Day 1 launch version.

Graphics have improved with time as Star Wars Episode I: Racer was ported from the Nintendo 64 to the SEGA Dreamcast, where the visuals were smoothed over. The frame-rate also went to a steady locked 30fps and there was additional music added to tracks. It seems that the new developer, Aspyr, (who also handled the recent re-releases of Star Wars: Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy and Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast) has used the Dreamcast version as a foundation to build the latest renditions for PC, Nintendo Switch, and PlayStation 4. Unlike the Nintendo 64 version, the Switch iteration now includes the pre-rendered intro scenes from the Dreamcast and original PC versions, but the same choppy frame-rate is apparent from the get-go. It does quite take away the allure of this enhanced port when these cut-scenes could have easily been improved upon. Fortunately, it is telling that Aspyr has put its time and effort into improving textures on the track, scenery, and the pod-racers themselves, all of which have had a much-needed lick of paint.

Screenshot for Star Wars Episode I: Racer on Nintendo Switch

Improvements have also been made to the draw distance, which wasn't horrific in the original versions but there was the occasional moment of pop-up that was indicative of the time. The Nintendo 64 notoriously used an abundance of fog effects to cover up the lack of draw distance in many titles and Star Wars Episode I: Racer was not immune to this. Fog is still prevalent in this version, although this time only used as an environmental effect to build the atmosphere for the track. It is a bit perplexing as to why the HUD elements, such as track position, speed, time and lap number didn't get refreshed, likewise the less said the better about the character models, which only feature in the menu. The soundtrack is the same that featured in the SEGA Dreamcast version, with renditions of John Williams' famous original soundtrack. At the time, this was a stellar score, and it still is, but given the amount of Star Wars music there now is at the fingertips of the development team, and the much vaster capabilities of the new systems, it is a shame that more themes were not added. The voice actors and actresses' sound-bites and taunts are still available and are reprised by the original cast, although there seems to some sort of sound warbling bug that crops up in races and makes it sound as if the pods are in a wind tunnel. It is quite off-putting but also something that can hopefully be fixed in a post-launch patch.

Despite the upgrades in the performance and graphical departments, it does appear that there are a few missing features from previous iterations that should have made it into this release, modes such as online high scores (which were available in the Dreamcast version), eight-player multiplayer (available on PC), and a much stronger force feedback, as HD rumble pales in comparison to the Dreamcast version. Local multiplayer doesn't really quench the thirst to be able to play online, with only a standard two-player mode available, which is fun and runs smoothly with no real hiccups. Lacking an online mode is a shame and a missed opportunity, mainly due to the lack of any challenge whatsoever as the AI is far too easy to conquer.

Screenshot for Star Wars Episode I: Racer on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

A competent port of a Nintendo 64 classic, Star Wars Episode I: Racer looks great with the added spit-shine, controls tightly, and performs excellently, with no slowdown in frame-rate. Loading screens have also been removed entirely, which was not really an issue in the original versions, but it is something that should be commended here. At a budget price, many will be pleased that this will help them re-live a piece of nostalgia, and for those on the fence, do not hesitate as this is a great quality port in both docked and handheld modes, yet it will leave others wondering what Aspyr could have done by adding in an online multiplayer and improved AI.

Developer

Aspyr

Publisher

Aspyr

Genre

Driving

Players

2

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

This just makes me think we really need another F-Zero, or at least for the Extreme-G series to be revived... doubt Nintendo fans will get another WipEout, after all.

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

A sequel to FAST RMX would be great as well. I'd love to see a new F-Zero, but a bit fed up of asking to be fair. It'll turn up one day!

I want Aspyr to now bring the Rogue Squadron Trilogy that Factor 5 had completed (for Wii) to Switch! That would be great if the Switch got that and the other consoles got Squardrons this year. 

Might be worth either sorting and interview with the team, or just trying to ask that via Twitter Smilie

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

Ha, I don't think they'd answer the question I'd want them to though! 

I do think that the Star Wars games released between 2000-2006 are probably the best games in the series, from Rogue Squadron, Racer, Battlefront, Clone Wars, Bounty Hunter and Jedi Knight games.

Those were the good ole days!

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