|I've always been a fan of space age racers. I'll take Wipeout or
Killer Loop over Grand Turismo any day. I've seen those Turismo fanatics, huddled in dark
corners, looming over their glowing television screens, trying to tweak their Porches and
Ferraris just enough to squeeze out that extra edge and defeat the competition.
That's all well and good if that's your thing, but I don't look to racers for realism, I
look to racers for adrenaline, speed, and thrills.
The Dreamcast has already seen a lot of racers, but they haven't had an arcade racer as good as Episode 1 Racer. The sensation of speed is nothing short of phenomenal as you fly through canyons, jungles, cities, and a wealth of other obstacles on your way through eight planets and twenty-four beautifully designed tracks.
The control is excellent, and should be relatively easy to pick up, especially for gamers who've had experience with the Wipeout series, or similar racing games. The first seven or so tracks won't push you too much; the enemy AI is embarrassingly slow once you have the basics down, but the fact that you'll only be racing against the track and yourself only detracts from the experience slightly. The later tracks are an entirely different story-- they range from challenging to borderline obscene. If your mito-chlorien count isn't at least two hundred you might as well forget about it and just go home.
Anakin Skywalker and his arch pod racing enemy Sebulba both make a triumphant transfer from movie to video game, but if whiney little boys or wicked alien cheaters aren't your thing, don't worry, you can choose from nineteen other funky alien podracer dudes. Each podracer is rated in seven different categories, so you can find the best pod to suit your style. On the down side, a few of the podracers are obviously superior to the rest of the pack, but almost everyone can at least hold their own.
For winning a race or finishing in the top four you earn prize money. You can take your winnings to Watto's shop or to the junkyard to upgrade your pod. Each race damages your pod's parts depending on how often you crashed, and damaged parts mean less performance so it's important to keep your pod in good shape. The secret is to not smack into walls too often, and to win all the races. If you happen to have Jedi skills, then I recommend using the force while flying. Although this will make the game easier, it will also be more rewarding in the long run. The force comes in especially handy in multi-player races-- as you deftly weave through the obstacle courses at breakneck speeds while your opponent smacks into walls with a rewarding ball of flame, you can calmly explain to them that it's simply a matter of feeling the course before you actually see it and trusting your instincts. Watching your opponent squirm and search in vain for a suitable reply is far more rewarding then actually winning the race.
Graphically speaking, Episode One Racer for Dreamcast is beautiful and easily dominates the Nintendo 64 version, although it still falls short of revolutionary. Still, the environments are always crisp and interesting as the courses zip by at a consistent 60 fps, and one of the most dangerous parts of the race is staring at the scenery for an instant too long and forgetting to make a turn.
Even after the game has been beaten, hours of enjoyment can still be found going through the game again and again, trying to set and break new lap and course records. You can even upload your times from your VMU to the Sega website and compare your times to the best in the world. Prizes are awarded for the best times, so there's just that much more incentive to see if you have what it takes to race with the best. In the end there's just no doubt. The Dreamcast's first space racer is an overdue triumph, and Episode 1 Racer is the best arcade racer available on the Dreamcast.