Podracing: The highly unrealistic racing pleasure from the Star Wars universe and for many besides the “Dual of the Fates” a highlight of the polarizing Episode I: The Phantom Menace of the Star Wars movies. Of course, at that time it was still common to publish one or the other video game for every successful film, and so there was also a fun racer for Episode I, which was originally released in June 1999 for the PC and the N64. 21 years later and after various delays, this racer has now been remastered by developer Aspyr and Star Wars Episode I: Racer is now available for the Nintendo Switch and the PS4. Let’s see if it stood the test of time like the scène in the movies did.
As already mentioned, this is by no means a simulation, but an arcade fun racer without items, such as Mario Kart. Are you fans of the original or generally friends of fun racing games and do you have a soft spot for Star Wars? Then the game definitely offers enough arguments that should get you to buying it. The innovations from Aspyr are limited, but are a nice bonus. The graphics have been slightly polished and looks razor-sharp compared to the original. The sense of speed that matters most with the genre is still great. Sound and music, as taken from the films, are great as usual. It runs really smoothly, supports split-screen and online multiplayer and lets you use the motion controller function of the switch.
The controls of your pod racer are really pleasantly direct and lets you skilfully glide over the 21 tracks. You can switch between first and third person view, use a boost by holding your stick up and activating it after the push of a button, but you always have to keep an eye on the status of your drive nozzles to not damage or overheat them. Episode I: Racer meanwhile transforms the podracing scene of Episode I into a cross-galaxy motorsport league, in which you travel from planet to planet as Anakin Skywalker or one of the many extraterrestrial competitors who had a few seconds screen time in the film and prove your skills everywhere.
And the pod racers are not only visually different, everyone has their own statistics. Whether speed, maneuverability, traction or cooling, the total of eight values have a (sometimes more, sometimes less) noticeable impact on the track. With the money won, you can therefore buy new parts from Watto in the shop or its junkyard or up to three pit droids, which will make it easier for you to repair your nozzles during the races. Most races can also be won with a bit of track knowledge without attaching any of the new parts to your pod racer.
It looks good for what it is, runs in widescreen format with native resolution and also in handheld mode the switch will get a mostly constant 60 FPS. The menu system has been redesigned for modern screens, but the HUD graphics are strangely pixelated and look old-fashioned. The sound quality is sometimes very scratchy for some reason, although this is usually less noticeable during races and only disturbs if you listen carefully. The original voices of characters like Watto or the commentators of the Boonta-Eve are also on board, if only in the English voice output.
Star Wars Episode I: Racer is a nice and fun racer that does not require much training and has a simple, but very direct and therefore well-functioning control scheme. The soundtrack is great and the new motion control via the switch’s Joy-Cons works well. Unfortunately, the graphics have only been improved marginally and there is a campaign missing in addition to the tournaments in which you unlock new pod racers. For this, the game runs almost constantly in 60 FPS, there are modes for split screen and online multiplayer and fans of the original will miss the extras only a little, as it is a successful port to the modern era for the quite cheap price of €14.99.
Star Wars Episode I: Racer still holds up well after 21 years. With a smooth framerate and a good sense of speed the game is a great pickup for any arcade racer fan.