While Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace is quite maligned by hardcore and casual Star Wars fans alike, the film undeniably spawned a few surprisingly enjoyable licensed games. Unlike Jamie, I actually thoroughly enjoyed the Playstation 1 game inspired by the film of the same name. In fact, the only game based on the prequels which I enjoyed more was Star Wars Episode I: Racer, which was first released on the N64 in May 1999 and Dreamcast in April 2000 and then was reworked and fitted with replica podracer controls for the 2000 arcade release. Although the arcade version definitely gave me a greater appreciation for the game, I always found the controls a little too squirrelly. For my money, the N64 version was the ultimate version of this underappreciated gem.
Like many early 3D games, Star Wars Episode I: Racer‘s visuals don’t hold up particularly well. However, I remember being absolutely blown away at the time of its release. For its part, Racer does a great job of varying the settings of the races, taking you from the dusty world of Tatooine to snowy, cloudy, and industrial planets and locales.
In addition to its strong visual style, Racer also rewards the player for succeeding, providing new characters at the end of successful tournament runs. Doing well in races also provides the player with money which can then be used to upgrade various aspects of his or her podracer, including traction, turning, top speed, cooling and more.
As a twelve-year-old kid, there was something absolutely magical about climbing into the cockpit of a podracer and acting out my second favorite scene from Episode I. All the racers from the film are joined by some additional characters to form a cast of more than twenty and the game features 25 tracks spanned across eight worlds. While I found the game incredibly hard, the difficulty just added to its replayability during an era when I could only expect to get new games for my birthday and Christmas. Predictably, Annakin is voiced by Jake Lloyd, whose work in the game isn’t much worse than his work in the film, although admittedly that’s not saying much.
Although I wouldn’t put Star Wars Episode I: Racer on a pedestal with Mario Kart 64 in terms of enjoyment or replayability, you could certainly do a lot worse than this classic if you have an N64 and are looking for a fun way to celebrate the impending release of all six Star Wars films on Blu-ray.