Star Wars Episode I Racer – Review

You are familiar with the hype and whether it was generated by the media, George Lucas, or the fans themselves, it's helped to sell everything and anything Star Wars. Whether a product was any good was irrelevant, if it was graced with Star Wars, it was a must-have for any "true" fan. So as soon as Nintendo announced that they had a limited exclusivity deal with LucasArts, many in the media saw it as a coup for Nintendo. Others, however, doubted the game's significance because although it carried with it a big-license name, Pod Racer (as it was then called) was still merely a racing game.

Playing Racer is a bit like participating in George Lucas' movie. You're in a little pod strapped onto two giant engines that will pull you through the air at mind-blowing speeds. And this feeling is pulled off quite convincingly. One of Racer's greatest strengths is its understanding and acceptance of its own role. It is a racing game and nothing else. And although there is no real story and no character development, the familiar faces from the movie are all here and that is essentially what we can and should expect. The game does have a few things to offer: long winding tracks that can be enjoyed (thanks to the responsive control of your vehicle) and a racer that feels (I guess) like the real thing. With every bank turn and boost you encounter gliding over the landscape, the action draws you in closer and closer.

Racer provides the familiar sounds of the movie complete with the requisite Star Wars soundtrack (handled beautifully by Factor 5). It is leaps and bounds above any done on the system by a third-party developer. The graphics were also a feat. The developers outdid themselves by accurately recreating worlds from the movie and adding some new ones as well. And most impressively, they fit it all in a cart. Also, while not photo-realistic, the graphics are extremely detailed and uses vividly complex textures; it's a wonder to me that the game didn't slow down while I played.

Racer, expectedly, is not without flaws. Due to the game's frantic pace, there are prices paid in the game play department. When racing along certain tracks, objects speed towards you at such a rate that they may appear to "pop out of nowhere" giving the player little time to maneuver around them. Other tracks are rigidly narrow to the point that when combined with their sudden twists and turns, they are damn-near irrational. They offered little opportunity for me to slow down and maneuver through, while maintaining my place at the same time. All this is due mostly to bad level designing and it is a major inconvenience. Another problem I have is that at such great speeds, the tracks to either side of me can easily blur together losing all sense of detail. It's hard to find alternate paths when the entrances are so tiny and buzz past you before you even know you missed them. Much time is lost from losing sight of the road due to missing or unrecognizable track boundaries and subdsequently having to struggle my way back into the race. This is most evident in the snow levels where the track itself differs so little from the backgrounds.

It was not uncommon for me to find myself lost or stuck or, even worse, careening into or off a mountainside. Nevertheless, the game is as stated before: possibly one of the fastest racer I've seen on the Nintendo 64. Racer is a dream for the player wanting that adrenaline rush while zipping along tracks at break-neck speeds. It never claims to be more than what it is and that is to its credit. It controls great and looks excellent. All that and the great music from the movie. From the start, I felt an intended effort to make this game an extension of the movie and I dare to attest that they have succeeded. It delivers on all its promises and that's all I asked for. Rating: 8.5 out of 10