Revisiting The Best Thing That Came Out Of The Phantom Menace

Yes, I'm talking about Star Wars Episode I: Racer, the game that took one of the most pointless scenes in any Star Wars film and turned it into an incredibly successful racing game on PC and the Nintendo 64. With all the Star Wars excitement I recently decided to go back and watch the prequels again. They were just as bad as I remembered, though it did inspire me to dig out my dusty N64 and rediscover what made this game great.

Podracer (which is not actually in any part of the name yet has still always been what I've called the game) was one of the first games we had on the N64 — which was also our first console. To say it was formative would be an understatement. Of course I didn't play it very well as a kid. I didn't know how to boost or repair during a race, and I probably didn't touch the brakes once. I wasted my money buying 'upgrades' that were actually worse parts than I already had installed, just in a better state of repair, and thought pit droids were only there to look cute. I was terrible at this game. I have all the noises that the various characters make when they explode etched into my mind. But still I loved it.

Who can forget the sound of Watto tunelessly humming the cantina music from A New Hope as you raked in your winnings and lorded it over the losers? Or the fanfare as you were awarded a shiny new podracer? But more than anything, I liked Star Wars Racer because you could go fast. With an upgraded speed stat and a well-timed boost these podracers can top out at over 1000mph — and it really did feel like you were going that fast. Collisions were immediate and dangerous at high speeds, and handling was incredibly difficult (especially with those punishing N64 analog sticks), though the challenge only made it more rewarding when you did manage to pull off a perfect hairpin turn at 600mph.

Despite getting the game out again a few times over the years — and learning how to play quite a bit better than my first attempte — this is one game that I've still never managed to finish. That's all thanks to the particularly nasty track called "Abyss" in the final four-track 'Invitational Podracing Circuit' — remember the one where you had to stay on top of a narrow track that was barely wider than your racer if you even wanted to come in the top three?

I've started a new tournament and I'm working my way up to it all again — this time I can only hope that my Jedi reflexes have improved enough to get me through the tracks that I always thought were essentially impossible. I'm off to a great start, having been stuck at Grabvine Gateway for the last couple of days. Everyone remembers Grabvine Gateway. You know, the track with the hairpin turns through a sandy canyon followed by an impossible swamp full of trees and more hairpin turns. The worst thing about it is that the track favourite is Anakin (even though it's doubtful he ever left Tatooine to race there) so every time you get overtaken you get to hear kid-Ani's obnoxious taunts, just to rub salt in the wound.

Aside from the challenging gameplay, Star Wars: Racer was actually surprisingly good at expanding the world of the prequels. "They have podracing on Malastare. Very fast, very dangerous," Qui-Gon Jin says at one point, and though Malastare — the home planet of Sebulba and the Dug race — is mentioned a number of times in The Phantom Menace, we never actually get to see it. Unless, of course, you play Podracer — in which case you get to participate in these "very fast, very dangerous" races yourself. Malastare is one of those planets that everyone will remember keenly — the greenish tint to everything, the creeping neon fog over some kind of oily slick, the pterodactyl-like creatures flying lurking around the jump ramp. Out of the eight planets visited in Star Wars: Racer, only Tatooine was a location seen in the movies, and each different planet had a totally unique flavour.

Are you a Star Wars: Racer fan? Are there any racers or tracks that have stuck with you to this day? Let us know in the comments!


Comments

    Played it back in the day with 2 controllers. So good.

      Arrrgh, I knew there was something I forgot to mention! The infamous 2 controller mode! The cheats! The secret racers! What a game.

        When I first played it I thought it was some weird 2 player mode, led to a lot of crashing and yelling.

    Loved this game, wish it was rereleased to play with my kids. The only game my wife played on her own!

      If you have a PS3 or a PS4 then the sequel is available on the PSN. I haven't played it myself but I suppose it's something more than nothing?

        I wasn't able to find it on PSN :( Not available in Australia?

          Yeah I just had a look myself. Maybe it's time to hunt down the original PS2 version....

    Never had a N64, had Racer Revenge on PS2 though and loved that. It's supposed to be out on PS4 along with some other older Star Wars games but only Super Star Wars seems to have made it so far (in Aus at least) :(

    Man this needs a remake with oculus support

      Got close to $1200 handy?

        Don't need it - was a backer of the DK1, so get a shiny new Oculus for free :P

        Til then my DK2 will work fine.

    What do you mean "Podracer" wasn't in the title... this is about as big a shock as realising that "The Beatles" was a pun...

    As a huge fan of Wipeout this game was great back in the day. But please psygnosis!
    Give me some sweet Wipeout on my xbone !
    Remake 3 or 2097 I DON'T CARE!

      Psygnosis is dead. RIP.
      Shut down by Sony, in fact. So you wouldn't get an Xbox Wipeout even if they were still around.

        I thought so but surely somebody can pick up the license ? Who developed the last release, I think it was pure?
        And seriously...Wtf has happened to all the fun arcade racers? Is need for speed all we have ffs? I'm over open world racers and forza 6 is good but it's a little dry for my liking.
        My god I'd sell my left testicle for another Wipeout.

          Dude I'm right here with you.

          Unfortunately for Wipeout, as the same with many Konami IP licenses, nobody can 'pick them up' because these companies are squatting on them.
          I have no idea why arcade racers have fallen out of favour. Mario Kart 8 was the last one even remotely close to what I am after. There have been a couple of smaller ones about like Fast Racing NEO - but no more Wipeouts, or F-Zeros, Rollcage, SCARS, High-Octane, or Rock'n'Roll Racing.
          Not even competitors for MK - no Crash Team Racing sequels, no Diddy Kong Racing.

          Even Ridge Racer is a shadow of its former self.

            Oh man I used to love rollcage! Some of the Psx arcadey racers were awesome.

    I LOVED this game as a youngin. I had played the limited PC demo over and over before Mum and Dad bought us an N64. I was so devo that they got the Ken Griffen Jr baseball bundle instead of the podracer bundle.... then they went and bought it seperate like champs :)

    Last edited 07/01/16 9:02 pm

      Dude I loved that Ken Griffey jr. baseball game it was fun for some reason. Probably one of the only sports games I enjoyed

        I came to enjoy it to despite my initial reaction. I struggle to think of a game I didn't enjoy on the old n64, we got some sweet ones over time.

    Lets not forget it had a kickass arcade cabinet i never got to see before its demise

      Oh man! that was one of the best Arcade cabinets around! So many moneys sunk into that machine!

    Great game. I was 20 when it came out but had a lot of fun playing against mates. I recently dug out my N64 and games for the kids to play - we might have to have a tournament night!

    What I would give to see a remake of Episode 1 Racer with Battlefront's graphics...

    The PC demo of this was the first game I got to play at 1024 × 768 with my then brand new SLI Voodoo 2's; seeing it in a resolution that was above and beyond what my N64 could do on a SD TV, swayed me to PC gamer for life!

    Yeah, I was never a Star Wars fan, but I did (oddly) like The Phantom Menace, mostly for the soundtrack and this game.

    "It's a new lap recrrrrrrd!"

    I loved that game, I think Mars Guo was my fave without a doubt, honorable mention to Gasgano

    How to play Episode 1: Racer:

    Step 1: Unlock "Bullseye" Navior
    Step 2: Use him.
    Step 3: Crush every race.

    I recently played this game again on the PC ( I originally owned it on N64) and it still looks great. The controls on PC are much nicer than on the 64, especially because you don't have to constantly hold the analog stick forward to activate the boost mode. I finished every race in the game in first place on the first try. Good times.

    See, all I remember about this game were the tracks where it was too easy to glitch through a wall and fall into the abyss where the developers never intended you to go.

    This was the game that made me a gamer. My dad showed this to me at age 5 and I was blowen away every time I played.

    Like the author I came back to it years later to beat it (which I managed). I will always remember getting to the last stage, the Boonta Eve Classic of course.

    I had been playing with my main guy Mars Guo the whole way through but no matter how much I tried could not beet the final stage with him. So for a laugh I tried with Anakin.

    Beat the race first try with him.

    That more than anything else endered the character to me along with the rest of that scene/movie....

    For that horrible track you mention with the thin bit. Go slow enough to not fall down, blaze the rest of it. That's how I got through it in my teens.

    They have 2 pod racer arcade machines at Galactic Circus in Melbourne. Still just as much fun!

    I played the shit out of this when it came out, it's certainly worthy of a HD makeover. It kinda bugs me that it's not available on steam at all given all the other star wars games they have on there.

    Finished this a bunch of times on PC and still picked it up afterwards on N64, such an awesome game.

    This was the first racing game that actually felt 'fast' to me. Neva Kee was definitely my favourite.

    Seriously, screw Abyss.
    That was the one track I could never win, and I would almost always get lapped. It sucked.
    Once I managed to fall off the track somewhere around the middle and re-spawned near the finish line, leading to a 40-ish second lap record. I spent so many hours trying to replicate that... Never succeeded though.

    I had more fun with Jedi Power Battles.
    Loved using a lightsaber to defect blaster fire and you were able to play as Mace Windu.
    Whats better than that?

    Awesome favourite of my youth. Not only was it as hard to finish near the end, but also there was also some other dumb ways to hinder progress:

    1) Once you win a race and get your money then THAT'S IT! No repeats. You can race again but you will only get what you deserve based on your position. Setting the win condition to "winner takes all" maximises earning potential but creates that racing game cliche of '1st place or restart race.'

    2) You've got to be careful when buying parts. At the beginning there's almost no need for brakes and handling (especially if you choose a good racer) but then late game is all 1000kph+ races on the hardest tracks against the least forgiving AI. Buying the best deals on parts tends to favour unbalanced stats. I ended up with the fastest pod by acceleration and top speed, but with almost no brakes - touching the throttle would just bullet me into walls.

    BONUS
    You can unlock debug mode with a cheat-code. A debug function runs your pod on autopilot at the push of a button, even during pre-race cutscenes! I carefully timed this action to create impossible to beat lap-times of 0.2 seconds, confounding my friends and hopefully strangers who visited the local demonstration N64 at MYER.

    Classic game!

    The two things everyone (more or less) can agree that episode 1 did well, Pod racing and the game based on that and of course dual-bladed lightsabers =)

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