‘Twas the Christmas of 1999. A seven year old boy was happily ripping apart the wrapping paper to get to the presents inside. It was the year Pokémon finally came […]
‘Twas the Christmas of 1999. A seven year old boy was happily ripping apart the wrapping paper to get to the presents inside. It was the year Pokémon finally came to Europe and there was no shortage of Poké related presents for sure, but there was a secondary theme to the presents that year – Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace had been released on the VHS. It was a movie that a young Stu would watch time and time again (don’t judge, he was seven!) but little did he know that another present would not only introduce him to racing games but would go on to be one of his favourite PC games for a long, long time.
Star Wars Episode I: Racer is a sci-fi racing game similar in vein to a F-Zero or a Wipeout but it offers an expanded view of the dangerous in-universe sport of Pod Racing as seen in The Phantom Menace. While people have many, many differentiating thoughts about the movie, Racer would go on to be well received and commercially successful – apparently being the highest selling sci-fi racing game of all time as of 2011 with over 3 million copies sold. It takes one of the more iconic set pieces from the movie and expands it. With a good roster of racers and a decent variety in courses, the game shines when you play it with friends as everyone tries to fight valiantly to stop themselves hitting the barriers while trying to turn a corner.
Luckily, I don’t need these so called “friends” to get what I truly want out of video games – the shiny platinum trophy! SW: Racer is an easy game to get a platinum trophy with PSNProfiles telling me that I did it in 2 days and six hours – but that relates to about five or six hours of actual playtime. Maybe even less. So for trophy hunters I can already recommend this game but what about people who just want a fun game?
Let me start things off by saying that I loved this game as a kid, I’ve played it here and there since it came out on GOG and even went out and got it on the N64 earlier this year. The game is still fun and now that I am much older and know what a “brake” button is, the races against AI are mostly really easy now when I used to think they were impossible.
You will be racing against 11 opponents which usually includes the legend himself, Sebulba, but also a bunch of characters from that scene (and maybe some made purely for the game) and their respective pod racers. Each character has their own pod racers and therefore their own stats but when playing on Tournament mode you can use the credits you earn by winning each race to buy upgrade parts. Even if you switch characters, the upgrades will still be available to that character since it is tied to your profile rather than each individual character.
Each race takes place on a different planet with the first and last races taking place on Tatooine. Each track has a local favourite, Tatooine for instance is Sebulba, and their AI will get a boost in stats when up against you. If you come up against a favourite racer you haven’t unlocked, generally winning their race will unlock that character for you to use. Sebulba doesn’t unlock until you beat him on the final race in the game which is annoying because I wanted to play as Sebulba from the beginning because he is the best character and I don’t care that he’s technically the most powerful one and that he’s the only one that has a weapon on him which makes him a somewhat unfair one to pick HE IS SEBULBA AND I WANT TO BE HIM.
A race is three laps around each course and some races can be quite hefty in length – the longest races taking about 8-9 minutes to complete. On the flip side though, there are only 30 races and multiple maps are modified versions of earlier tracks. For a single player campaign in a racing game where the reward is to unlock more stuff for multiplayer this is fine, it means the game definitely does not overstay its welcome. Plus the maps are pretty cool and varied and fit in with the Star Wars universe pretty well even if most of them are made up purely for the game. The actual names of the maps are hard for me to remember as a result of them being brand new to the series but there’s an snow course, a floating city in the sky course, a lava course and a dark neon city course. Each one providing their own little obstacles and shortcuts and definitely warrant giving other racers a chance as some are better suited to a certain type of track than others.
The stats each racer has really does make a difference and if you’re struggling to beat a course (which I did in Floating City in the Sky on the final tournament) then there are two things you can do – upgrade your parts or just try a different racer. In tracks where you need to take some tight corners you might want a slower pod racer but with higher turning and breaking stats. In tracks where speed is king find the facest racer (if you’ve unlocked Ben Quadinaros he’s a speed machine once you’ve upgraded him) and just go H.A.M. on the track. Experimentation is a good thing in this game, until you get Sebulba who can take care of just about anything.
You cannot drive too recklessly in Star Wars Racer because damage is a real threat. While getting destroyed and being engulfed in a ball of flames is a relatively minor inconvenience in this game as you respawn a few seconds later, it can really eat up your time and unless you’re miles ahead of your competition it is recommended that you do not blow up. You sacrifice a little speed to repair your pod – the speed of these repairs is also affected by its own stat. Take too much damage? Ya blow up! Crash into a big rock? Ya blow up! Sebulba decides you should blow up? Ya blow up! Luckily the game itself is heavily weighted in your favour especially if you spent your credits right and get the best upgrades.
There are a few ways to upgrade your pod racer, you can buy from Watto’s shop or his junkyard if you want cheaper prices for a part but with the caveat that the item is in worse condition. However, you can also buy up to three pit droids – every time you finish a race each part will get a boost to it’s condition, providing you have driven cleanly enough. These means you can buy a part for cheap, do a couple of easy races and then have it be fully repaired. You can exploit this by buying a normally expensive part in the junkyard, repair it to full and then trade it in at the junkyard for the same part but you’ll gain money. I hadn’t bought all the best upgrades by the time I finished the game and so this was the only way that I could find to make enough money to get that final trophy I needed.
Pod racing is fast and it is furious and while for the most part this is fun and thrilling, there was a couple of times when things almost started to unravel. Occasionally you’ll end up in a wide open plain and if this happens keep an eye on both the map and the horizon, I definitely remember getting lost a couple of times in my youth and it happened once while I played. Also occasionally I could be going too fast and not quite have enough time to register that a turn was about to happen and then I blew up. For the most part though this really isn’t too much of a problem because you’ll eventually learn the course and it’s obstacles, including the ones they never really intended to be obstacles.
The graphics have been given a wee face-lift but this is still a game made in 1999 and it looks like a game from 1999. I find it charming. I can’t imagine many people who didn’t play this game when they were younger would enjoy them as much but I think it looks nostalgic enough without it looking super terrible on modern TVs. It controls well but there is nothing in the game to show you the controls, at least from what I could see. It took me until the last few races before I figured out you had to hold up on the analogue stick and then press a separate button in order to boost. I had to look up the button for repairing (it was R1, which you would think would be the most obvious choice but I am dumb). It very much feels like this is a game made with people who have already played it in mind and there’s not much to help out new players to the game.
Other than a couple of graphical bugs (in one map, a floating green sign will appear in the distance and then disappear just as quickly) the only other bug I came across was actually a helpful one! There was a bug that maxed out the top speed on every racer I played as, which was good in one way because I became too fast at a time when none of the AI could cope with such speed but bad because I hadn’t upgraded the racer to handle such speed. It was fun though and it happened more than once as well so I don’t know what causes it but it’s not something worth complaining about.
Are there better games in this genre? Yeah, especially twenty one years on we’ve had a few more Wipeouts and F-Zeros, even if neither franchise seems to be getting anything new in the near future (somewhere, Captain Falcon is crying tears of loneliness). However I definitely think this is a fun blast from the past, a cult classic that is still enjoyable to play to this day. It might not win over anyone new to the game on a first glance but if this sort of game is up your alley then give it a shot!
The platinum is super easy as well, as long as you win every race you’re pretty much there. There are a couple of character specific trophies so it might be worth playing as Anakin to begin with to get his trophies and then moving onto Sebulba when you unlock him. Otherwise, upgrade using the junkyard to save credits and you shouldn’t even need to use the exploit that I did to get the ‘buy all the best upgrades’ trophy. In a few hours you’ll have a shiny platinum trophy and hopefully you’ll have a good time with it too.
Overall, I think this is still a good game – it’s a cult classic for sure and I’m pretty sure I might have been the only one who was super excited for this to come out on the PS4 (and also the Switch!). It was fun revisiting a childhood favourite properly for the first time in about 20 years and I genuinely had a blast. It’s not a perfect game and it is definitely a late-90s developed game but for £11.99 and the fact I’ll definitely force people to play this with me in the near future, this was a good purchase for me. Well done, me!