|Another Star Wars game comes down the Nintendo 64 pike. This time
around, it's the initial entry from the new movie, Star Wars: Episode I
- The Phantom Menace. Debates about the movie's quality aside, arguably the most
exciting scene is the Pod Race on Tatooine. If the mere description of being
dragged behind two (or more) starship engines several feet off the ground at
600 mph doesn't get your pulse racing, then you may want to check into the
Unlike the movie, which featured one race on Tatooine, the game branches out
and includes 21 tracks on 8 different worlds. You also race against 21 different
opponents, including characters from the movie like Sebulba and Gasgano.
The game has several modes of play. In the single player mode, there's a tournament
round which allows you to compete with the other podracers of the galaxy. You
must place in one of the first four positions to move on to the next race.
A freeplay option allows you to race on any unlocked track. Time Attack allows
you to race for the best time when you're all alone on a given track. The two
player mode allows you to race against a friend on a horizontal split screen.
After each race in the tournament round, you can take your winnings -- if
you have any, that is -- and use them to upgrade your podracer. You can make
purchases which will increase your racer's top speed, turning ability, acceleration
and repair speed. Making these purchases is crucial to getting anywhere later
in the game, a subject I'll touch on in a moment.
your racer is quite simple, although describing how to do it is less so.
The N64's analog stick is moved left to right, obviously,
to move in the respective direction. The A button controls acceleration and
the B button is an air-brake. The Z-trigger enables you to perform power slides
to round those sharp corners. Pushing forward on the analog stick allows you
to perform an afterburner-type power boost. Simply wait for the light on the
lower right side of the screen to turn yellow and then tap the A button for
a boost of power that will rocket you past any nearby opponents. Pulling back
on the stick and moving left or right will enable you to turn your racer sideways
to round corners without having to sacrifice much speed.
The graphics in the game are very
good, even without an Expansion Pak. They approach, if not reach, levels
of PC 3D-acceleration in most areas. However,
there is still quite a bit of pop-up and draw in. This wouldn't be much of
an issue, except that when a game moves at the speed that this game does, you
have to be able to see what's coming at you from as far away as possible. Since
Racer requires you to thread some needles in terms of navigating through oncoming
obstacles, it would have been nice to see a little less draw-in and pop-up.
However, this problem becomes less of an issue as you begin to memorize the
courses and learn where to be careful. Still, the graphics provide the appropriate
feeling of moving at an extremely high rate of speed which is essential to "getting
into" a game of this nature.
The atmosphere of the game is further enhanced by the excellent sound. Excellent
stereo separation is apparent as racers pass you, insulting you in a variety
of alien languages. The music, however, is strangely absent through most of
the game. During a race, the final lap triggers a subdued musical underscore.
For the most part, the game is accompanied by the sounds of engines, the wind,
explosions and the comments of the various racers, including your own.
problem with the one-player game is the fact that it begins quite easily.
In fact, with little or no effort, I won the first
three races in the game's tournament round. The game begins to get a bit harder
in the next race or two. By the sixth race, the game makes placing near the
first four places nearly impossible without some hefty upgrades to your racer
and a bit of luck. I don't have any problem with the game getting more difficult
as you get further into it, I just wish it would have a less-steep level of
difficulty. Going from easy to impossible in a few more steps would have been
Wars: Episode I Racer is a fine racing game with a lot going for
it. It's got great graphics, great control and a lot of fun packed into it.
I'm not much of a racing fan, but Racer had me hooked in a way that no ordinary
car-racing game has been able to do on any system. Is it the best racer on
the already glutted field of racers on the Nintendo 64? I can't say for sure.
In my opinion, it's the best of the futuristic racers (ala F-Zero X and Wipeout
64), but your mileage may vary.