Star Wars: Episode I Racer | Review | Switch - Japan-based Nintendo Podcasts, Videos & Reviews!


Thursday, June 25, 2020

Star Wars: Episode I Racer | Review | Switch

by Danny Bivens

Start your engines!
Star Wars: Episode 1 is definitely one of the most polarizing films in the Star Wars franchise. From Jar Jar to Watto to kid Anakin, there are a lot of aspects of the movies that can get on people’s nerves. For the record, I think it’s a fun movie overall, but definitely has some flaws. One thing that most people seem to like about the film is the fast paced pod-racing sequence. When a game based on the same sequence hit the Nintendo 64 in May 1999 to coincide with the release of the film in North America, a lot of gamers were excited. Similarly, when the game was teased for the Switch at the late March 2020 Nintendo Direct Mini, a lot of those same gamers were excited - this one included. If you’re here, you’re probably wondering how the Switch version stacks up, and that’s what we’re here to talk about.

If you’ve played Episode I Racer back in the day or any other futuristic racer over the past two decades, you’ll know what to expect here. Going in, though, just know that this isn’t a remake, but rather a re-release so temper your expectations accordingly. Controls are responsive, tight and still feel great allowing you to easily cruise around the tracks. A boost is available by pressing the left stick forward until a green light appears on the speedometer. When it does, you press A to initiate the boost. As long as you don’t ram into anything, your pod racer will go significantly faster. Of course, this isn’t an instant win button. If you use this for too long, your engines will overheat, which can cause them to weaken or catch on fire. While racing, there is a button to repair the damage, however while your craft is being repaired, your top speed takes a hit. It’s straight out of the movie, which is cool, and also is a cool way to put limits on boosts as opposed to just implementing arbitrary meters.
There are several modes on offer here - Tournament, Free Play, Time Attack, Two Player and language options that can be scrolled through at the bottom. For progression, unlocking new racers and tracks, you will likely be spending most of your time in the Tournament Mode. Here, you go through each track trying to place fourth or better in order to advance. There are quite a few racers here to unlock, too - 17 on top of the six initial characters. There are also a total of 25 tracks to go through. There is a decent amount of variety here ranging in environments, course length and difficulty (and it does get pretty tricky in later tracks!), so it will take some time to fully complete.

In order to progress in the Tournament Mode, you’re going to have to make use of the upgrade system in the game. By purchasing new parts, you’ll be able to boost the performance of your racer which you will definitely need the deeper into the mode that you get. While it might not be as deep as something like Gran Turismo, this addition is a welcome one and adds a little bit of depth when they just as easily could have left this option out of the game.
The visuals in this re-release on the Switch are “interesting” to say so in the least. When you are actually playing the game, things run at a constant 60 frames per second and rarely (if ever) skip a beat. Of course, with the base game being two decades old, you probably know what you’re getting here - simple polygonal models, flat, bland textures and some in-game environments that look their age BUT are pretty clear. In game text could have used a bit of a clean up. If you’re fine with all of that, you’ll have no issues here. Pop-in can be noticeable here - you’ll see environments appear from nothing the closer you get to them. It was mildly annoying, but didn’t make me want to quit playing or anything like that.

With this version of the game being based on the PC version, the CG movies from that version are also present. While I didn’t get a chance to play Racer on the PC or Dreamcast back in the day and don’t have much of a connection to that facet of the presentation, it’s cool to see it recreated in this version. BUT, there is a bit of a problem here. The cinematic themselves are very choppy. If you’ve seen any footage of Switch version in video form, you might have thought that the video service or device were the culprits. This is not the case and it’s a bit disappointing. Sound as well has some issues. By default, you’ll notice that things are really cranked up here, making for a super loud mix where it’s difficult to distinguish the audio intricacies. After playing around with the settings in the game, I did manage to get things to an acceptable level. Just keep in mind that you’ll have to monkey around with these settings to get things sounding right.

Japan Connection
Star Wars Episode 1: Racer was originally released on the Nintendo 64 in Japan on July 21, 1999, which was a few weeks after the film released (July 10, 1999). Similar to the European release, Nintendo took on the publishing duties.  illion units sold around the globe. Believe it or not, the original product page for the game is still viewable, though you may have to mess around with the text encoding on your browser in order to see it.

I’m actually a pretty big fan of the NA/EU box art. It’s eye catching and yet simple at the same time, featuring a black background with fan favorite lady killer Watto and a pod racer. The Japanese box art is a bit busier here, fearing Anakin and his pod racer front and center. The back of the box features Watto as well as a couple of screenshots from the game. The Japanese cart is identical to the PAL and North American carts. The Japanese version isn’t too difficult to find, though it is a little bit tougher to find a complete set. Even if you do, it likely won’t be that expensive. Happy hunting!

The gameplay mechanics in Star Wars Episode I: Racer remain entertaining, even all this time later. They are solid, tight and responsive. When actually playing the races, Racer looks great for the most part visually. At the same time, the cutscenes are a choppy mess and the sound levels are all over the place (though adjustable). Episode I Racer remains fun but some of these issues are sure to annoy some gamers.

Final Score: 7.0

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