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Star Wars: Episode I: Racer streaks onto the Nintendo 64 just as the highly anticipated fourth Star Wars film debuts across the nation — a simultaneous release on May 19, 1999. Based on the movie's Podracing sequence, the game offers players the chance to pilot one of six crafts in a Tournament spanning three circuits: Amateur, Semi-Pro and Galactic. Players can also race in Time Attack and Practice modes.
Each circuit is composed of seven different tracks, bringing the number of courses to 21 (plus four hidden). Since only one event is featured in the film, the developers expanded the racing to eight planets: Tatooine (site of the movie's race), Ando Prime, Aquilaris, Ord Ibanna, Baroonda, Mon Gazza, Oovo IV and Malastare. As you might expect, each planet offers varied terrain, including oceans, mountains, forests, deserts, swamps and even lava!
Podracers span 30 feet in length and feature twin engines designed to reach speeds of up to 600 miles per hour. Each craft is also built to reflect the abilities of the 23 pilots in the game, meaning no two Podracers look or handle the same. The six characters you'll initially choose from are as follows: young Anakin Skywalker (the only human able to compete), Ebe Endocott, Dud Bolt, Elan Mak, Gasgano and Ody Mandrell.
Additional Podracers can be unlocked by placing first on each course, but you'll only need to place fourth or better (out of 12) to continue progress in the tournament. The game also includes a betting system that allows players to set the amount of money received after finishing a race: Winner Take All (first place receives the entire sum of cash), Fair (money is spread out among the top four) or Skilled (the top two earn the most money).
The winnings can then be used to purchase upgrades in the following areas: traction, turning, acceleration, top speed, air brake, cooling system and repair. Players have the choice of buying either new or used parts, with used parts being cheaper and more likely to wear out, at Watto's shop in between races. Besides the one-player game, Star Wars: Episode I: Racer also features two-player competition on a horizontally-split screen.
The 256-Meg cartridge supports the Rumble Pak for vibration feedback and the Expansion Pak for high-resolution graphics, but the Controller Pak is not required to save information. The game automatically records fastest times, unlocked characters and ship upgrades to one of four data files. Expect to hear voice clips from Anakin Skywalker and the various aliens as they taunt you in Dolby Surround Sound throughout each race! ~ Scott Alan Marriott, All Game Guide