Now this is (and has always been) podracing!
The Nintendo 64 was a glorious system for Star Wars games. Nearly every Star Wars game released on the platform has gone down in history as a pivotal title. Episode 1: Racer is no exception. Originally released in 1999 for not only the Nintendo 64, but also the Sega Dreamcast and Microsoft Windows, it fed off the hype surrounding the start of the Star Wars prequels. It allowed us to experience an expanded view of this new Star Wars time period while being a darn good futuristic racer to boot. Aspyr has brought this classic title to Switch and while the port itself may be pretty bare bones, Racer is still holds up as an absolutely thrilling racing game.
Let’s get one thing out of the way right off the bat. Star Wars Episode 1: Racer in Switch is not a remaster or a remake, it is a port. The resolution has been upped and it runs better than it ever did on previous platforms, but at its core it is still a game designed with the limitations of the Nintendo 64 in mind. While it was always a perfectly good looking Nintendo 64 game, seeing it in HD does make the low poly environments stand out. The characters (who are seen regularly between races) are perhaps the worst offenders here. Jar Jar is even more of a nightmare creature here than he usually is. Even then, not everything from the original even makes the transition. Reflective surfaces such as the windshield of Anakin’s podracer don’t display correctly. In fact they look very similar to how they appeared in the PC port, which also displayed them incorrectly. One minor graphical improvement was made to make the tethers between the cockpit and the engines a little thinner. It's a nice change that makes them look a little less ridiculous in HD and one that is not present in previous versions. Assuming you update the game to version 1.0.1 you’ll also get reworked menu elements that hold up better against the HD visuals.
Note: This comparison uses version 1.0 which used a lower resolution HUD and was missing lens flairs. These issues are corrected in version 1.0.1
As for actual gameplay Star Wars Episode 1: Racer is as good as ever. The bulk of the gameplay focuses around a series of grand prixs. At the start you’ll have access to a small selection of pod racers but with each race won you’ll add to your collection. Each of these can also be upgraded by using the money earned from winning races. This means that even if you’re like me and your favorite racer is Dud Bolt (who is objectively the worst in the game) you can work your way up to greatness. Races progress nicely in difficulty and offer a lot of variety. Almost all of them have held up excellently with perhaps the exception of those with zero gravity segments. These segments are just as janky as ever and are a big annoyance whenever they come up. Luckily there are only a few tracks that include them throughout the game. The one change to gameplay comes in the form of optional motion controls. These work well enough but only affect turning and not pitch. Vertical control comes into effect not only in zero gravity segments, but also when launching off ramps. When using motion controls, you’ll still need to go back to the analogue stick to adjust pitch, which is a strange omission.
Those looking to play a Nintendo 64 classic on a modern system will have a great time with Star Wars Episode 1: Racer on Switch. However, those looking for any significant updates will be left wanting. This is a very straightforward port of a game from 1999. Motion controls are its most substantial update and they ultimately fail to impress. That being said, even the most bare bones port leaves us with an amazing racing game with gameplay that has excellently stood the test of time.