Fact: there are only two good things to come out of The Phantom Menace – podracing and Duel of the Fates. They are both present here in this Xbox One re-release of Star Wars Episode I Racer.
Based around the most popular form of racing known across the galaxy, Star Wars Racer is an arcade racer set on many of the franchise’s famous planets, featuring the same high-octane speeds of the film faithfully recreated for you to enjoy.
You may now be wondering, why release a game based on a small section of a film that came out in 1999? This is actually a re-release of a game that came out around the same time as the film. You may now be wondering if this is a remake or a remaster of the Nintendo 64 title? It is actually neither; simply a re-release of the original game but with an HD splash of paint over it. Nothing has been taken away to modernise it, but more crucially nothing new has been added either.
Everything else about Star Wars Episode I Racer remains the same; same blocky podracer models, same staccato movement of characters, same repetitive crowd noises. The racing itself has also been untouched, but that remains as fluid as ever.
Get past the poorly designed menus and quite frankly horrific “in this day and age” splash screen to the racing and you will begin to see why this has been re-released. Podracing is a high-speed, dangerous type of racing that is conveyed well from the big screen to Star Wars Racer. You have a choice of 25 different racers (when all are unlocked) that each have individual stats but feature the likes of Anakin Skywalker and Sebulba, the two main rivals from The Phantom Menace.
Races are set across eight planets including the classic podracing circuit on Tatooine and other lesser-known planets including Ando Prime, Mon Gazza and Baroonda. Each location features more than one circuit, but no circuit is repeated in Tournament mode.
There are four cups in total to aim for: Amateur, Semi-Pro, Galactic and Invitational. Races are unlocked by finishing fourth or better in the previous one, and whilst early races are a bit of a cakewalk, later ones will require a bit of tinkering to your podracer.
This is where Star Wars Episode I Racer really could have done with some work, such is the lack of any sort of information regarding upgrades and visiting the junkyard. After choosing the race you wish to enter, a menu appears with options related to upgrading your racer. You can buy parts from the shop or chance it out in the junkyard to see what’s available. Over time, your equipped parts on your racer will degrade – again it is not communicated at all that this will happen – but you can buy pit droids to slow this degradation down.
Watto – the flying bug-like creature that keeps Anakin captive in Star Wars – is overseeing the parts store and junkyard and comes complete with a variety of quips should you enter the store but not buy anything. He even hums the cantina tune on the race results screen.
Away from Tournament mode there is also Free Play, Time Attack and 2 Player mode. All of these utilise the exact same race select menu from Tournament mode so it may get a bit confusing navigating around them if you momentarily think you are in a different mode. Also, the addition of online multiplayer would have been welcome.
It isn’t just the upgrade system that can be labelled as confusing; controlling the pod itself is overly complicated. To boost for example, you need to hold forward on the left thumbstick until it is charged, and then press the A button. In the controller menu, it is just listed as the A button. There is no indication that is needed to be pressed to slow down, but in actuality you need to pull the left thumbstick down. This is in the Racing controller set-up; you can change this to the Classic set-up, but at a cost of losing the ability to boost altogether according to the controller inputs.
Star Wars Episode I Racer has 29 achievements in total with many awarded for unlocking new characters and racers in Tournament mode. Some are linked to then using those characters such as Sebulba and Anakin in various ways, but perhaps the trickiest one is for purchasing all the best upgrades. You will require a lot of money to do so, but it has been confirmed that the cheat codes from the original release still work in this version. Never thought I would be referring to cheat codes in 2020!
To go further old-school, Star Wars Episode I Racer on the Xbox One appears to be missing a lot of crucial information that would likely have been in an instruction booklet when originally released. Thanks to the internet though, you’ll be able to find out what buttons are required, but considering this is a re-release, this information should have been added in. It doesn’t detract from the racing itself which still stands up today, but other than HD upgrades there are literally no other improvements to the overall package.