That Was a Game 006 – Star Wars: Racer Revenge

Remember Star War Episode One Racer, the Nintendo 64 and Sega Dreamcast podracing game?  What if I told you there was an Episode Two Racer?

Yes, today we’re talking about Star Wars: Racer Revenge for the PlayStation 2.

Racer Revenge was released in 2002 to coincide with the film Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones.  And it stars Hayden Christiansen as Anakin Skywalker, even though we never saw Christiansen hop into a pod racer in his films.

It’s weird to think that there were podracing things released outside of Episode One.  Pod racing is never mentioned in any other Star Wars movie.  It’s never revisited in other games.

This is a game that presupposes podracing is a big underground racing circuit – sort of like Fast & Furious.  And the races are run throughout cities and factories all over the galaxy.

This is a game where the winners are honored in Jabba the Hutt’s palace.  Which is strange because 1) I’m Anakin Skywalker trying to earn the approval of Jabba the Hutt.  He gave me a nod at the end that is like the end of Babe: “That’ll do, pig.  That’ll do.”  And 2) Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader goes to Jabba’s Palace. Which his son will later do in Return of the Jedi.

I like the idea that between his Jedi training and adventures, Anakin still finds time to participate in a galaxy-wide racing circuit.  Sorry Obi-Wan,I can’t negotiate that treaty with the Trade Federation, I got a race over on Sullust.  Wait a minute, I thought Anakin was already too old to start training with Yoda – what’s he doing?  He should be hitting the books to catch up to his peers.  Or maybe he’s got this racing gig to put himself through Jedi school?

The “racer revenge” in the title comes from Sebulba – the alien Anakin beat in the podrace in Episode One.  After being humiliated by being beaten by a child, Sebulba has apparently spent the last 8 years plotting his revenge on Anakin.

It’s a weird game.

Like the N64 game, Racer Revenge is a futuristic space racer in the vein of F-Zero or Wipeout.  The vehicles speed through courses on different planets in the Star Wars universe. If you ever wanted to know what the Twi’lek homeworld looked like, here’s your chance.

As you maybe can tell, I’m playing the Playstation 4 version of Racer Revenge.  I have the PS2 version too, and it looks pretty much the same…just darker and lower resolution.  As far as I know, the PS4 version is not an HD remaster or conscious up-ressing of the PS2 game.  Nothing has been tweaked or updated, except Trophy support was added. Otherwise, it is straight-up the PS2 game running through a PS2 emulator on the PS4.  It still looks good though, even though the background graphics do have a lot of draw-in.

There are only 8 cars in a race, as opposed to the N64’s 12 racers…which in both cases is a far cry from F-Zero X’s 30 racers, but what are you gonna do?

Overall, everything feels a lot better than the N64 game.  The graphics are obviously nicer, but the podracers control better and the race courses seem better designed.

The courses also have multiple branching paths and levels of verticality.  This suggests the potential for shortcuts, though I haven’t seen any marginal difference based on if I took the high or the low path.

Racer Revenge also features a tournament mode that is more robust and has a better character progression system than the original Episode One Racer did.

Winning races gives the player money to upgrade their podracer’s stats in between races – stuff like handling or top speed or defense.

A lot of sports games in this era allowed players to boost their stats – SSX3, NBA Street Vol. 2, and Mario Golf: Advance Tour are what come to mind for me.

This game mechanic always gets me.  I love maxing out my stats and becoming an unstoppable beast on the race course.  I prefer it to finding an existing character/car/build/loadout that suits my playstyle (This usually leads to me having conflicts where my equipment may be ugly but good in the game, or it may look awesome but have really bad stats for how I play).  I’d rather just use whatever look I find most visually interesting and then manipulate my stat points to suit how I like to play.

There’s a large cast of characters to choose from, and there’s even more than can be unlocked throughout the game.  Since each racer’s stats can be tuned to a player’s individual playstyle, after a certain point in the game, everyone plays pretty much the same.

Racer Revenge also adds a nefarious subgoal where the player’s cash winnings are multiplied for the number of opponents that are knocked out during the race.  The game’s pretext for this is that Watto needs spare parts, so he wants the player to wreck the other racers and steal parts from their podracer wreckage.  Which in the fiction of the game, then translates into new parts for the player’s pod racer car.  AKA stat boosts.

Basically, he’s put bounties out on the other racers to take them out by any means necessary.  Oh 2002, such a simpler time before NFL Bountygate.

Playing to KO opponents adds an interesting subgoal to just winning the race.  There’s more to do.

On a difficulty scale, Racer Revenge is a remarkably forgiving racing game.  The player can botch turns, crash into walls, and generally make a mess of the race and still win.  I’ve played a lot of racing games that require perfect runs (make one wrong turn and the race is lost).  So being forgiving is fine by me.  I came here for a silly podracing game that I can goof around in, not a seriously realistic racing game.

Episode One Racer made such a big splash, and as far as racers go, it was fine.  But Racer Revenge was pretty quickly forgotten.

I remember thinking it was alright when it was released, but it paled in comparison to Wipeout and F-Zero.  But now they don’t make those series anymore, and Racer Revenge is out on the PS4, so it’s looking pretty good now.

It really is worth a second look.  This is the first game that I’ve looked at for this show that I’ve really enjoyed.  Like I’m going to go back to it and play it again.  Generally, the games covered on this show are mostly curiosities – but Racer Revenge is good.  It’s fun.  It’s the kind of product that makes you think, now THAT was a game.

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