Released in May of 1999, the anticipation for a Star Wars pod racing game on the N64 was huge. Kids everywhere probably expected to feel just like Anakin Skywalker when then picked up their N64 controller. Little did they know they’d been set up for disappointment…and a lot of crashes.
Nostalgia is often a word thrown around the likes of the N64′s library and pod racing is no exception, but what is it that makes us cringe at the thought of playing some of these more unpleasant racing games? Could it be the asinine controls? The purely satanic level design? Or maybe the god-like AI that consistently get in your way and regularly defy the laws of the game? I’d have to say all of the above.
Star Wars pod racing is a game that is near and dear to my heart, but not because it is a good game by any means. If anything, it fails in an area common to most racing games from the past: insane difficulty spikes. You know what I’m talking about. The first few races are cake and then you come head to head with a circuit that beats you mercilessly and leaves your carcass to rot in the street. This is exactly how I felt about pod racing. At first, it’s fun while maintaining a reasonable degree of difficulty for the first two circuits, but that third circuit will make you beg for mercy.
Not only are the AI more difficult, the levels themselves become visually darker with extreme twists and turns becoming a common occurrence. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to navigate a pod racer going 600 mph through a dimly lit course with 90 degree turns, but its damn near impossible. In fact, it’s the reason I stopped playing the game altogether at one point.
When my Xbox 360 went down for a few weeks last year I played pod racing almost exclusively and it has a lot of great things to offer. The biggest thing to note is that the game feels very true to the scenes from the movie Episode I and many of the voices in the game are voiced by the original actors, which makes it feel very authentic.
Still, what I enjoy most about this game is the ability to race as a variety of characters. Many of them are strange aliens who only make brief appearances in the film, but alongside classics like Anakin and Sebulba, character selection feels quite complete.
Control wise the game handles fairly well and it feels true to how you assume a podracer would handle, which means a whole lot of power and a lot of slipping and sliding around, but this can also be one of the game’s downsides. Drifting is practically useless as you’ll end up rotating sideways and crashing into walls and at speeds upwards of 800mph, you’re sure to crash and burn. If you’re feeling extremely daring you can even rotate your pod sideways using the c buttons in full movie style to make it through tight spaces…but honestly…it feels a bit gimmicky as it hinders your turning radius immensely.
The boost system in this game is horrendous. You’re forced to hold the control stick forward to charge your boost, followed by clicking “A” to utilize it. Think about that for a second, while you’re holding the control stick forward you have no ability to turn, which is annoying as hell when the game is literally packed full of tight turns. But it gets better. If you hold “A” down too long one of your engines explodes, so not only is it difficult to charge your boost, but you aren’t able to use it for any length of time that will make a real difference. Needless to say, the controls can be more than a bit frustrating.
As a Star Wars fan there are a lot of things I like about this game. The soundtrack is amazing, the voice acting is superb, and you’re given a wide variety of characters to choose from. Still, the game can be frustrating due to overly sensitive controls, high speed gameplay with poor rendering, and an extreme difficulty spike after only two circuits.
All that being said, I still find this to be a fun game to play. It’s one of those game you have to give the benefit of the doubt. Lucasarts did the best they could and we got an above average pod racing game. For that, I am grateful. My final verdict is a 7/10. It’s an awesome Star Wars game with a few flaws, but still extremely fun to play. May the force be with you!
-Ocarina of Time Nerd
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