|Title||:||Star Wars Episode I Racer|
|Review by||:||Ken Gagne|
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, the chariot race from "Ben-Hur" was reenacted at 800 miles per hour. Now you can continue the action at home on your Nintendo 64 with Star Wars Episode I Racer, by LucasArts.
A pod consists of two engines tethered to a cockpit 30 feet behind, with an energy beam keeping the two engines aligned. In The Phantom Menace, young Anakin Skywalker competes in the Boonta Eve Classic on the desert planet Tatooine. In the game, 23 different podracers race across 25 unique courses on eight new worlds, each keeping in theme with the Star Wars universe. Unlike most N64 racing games, Star Wars Racer is for one or two players only.
Although you don't need the reflexes of a Jedi to play this game, it helps nonetheless. The circuits start easily, but quickly become difficult. Fortunately, new pods become available as the game progresses (which may irritate players who spent money upgrading their old pod), offering racers a new hope. Branching routes and shortcuts, and laps that last anywhere from 30 seconds to three minutes, keep the game fresh.
The analog stick steers the pods like a dream. Some seldom-used buttons aren't so handy: the L button changes the on-screen map, while C-Left and C-Right tilt the pod to fit through narrow gaps. The turbo system is unique: hold Up on the stick until turbo boost is ready, then tap and hold A (gas). Using turbo, pods can hit blinding speeds, a great opportunity to catch up and strike back; but pods can't steer at that speed, and too much turbo can set the engines on fire.
Without the Expansion Pak, graphics are a bit blocky and slow. Otherwise the game is amazingly swift, scenery scrolling by smoothly and jumps, lava pits, and ice formations materializing dangerously fast. There are four camera views, and a rear perspective which is useless from three camera views. Some courses are dark or spartan, which, at high speeds, makes spotting the turns and curves of the road hard. A small amount of pop-up occurs, especially in cityscapes.
The races begin in a musical silence, with the excellent John Williams soundtrack not kicking in until the third and final lap. (try muting the TV and popping the movie soundtrack in a nearby CD player!) Until then, sound effects fill the gap in force, with engines, explosions, and trash-talking, the latter supplied by the movie's original voice actors. No play-by-play announcer in this race, though.
Star Wars Racer has a few flaws, but they are easy to overlook in the face of the fast action and myriad racers and courses. It begins too easily, then gets too hard, and may be confusing with many choices and decisions; but Racer is easily figured out, and quickly grows on you. A great movie deserves a great game; Episode I is both.
This article is copyright (c) 1999, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.
Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 31-May-99