If you cast your mind back to the summer of 1999, there should be one stand out moment for many; the release of a new Star Wars film. Whilst The Phantom Menace didn’t get the critical acclaim many thought it would, it was actually a pretty decent film. Two of the stand out moments are the lightsaber battle at the end and the podracing segment. In fact, the podracing was so good that it actually had a whole game made off it. That game was Episode 1 Racer. Originally made for the Nintendo 64, it later got a PC release and also on the Dreamcast.
Today, I’m taking a look at the Episode 1 Racer again, only this time it’s the recently released version on Nintendo Switch. It is also available on PS4.
Gameplay wise, it’s exactly the same as it was way back in 1999. It’s a face paced racing game that feels as good now as it did back then. There are several tournaments in the game which steadily become more challenging as you progress through the game. Thankfully, the difficulty curve isn’t steep, and by the time the more challenging courses are reached, you’ll be well versed in how your pod handles. Sometimes though a wrongly timed boost coupled with a crash can result in a race being unwinable.
For the hardcore completionists, there are 25 different characters to chose from. More will be unlocked as you win more races. As many will do though, I always start out with Anakin.
The selection of tracks is also impressive with them spanning across 8 different systems. The difference in the worlds actually does make the tracks feel special and unique. Ando Prime in particular looks brilliant.
Away from the tournament mode is a free play option as well as time trial so that you can perfect your laps and seek out any shortcuts to really blast to the finish line.
What I really like is the fact that the pod racer can be upgraded as you win more races. Each win results in you netting truguts which is the currency in Episode 1 Racer. The upgrades to make the pod act very differently compared to how it is when it is ‘stock’. As an added bonus, when you buy upgrades you get to hear soundbites from Watto.
Originally this was a single stick racer. With the transition to Switch though, a few changes were made. There is a classic control mode and a racing control mode. In racing mode, the accelerator is mapped to ZR and flipping the pod on it’s side to get through tight spots is mapped to the right analogue stick.
It’s also possible to play the game with a solitary Joy-Con. Personally though, I prefer the racing mode control scheme with either both Joy-Con, or a Pro Controller.
Bringing back the split screen
One of the annoying aspects of modern gaming is that in a lot of ways, it’s done away with local multiplayer. Whilst the Playstation and the Sega Saturn could be do multiplayer pretty well, back in the mid to like nineties, multiplayer action was all about the Nintendo 64. Whilst Episode 1 Racer didn’t allow the use of 4 players (the speed would have melted the N64), it does support 2 player split screen. It’s just a joy to be able to play it again in multiplayer mode without having to dig out the N64.
Curiously, the PC version did allow more than two players in multiplayer, but each player had to bring their own PC and connect to each other over LAN. For friends that had the PC version, this was a feature that they never used!
Visually, the game has been upscaled and it works extremely well. At the start of each race I noticed that there is a very slight bit of slowdown, but this doesn’t happen again for the rest of the race. Smashing into a rock when going full pelt still looks rather nice. It didn’t look bad on the N64 either, but with the graphics upscaled, it does look really nice.
After having spent a considerable amount of time in handheld and also docked mode, I’m glad to say that both perform exceptionally well. The old N64 look is something which I fondly remember, so it’s good to see that it hasn’t been overhauled which normally happens with a remaster.
The fog that was common place on the N64 as well has been cleared up, so there’s no ambiguity in terms of where you should be on the track, and where you should avoid. Interestingly, the fonts have been updated to they’re super sharp, it did take a bit of getting used to, but it’s a welcome addition. Not a deal breaker, but just a nice bit of attention to detail.
Being a Star Wars game, it of course has a wide selection of songs from the movies. These sound great, although some do sound a bit better than others. Likewise, the sound effects of the pods in their normal operation sound spot on. The boosters sound like they do in the movie and playing it through the higher quality speakers that are available now is a nice treat.
The sound bites from the characters as well are also a welcome addition to the game. Jake Lyodd originally voiced Anakin in the game, so to hear that his voice is still in the game was a nice surprise.
For me though, one of the best sound bites is when a new lap record is set. A voice comes through the speakers excitedly shouting “that’s a new lap record!”. The enthusiasm in this is brilliant, and knowing that I’d hear this always pushed me on to get a faster lap each time.
If you’re filling up the space on your Switch, be sure to pick up a new micro SD card to expand the storage.
Star Wars Episode 1 Racer Switch
Value for Money
Star Wars Episode 1 Racer was a brilliant game in 1999 and it’s just as brilliant now. If you’re a Star Wars fan, it’s a must have purchase! It is available now to download on Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4.
Fast paced racing
A real challenge
Sebulba doesn’t always win
Sometimes Sebulba does win
A crash at the wrong time can wreck the race
Last update on 2020-09-22 As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.