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'Episode I Racer' is a Pocket Rocket

By Max Engel
On April 22, 2014

Many fans of "Star Wars" games may recall that shortly after the release of "The Phantom Menace" in 1999, "Star Wars" game developer LucasArts released a videogame based on the podracing scene in the film, in which jet-powered chariots embark on a death race for a massive first-place purse. The game released for the PC, Nintendo 64 and later the Sega Dreamcast is fondly remembered as being a 60-frames-per-second, high-speed dash that was almost as demanding of the player's reflexes as if the sport was real. I had a lot of fun playing the PC version, but I also had a version of the game that fewer people remember, in which you too can race the Boonta Eve all of eight-bits. That's correct, there was a Gameboy Color version of "Star Wars: Episode I Racer," and on paper, it may seem like an easy cash-grab, but I found that the game doesn't try too hard to emulate the other versions, and instead finds a mid-point in agile action spreading across the galaxy and using comparatively limited hardware.
Unlike its more advanced version, the Gameboy Color version only has five planets with four courses each. Fans of Oovo IV and Ord Ibanna will be disappointed, but the likes of Mon Gazza, Tatooine, Malastare, Ando Prime and Baroonda remain. The vast majority of the racers from the advanced version are also kept in as well, although some racers will become blatantly outclassed as you unlock more racers. I personally found Ben Quadinaros, the racer that didn't even pass the starting line in the film, to be among the better racers in the game; his racer possesses a top speed surpassing that of Sebulba's, a character you will likely unlock last. There are some interesting game mechanics applied to the two most notable racers of the game, the aforementioned Sebulba and Anakin Skywalker. The latter will actually have a higher top speed as you unlock more racers, though his cruising speed will remain at the crawling pace of just under 600mph. As for the former, you can only challenge him once you've unlocked all the racers for one of the planets. You can use him to unlock other racers, but if you lose while using him, he flees from the racer selection-accompanied by the Gameboy's attempt at recreating his voice- and you'll have to challenge him again to get him back.
As for the actual racing, the races are point-to-point rather than circuit-based races in the advanced versions. The field is sparsely populated by the racer you choose and the rival you challenge; quite lower than the 12 or so racers from the console versions. The developers seemed to do their best at integrating certain aspects of the console versions; one example that stuck out to me was how there are parts of the track surrounded by lava in the tracks based on Baroonda. Going off-track onto the lava can greatly damage your racer in both versions. Both versions also give you the ability to repair your racer mid-race at the cost of some speed during the repair.
Overall, the Gameboy Color version of "Star Wars: Episode I Racer" feels like an honest effort to bring an intense racer to a handheld with comparatively limited power. The developers seem to have known that the GBC wasn't the N64, but the game's quite enjoyable considering the hardware limitations. Besides, it's pretty amusing to hear "Duel of the Fates" using an eight-bit soundchip.

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