Review – Star Wars Episode I: Racer (Switch)

Back in March 2020, we were greeted with excellent news coming from Aspyr and Lucasfilm. One of my favorite Star Wars games of all time, Star Wars Episode I: Racer, was going to be remastered and released for PS4 and Switch. I was really happy with this announcement until I saw screenshots on the official Star Wars website. It didn’t look like an improvement over the original game at all; in fact, it actually looked worse. I was worried if this was going to be how the final product would end up looking. I was also worried if it would retain its fantastic gameplay and controls. Now that the remaster is finally out, it’s time to see if it was worth the wait.

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The framerate count would drop to single digits during this section in the Nintendo 64 version. That’s not the case here.

I’ve talked before about how much I love Star Wars Episode I: Racer in my twenty year anniversary piece last year. It was a perfect combination of easy controls and a steady difficulty curve that taught you the basics during the first few races, only to truly test you with tracks like The Abyss, Fire Mountain Rally, and Grabvine Gateway. For the time, it was incredibly fast-paced, even though I grew up playing the Nintendo 64 version, which barely managed to achieve 20fps.

This remaster isn’t based on the Nintendo 64 version, mind you. In fact, this is a remaster of the superior Dreamcast version, which already featured slightly improved visuals and a much more stable framerate at the time. It also featured FMV cutscenes, which looked cool for the time, but didn’t age well at all for today’s standards. Time just hasn’t been kind to these grainy and cheesy clips. Unlike the Nintendo 64 version, the Dreamcast version of  Star Wars Episode I: Racer featured a musical score throughout all three laps as well.

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This is an icy planet, how the hell can my engines overheat in here?

In theory, Aspyr did a great job by deciding to remaster the less commercially successful, but technically superior Dreamcast version, and the game does look a lot better than those initial pictures unveiled when the remaster first got announced. This doesn’t mean it looks good, because it doesn’t. It might feature a vastly improved resolution and a buttery smooth framerate, but this still looks like the same Dreamcast game originally released in the year 2000. Some visual glitches are even more apparent now due to the increased draw distance and extended field of view. Some of these issues are mitigated when playing in portable mode, but doing so doesn’t turn this game into a looker.

This game’s sound department is also completely messed up. Sure, it does feature better music than the original Nintendo 64 version, but its sound mixing is absolutely terrible. No matter how much you tweak the music and sound effect levels on the options menu, it will still sound like a mess. Another thing I noticed is the fact that while the classic taunt encounters are still present in here if you hold down the ZR and ZL triggers before starting the race, they are completely devoid of sound. No background noise, no voice acting. Did someone at Aspyr forget to add those sound clips into the remaster? Is this a glitch? Whatever the case, someone needs to release a patch as soon as possible.

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Mars Guo, still a man of few words.

It might sound like this is a terrible remaster… but it isn’t. I might not have liked the (lack of) visual improvements, and the sound department is a complete mess, but this version of Star Wars Episode I: Racer still holds up where it matters the most: its gameplay. It runs like a dream, its controls are incredibly responsive, and the difficulty curve is still on point. The inclusion of HD rumble adds an extra layer of immersion to the mix, especially whenever you decide to activate your boosters or if you crash your podracer onto a wall. As previously mentioned in my anniversary piece, the creative track design still holds up after all these years.

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The Oovo IV antigravity tunnels are a trippy experience at 60 frames per second.

This might be one of the least impressive visual remasters I have ever seen, but considering how well Star Wars Episode I: Racer‘s gameplay has aged over the decades, I still have to recommend the Switch version of this game to racing fans and Star Wars fans alike. This is still one of the best and most creative Star Wars games ever released, and even though it now looks as clunky as the CGI from Attack of the Clones, it’s still well worth playing once again. One can only wonder which Star Wars game Aspyr is going to release next. If it isn’t Knights of the Old Republic, we riot.

 

Graphics: 5.0

The improved framerate and upscaled resolution are welcome additions, but Star Wars Episode I: Racer‘s visuals have aged as badly as the CGI in Attack of the Clones.

Gameplay: 9.5

Another case of a racing game that doesn’t need analog triggers in order to succeed. The gameplay is still as fast-paced and fluid as it used to be twenty years ago, with the addition of buttery smooth 60fps at all times.

Sound: 5.5

Classic Star Wars themes are scattered throughout the entire game, but they suffer from bad compression and one of the worst instances of sound mixing I’ve ever seen in a game. Plus, the game is filled with sound glitches.

Fun Factor: 9.0

Despite the ugly visuals, this is still one of the most challenging and entertaining racing games of all time, featuring some of the best designed tracks in any racing title out there.

Final Verdict: 8.0

Star Wars Episode I: Racer is available now on Nintendo 64, PC and Dreamcast. Remastered version available on PS4 and Switch.

Reviewed on Switch.

A copy of Star Wars Episode I: Racer was provided by the publisher.

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