It’s time again, to look back at an old classic that has recently been brought to our homes from GOG. A simpler time, where racing and Star Wars games were about the task at hand; rather than being boated and messy (with microtransactions).
For this nostalgic trip we look back to the release of Star Wars Episode 1: Racer, more commonly referred to as Podracer. A simple game, with now rather outdated graphics and courses which don’t quite hit the spot anymore.
Nostalgia is usually a bittersweet affair; indulging moments which are better in hindsight than they were in reality. This trip down memory lane, however, was merely bitter…especially for my eyes. I’m usually rather good at reverting my vision back a couple of decades to where you’d find more realistic animation by lobbing an orange against a wall. With Star Wars Episode 1: Racer though, is just painful on the senses. Considering that you’ll need to be able to distinguish between your racer’s polygons, the track’s polygons and the background polygons; the races which require shortcuts to win become a bit troublesome.
It’s a shame the game has aged so poorly. Many a time in the arcade would you see people gravitate towards it, myself included… now I just feel repelled. This is probably exasperated by the fact that the majority of the tracks aren’t diverse in their use of colours.
There is a fair selection of maps, each covering a different section of the dirt spectrum. Then again, they could’ve been compared to Picasso back at release, but if it doesn’t hold up at all over time, is there still any enjoyment to be taken from it? Sure, it may be a frustrating type of fun but if you don’t get competitive then it’s still fairly fun.
Build Your Pod
There is also a fair amount of customization available for each racer, which is great. Only trouble is these customisations only equate to your podracer becoming faster and handling that speed better. Yet again, in theory this sounds great, but as we all know theories are a treacherous whore looking to rob you blind when you’re not looking. The ability to upgrade is, and was, a great addition to the game. The whole affair, however, seems rather volatile if you can’t tell the difference between a wall and a turn.
A nice addition to the game is the ability to play as more interesting looking creatures, over Anakin, and it’s good to know their names for those interested in the lore. Racers will see familiar faces from The Phantom Menace and other racers they’ll recognize from the films as a whole. There aren’t any traits associated to each species, a shame in hindsight, but it’s still lovely to have the option nonetheless.
Old Before its Time?
Unfortunately, the main withdrawal for Star Wars Episode 1: Racer is simply time has made it obsolete. Games which came out not long after had already become far more innovative with their map design and features.
Some of the games which came out around the time as Racer were; Crash Team Racing, Wip3out and Mario Kart. Just think about those names and how iconic they’ve become over the years. These were the competition. Racer managed to do incredibly well, of course it would; it’s a Star Wars game. These other games, however, featured elements which really defined the racing genre for over a decade.
Arguably, the closest related game to Racer would be the Wipeout series. The sheer velocity at which players would glide around is definitely a hallmark of these particular titles. Sure there are some big differences, being able to obliterate one another in Wipeout certainly comes to mind. On a more technical level though, Wipeout managed to have a more interesting course selection and used colours to their advantage.
I still hold Racer close to my heart though. Sure it wasn’t a technical marvel when it came out, but my imagination as a kid was able to fill in the missing blanks and create an experience. That is all you can really hope for from games, in the end.
It is really nice to see this bit of Star Wars and gaming history though. It’s a great placeholder to see just how far the genre and the industry as a whole have come. Not just in the case of graphics, but of map design as well. I’m glad it exists and can still be played. Just not by me, anymore.