Remember Star Wars: Episode One Racer, the futuristic F-Zero X/Extreme-G-esque racing game for the Nintendo 64? Well…we’re not looking at that game. We’re looking at the Game Boy Color port of Star Wars: Episode One Racer.
There’s a particular genre of game that’s always intrigued me and I hope to cover more of these in the future. That is the downport – a conversion of a popular game for much less powerful hardware. I grew up more of a handheld player than a console gamer, so I always ended up with the Game Boy versions of games. And what always intrigued me was what compromises were made – how were graphics simplified, what features were cut, how was the gameplay changed. And when games leapt to 3D, the difference between consoles and the Game Boy became even more pronounced.
Obviously, the 3D super fast Star Wars: Episode One Racer wasn’t going to translate over verbatim. The Game Boy had a few 3D games, but they were all super slow and choppy.
So instead, Star Wars: Episode One Racer for the Game Boy Color is a top-down racer. The Nintendo 64 game had the player race against 11 opponents. The Game Boy Color version? One opponent. And most of the time, the opponent is either so far ahead or so far behind that you never see them.
The levels correspond to those found in the Nintendo 64 game. They have the same color schemes, and surprisingly, even some of the same landmarks. But the courses are all rather simplistic, because the game has a bird’s eye view and there can’t be any interesting gameplay besides left and right turns. The screen real estate is so cramped and the pod racers are so big that it’s really hard to communicate upcoming turns. So the game presents arrows right before the turn saying “Turn right” or “Turn left”. The game ends up being a series of responding to arrow cues.
As you can probably see from the video, I’m not very good at this.
I don’t begrudge why this game was made the way it was. If you’re going to make a podracing game for the Game Boy Color, it’s probably got to be top down. And the system really can’t support too many racers on screen, so it’s just the player and one computer opponent. I get why these decisions were made. What I don’t get was why it was even greenlit to begin with.
ESPECIALLY when it didn’t come out until December 1999, seven months AFTER the movie and the console versions of the game.
I’m not sure why they thought this game needed to be made. I mean, I know – They were like, “We’re making this cool game for the Nintendo 64 based on this super popular scene from the new Star Wars movie / That’s cool dude, but like, 100 million people own Game Boys, we should probably make them a game too.” Nevermind that it’ll be horribly compromised compared to the flagship game.
Oh, and compromised it was! The GBC is sorta equivalent to an original Nintendo and that system was capable of some pretty rad graphics, but cheap cash-grabs rarely take advantage of a system’s hardware.
Although, weirdly enough, Star Wars: Episode One Racer was a rumble cart. Wait, what? Let’s take a step back. The Nintendo 64’s rumble pak introduced the console world to force feedback in controllers. The Rumble Pak was a little motor would make a controller shake if the player was hit — or if the player fired a gun, the controller would kick like a real gun. But the Game Boy would not be sold short. Star Wars: Episode One Racer is one of the select few Game Boy games whose cartridge had a tiny little motor in it that would shake when the engine rumbled or the player hit a wall. Because what really sells the illusion of racing in this game is the total immersion of force feedback.
I get it though. In 1999, I would play any videogame I could get my hands on. I played rudimentary games on my TI-82 graphing calculator till the cows came home. Including a race car game where my car was the letter V and I just navigated a course avoiding obstacles and walls made out of brackets. So maybe I was the target audience. Maybe they thought – this kid is wasting hours playing this lame game – we can do better than that.
And that’s how we got this game.