When the topic of racing games on the Nintendo 64 comes up, most people have fond memories of Mario Kart 64. Plenty of people also enjoyed Diddy Kong Racing. Perhaps F-Zero X or Wave Race 64 makes an appearance. Somewhere on that list, below Mario Kart but certainly above Beetle Adventure Racing, you’ll find 1999’s Star Wars Episode I: Racer. Aspyr Media recently ported the LucasArts cult classic to Nintendo Switch, and I’m here to tell you whether it’s worth playing in 2020.
An elegant racer for a more civilized age
Simply put, I enjoyed the remaster as much as I did the original. The game is a real flashback to the late ’90s, and everything is more or less how I remembered it. The tracks set across eight worlds have relatively few obstacles, with races relying more on knowledge of the stages and the ability to finely control a podracer with no ground traction.
Star Wars Episode I: Racer has a career mode in which you can earn money to buy upgrades, droids, and weapons from the junk dealer Watto. It further has Free Play, where you can practice any course you’ve already seen, and Time Attack, where you try to beat your own high scores without the pesky computer-controlled opponents.
The game also features more in-depth mechanics such as engine temperature, on-the-fly repairs, and destructible environments and podracers. These all lend an element of strategy to figuring out the most optimal way of careening through the galaxy far, far away at ludicrous speeds.
The polygons and textures are cleaned up a bit, but not too much. For those who like the aesthetic of Nintendo 64 / PlayStation / Sega Saturn remakes, this will be a good thing. What’s also nice to see is a distinct lack of slowdown. I’ll admit that I used processor lag to my advantage back in the day, but it’s terrible when it comes to racers and its absence here is great. Likewise, the soundtrack is still amazing with tracks from the movie, though it is a bit fuzzy.
There are almost no quality-of-life improvements otherwise, which is a plus when it comes to this particular game. There’s an elegance in its simplicity, and between the high speeds and emphasis on technical ability, Star Wars Episode I: Racer more than deserves its cult following.
I’ve got a bad feeling about this
Still, while keeping the experience rooted in the past might work for some parts of the game, an extra layer of polish would have been appreciated in other aspects. This is apparent when you first turn on Star Wars Episode I: Racer and get an opening cutscene featuring a generous 12 frames per second. The video quality is poor and grainy, as I imagine it wouldn’t have been cost-efficient to recreate these scenes from scratch. The sound quality is also low, especially when it comes to the voice tracks. While I’m sure it would have been silly to get Jake Lloyd back into the recording studio to reprise Anakin Skywalker, it does stick out like Darth Maul’s lightsaber from my favorite Jedi.
This remaster is based on the Nintendo 64 version, so it doesn’t have the PC release’s 8-player races over LAN. Instead, it features the 2-player splitscreen mode from the Nintendo 64 and Dreamcast with no online capability. Finally, while it’s nice to see Aspyr keeping up with the game, even releasing a patch within days of the game’s launch to fix the added motion controls, it’s not enough to make the motion controls worth using. If you use them you’ll find the game far too wild to control, especially in handheld mode.
Your focus determines your reality
Ultimately, your preexisting feelings toward Star Wars Episode I: Racer will determine your experience with it. If you’re looking for a modern racing game with lots of options, multiplayer, and smooth visuals, this ain’t it. However, if you enjoyed the game on Nintendo 64, or have been wanting to play it since 1999, you’ll enjoy it on the Switch. It’s a clean game with few things to get in the way of a good time, with just enough of a spit shine to bring it into 2020.
A review code was provided by the publisher.