I always thought the pod racing segments in the movie Star Wars Episode I: Phantom Menace could be made into an interactive sequence; I never had a clue that such a thought would turn out to be reality soon after the release of the movie.
Racing can actually be quite fun. The sense of speed is exciting and since there are 25 tracks to check out in the game’s four tournaments, there are plenty of various environments to experience, from deserts to tundras to metropolis. The track design for the most part is really cool since it’s easy to spot a branching path once in a while even though some shortcuts in some paths are much too obvious and much too beneficial. Initially, once you get over the lackluster polygonal visuals and the barely audible soundtrack, the game is a blast.
Still, after a while, a simple fact becomes apparent: this is a movie-license game.
When it comes to the N64 version, the more I played the game, the more I came to hate the controls. How the controls are designed is actually pretty ingenious and intricate, with A button being gas, B button as gas, the left trigger to repair damage, right trigger as powerslide, up on the analog as boost, and C buttons as side directions. It all sounds good in paper but it actually turns out a bit messy and annoying, particularly due to the fact that controlling direction requires the use of C buttons. God, I hate those C buttons on the N64 controller. Powersliding and boosting can be a bit confusing as well and I to this day don’t know why there was even a need for a button for powersliding.
The controls aren’t too much of an issue when you play this game in the arcades however. You get to ride this recreated pod racer which is controlled by these joysticks at the sides of the racer. It’s quite fun, though not as accurate as the analog on the N64 controller. The buttons can be a bit perplexing too but at least it doesn’t require the C buttons to play on the arcades version. Still, whether you play this in the arcades or on the N64, the controls become an issue when your pod jumps off a ramp. Controlling the pod in mid-air is a pain. It’s a good thing ramps are rare.
The second annoying thing about the game other than the controls however is the track design. At some parts, they’re just designed really poorly and crashing is inevitable. In some tracks, the parts are so narrow and so full of obstacles, that it looks like a course designed for suicidals. After crashing, the pod racer either takes massive damage or blows up. When damaged, you have the option to repair the vehicle, which will slow you down. When blown up, you respawn at the last point in which you died and that’s that. Trust me; neither repairing or blowing up and respawning is all that fun.
So those issues aside, it’s not a bad racing game. Like I said, there’re a lot of tracks to race on and it even has four different modes, them being Tournament Mode (where you unlock vehicles, characters, and parts to buy), Free Mode (where you race with how many opponents you want and how many laps you want), Time Trial Mode, and 2-Player Mode. Back in those days, that was actually pretty good amount of modes but sadly, even back in those days, the graphics and audio featured in this game were considered sub-par. I can’t imagine what people think of them now.