||Star Wars Episode 1: Racer
Wait, wasn't Jar Jar in that part? Dammit! - Review By Subskin
The Star Wars franchise has had a love / hate relationship with video games. For every Dark Forces, there's a Rebellion. For the whole X-Wing series, there's Masters of Teras Kasi. Gamespy.com has a grudge match on which is better: Force Commander or poking your eye out with a stick. The stick's got more than twice as many votes. Now Episode 1: Racer is on the Dreamcast.
Star Wars on the DC... there is a God.
The Light Side
Seeing the familiar "Long ago in a galaxy far, far away..." on the Dreamcast sent shivers down my spine.
May the force be with you, Dreamcast gamer! Now play this dusty port.
Episode 1: Racer is based on the Pod Racing scene from the Phantom Menace. This is a port of the Nintendo 64 and PC game (I've got a bad feeling about this...) The basic premise is there's a full Pod Racing circuit - like Nascar, only instead of redneck hicks there's red-necked aliens. Foregoing the plot of The Phantom Menace, Episode 1: Racer is only about speed. Anakin's in the game, but he's just some white trash Pod racer. No Force, no Sith, no plot - just 600 mph racing.
The Pods are surprisingly easy to control at 600 mph. Some racing games take hours to master simple turning; it took me all of three minutes to bust through these corners. You've got full analog control over your turning, plus the ability to rotate on your side and skid for tighter turns. At these speeds, though, even scraping the rails hurts bad. Fortunately, burning to death in a fiery explosion is just a momentary setback. Within seconds you'll be dropped back on the track with the benefit of your progress as a crispy little fireball.
Musically, you've got John Williams' Star Wars theme song and a few variations. That's a pretty good start right there. Unfortunately, the music seems to be completely independent of in-game events. It would have been much more effective if the familiar triumphant theme kicked in right as you turned on the boosters or passed another racer. Still, you can't go wrong with the Star Wars theme.
This game is cake. Seconds after this shot was snapped I slammed into the ice. Three times. And I still won.
The interface is straight out of the N64 version, and that's good. Although you're limited to just one place - Mos Eisley - you run into a few of the Episode 1 familiars just in upgrading your cart. Watoo, the greedy little pawn shop $#!+, is around for giggles. He is the only person you can buy parts from, but he also carries used inventory. Stocking up on parts is pretty typical racing fare: better traction, top speed, acceleration, etc. You can also buy extra Pit Droids to keep your Pod up and running.
The two-player mode is limited, but still sort of fun. Two players, via split-screen, can race with up to four computer controlled Pods. Even with two screens running at 600 mph, there's no noticeable slow-down. While online gaming isn't yet available, you can post and compare fastest times via Sega.com.
The Dark Side
Why do game companies spend months porting a game from an inferior system to the Dreamcast without making any substantial improvements? Episode 1: Racer offers the same type of lackluster translation as Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation, Fighting Force 2, and WWF Attitude.
Ugh. This is just like the N64 version, only the load times are worse. Great. Thanks, LucasArts.
The graphics just plain fall flat. Racer suffers from low polygon counts combined with poorly detailed textures. These poor quality images fail to inspire - they don't even pass by fast enough to pretend you're moving at 600 mph. Additionally, there's major clipping problems. Pods dip several feet into the ground, and sometimes fly through large stationary objects. It's quite obvious that this is a near direct port of a Nintendo 64 game.
So apparently, it takes quite a while to load up an N64 emulator on the Dreamcast. Load times are tragically annoying, especially when selecting a character. The character select screen consists of a 3D model of the Pod and the driver. Pressing left or right cycles to the next one. Every time you press the left or right button, the system pauses noticeably to load the image. This can get very frustrating, especially when it takes 6 or 7 presses to get to the guy you want.
The sound effects are also ripped straight from the N64 version, and it shows. Since N64 cartridges don't hold much data, each character says, at most, two things. The sound quality is annoying, and the characters' alien dialects lose their charm real quick.
Blah. Oh well, at least even the Dreamcast version is more entertaining than Yoda's Desktop Adventures or whatever.
Although the controls are easy, they are obviously from the N64 version. I've come to expect analog throttles, but Racer uses the A and X buttons for accelerate and brake. The analog triggers, then, are for rare events (if you beat the game to get Sebulba, you can throw his little flamejet with the L trigger). The other digital buttons - B and Y - are used to tip the Pod on its side. Belated suggestion: L and R triggers for speed, A and B for leaning, and X and Y for the seldom used buttons.
Before each race, the game shows a pre-rendered fly-by. At the same time, the two-headed freak of an announcer lets you know about the planet. Since the prequel trilogy doesn't have many planets established yet, LucasArts just made up some generic ones - like "Aqualiss the water world," and "Oovo IV the prison labor planet." These little sequences get old real quick. Even worse, there's about a 10 second pause for more game loading after the pre-rendered sequence.
Hey, it's Star Wars. If LucasArts put out a "Shave the Wookie's Back" game, I'd at least give it a chance. Episode 1: Racer, though, is another poor port that just happens to have a great license. I hate to say it, but I'd actually recommend the N64 version over the Dreamcast - if you're going to accept crappy graphics, you don't need to wait for them to load.
Jabba invites the audience to join him for a delicious informal brunch.
I plead with LucasArts and Sega to release Star Wars Trilogy Arcade for the Dreamcast. I realize it's a short game, but it's running on a Naomi board already. With a little Crazy Taxi-style home version (just add in some more gameplay modes and you're set), it would be a huge hit. Help me, LucasArts. You're my only hope.
Highs: Star Wars license, fast pace, easy control.
Lows: Un-Dreamcast-like graphics, overall poor port.
Other: 1-2 Players, VMU Compatible, VGA Cord, Jump Pack Compatible.
(out of a possible 10)
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