'Episode I: Racer' On Switch Is Great, Now Make A New One
Twenty-one years is a long time to wait for one of the Nintendo 64's best racing games (dare I even say the best?) to be brought into the modern era. But here we are, and developers Aspyr have done a credible job of bringing Star Wars Episode 1: Racer to both the Nintendo Switch and the PlayStation 4, and it's an absolute blast to play with the new controls.
The problem with it is that now I want a new Racer game - and it's all I can think about.
First thing's first, the game looks good on both Switch (the version I've been playing) and PS4. It richly benefits from enhanced draw distances and frame rates that the modern consoles allow; and even though the game is no looker by modern standards, it has that kind of 'time capsule' charm without the headache-inducing grain of yesteryear. It's far less muddy and much, much crisper.
But the real improvements here are in the controls. The game feels totally at home on a modern gamepad. In fact, it's hard to imagine it on anything other than what has become the standardised configuration (looking at you, N64 controller).
The remapping of the buttons (on Switch) makes ergonomic sense and everything falls under your fingers where it feels natural. The one exception is the repair button, which is placed awkwardly next to the throttle in the default configuration, so you kinda have to choose one or the other which can be a touch frustrating.
The game does allow you the liberty of changing the control scheme, though there's only two presets, Racer and Classic, to choose from. If you find that the default Racer setup isn't particularly clicking, you can hop over to Classic, though no custom mapping feels like a bit of a missed opportunity. On a similar note, if you're feeling particularly brave you can use the inbuilt Nintendo Switch motion controls, but that requires having a midi-chlorian count way higher than I possess to pull off with any efficiency.
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Once you do get into a race either in career mode, free play or in split-screen with a friend, controls feel tight and responsive - which is obviously vitally important when you're navigating a hairpin turn at 600mph next to a sheer drop.
Episode 1: Racer still represents a significant challenge of skill, especially in the more technical stages as you progress. Once you've upgraded your pod at Watto's junk shop a few times, it evolves into more of a game of muscle memory and reactions, something that few racers either preceding it or since have managed to replicate.
While upgrades are still present and give a bonafide reason to keep competing in career, and the numerous pods you can unlock all feel different on the track, it would have been nice to actually have a visual representation of the upgrades you apply to the racers. It is worth remembering though that this is almost a straight-up port of the original game, but it has me yearning for a brand new version of Star Wars Episode 1: Racer. Heck, I'd even settle for a total remaster of this game, with all the modern bells and whistles added on.
Give me this exact game with the tightness and responsiveness of the controls, and wrap it up in high-def graphics and a decent amount of customisation. I'd buy that in a heartbeat.
Star Wars Episode 1: Racer is as good as it ever was even after two decades of sitting in the bleachers. Is it going to change the way you think about video games? No. Is it a decent way to spend $14.99 and relive a great game for a few hours? Absolutely yes.
Now, who's a guy got to petition around here to get that remaster going.
Star Wars Episode 1: Racer is out now for PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch. Switch code was provided by the publisher for this coverage.
Featured Image Credit: Aspyr/Lucasfilm