Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Star Wars Episode I: Racer (PS4, NSW) Review

We move on to SuperPhillip Central's second review of July. We've already gotten tricky in an urban setting, but now we're going to speed through the stars and planets aboard podracers with Star Wars Episode I: Racer, particularly the newly released port from Aspyr Media. Is this port worthy of exclaiming "Now THIS is podracing!"? Let's find out with the SuperPhillip Central review.

Go, Podracer. Go, Podracer. Go, Podracer, Gooooooo~!

Originally released in May of 1999, Star Wars Episode I: Racer takes players behind the cockpit of a high-speed, high-flying podracer just like in the famous high-stakes scene from the first Star Wars prequel, The Phantom Menace. This newly released version comes from Aspyr as well as an "if it ain't broken, don't fix it" type feeling to it. The tried and true podracing action is present and accounted for, but if you're looking for a sizable upgrade and update to the 1999 original, you won't find it here.

Star Wars Episode I: Racer features four grand prix events that takes players through a gamut of races--over 20 across a handful of planets. Because races take place on similar planets, don't be surprised to come across familiar, recycled parts of track. This doesn't happen too often, but it is noticeable as well as understandable. Races can last upwards of seven minutes long, and they feature an abundance of alternate paths and shortcuts that are both fun and rewarding to find. As races are completed by coming in the required position, you unlock new podracers to play as along with their vehicles. I personally found sticking with Anakin Skywalker as my favorite, but the list of unlockables is rather lengthy, including a special mirror mode that opens up after completing all 20+ races in the game.

Speeding through the canyons of Tatooine is a great way to unwind after a rough day at the office.
Piloting your podracer is simple enough, though I did notice that there was some obscurities in the controls. While the menu does show you the button layout and controls for each action on the PlayStation 4 or Nintendo Switch controller, it fails to fully explain certain concepts. For instance, boosting is said to be performed by--on the PS4 controller at least--pressing the X button. Fine enough, but what the game fails to tell you is that first you must hold the analog stick forward long enough to charge enough energy to then hit the X button to perform a boost. Of course, you can't boost forever, as holding down the button too long will result in your machine overheating, and then catching fire.

But there is also something to be said for chilling out in the mountains as well.
I mentioned that controlling your podracer is easy, but this gets thrown out when it concerns various tracks' anti-gravity segments. These have you piloting your machine through tunnels at a high speed while your vehicle flies through the air. It's way too easy to brush up against an obstruction like an asteroid, resulting in your machine crashing in a fiery blaze and costing you valuable time. Fortunately, these sections are used sparingly throughout the game and are limited to just one planet's series of tracks. It's just that when that planet showed up during a grand prix, you can bet I grimaced a bit.

Anti-gravity... the bane of my Star Wars Episode I: Racer existence!
Back to the subject of the game not explaining boosting well, there's also another part of Star Wars Episode I: Racer that isn't overly clear. This regards purchasing parts and picking them up from the junkyard. There's no mention of how purchasing mini droids will clean up old parts bought from from the junkyard or how the whole setup works. It's something that I had to go to an outside source--in this case, GameFAQs, to discover for myself. A mild complaint if there was ever, especially since the Internet is so easily accessible, but still a complaint nonetheless.

When it concerns this port, Aspyr didn't put too much extra TLC into it, aside from boosting the frame-rate and resolution to a mild amount. It's a better looker compared to the Nintendo 64 original, but at the same time, the graphical push also reveals some of the newfound ugliness of the environments as well. Thankfully, you'll be flying through them a little too fast to notice that much. That said, what is unavoidable is looking at the graphical nastiness that are the batch of racers, seen before and after each race. These monstrosities are rather repugnant to look at, and are Star Wars Episode I: Racer at its worst when it comes to visuals. The pre-race cutscenes that introduce each planet the race takes place on possess a low frame-rate, almost quaint in how sluggish these scenes are.

Split-screen is present for local multiplayer mayhem.
Sound-wise, Star Wars Episode I: Racer features plenty of music from John Williams' excellent score from The Phantom Menace, though the original developers lay a little too heavily on Duel of the Fates. Yeah, the theme is a brilliant and tense one, especially with that ostinato, but there's a bit of an over reliance on it. Though you DO get a wholly symphonic version as well as a symphonic + vocal version to enjoy, alongside a myriad of other themes from the first prequel film. The voicework is well done, whether it's Jake Lloyd as young Anakin Skywalker or pre-race commentator and "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" vet Greg Proops' planet introductions. Overall, the sound is rather superb in Star Wars Episode I: Racer.

What you see (and what you hear) is pretty much what you get with Aspyr's take on Star Wars Episode I: Racer. Sizable upgrades and major updates are not the main attraction here, as there aren't really any to speak of. Instead, you get the basic podracing package on more desirable hardware in a higher definition and a better frame-rate. More importantly, however, the game runs as wonderfully as it has ever run--or in this case, raced, and it's still worthy of a play to this day.

[SPC Says: B]

Aspyr Media provided a code for the purpose of this review.

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