Chances are you didn’t know Star Wars once had a Mario Kart-like game based on The Phantom Menace that only released on PlayStation 2, and if you did, you likely don’t have very fond memories of Super Bombad Racing (2001) – which roughly translates to “Super Super Racing” as per “bombad” on Wookieepedia. Even funnier is the fact it was one of the very first Star Wars games to launch for Sony’s second home console.
The post-Episode I mania was crazy. I can still vividly remember it, but mostly on a positive note, as I was just a child and had no idea whatsoever of the fandom’s toxicity nor the vitriolic response to the first of the Star Wars prequels. For a kid my age, the flashy new film (which I kinda loved) also meant plenty of cool video game tie-ins and sick merch, such as the classic Pizza Hut T-shirts (I asked for the Jar Jar one because I unironically loved him).
My favorite Episode I tie-in game was (and still is) Jedi Power Battles, the game which I first rambled about on this very site. But oh boy, there were so many new games that were linked to The Phantom Menace one way or another, and the timing of the console generations had some of them spilling over onto the newer hardware. In my case, my family wouldn’t get a PS2 until 2002, and by that point, the infamous Super Bombad Racing had crashed and burned, killing the planned Dreamcast, Windows, and macOS ports in the process. History (and a plethora of actually good Star Wars games) later did its job and buried this failed experiment under the sands of Tatooine.
To be fair, “Mario Kart but Star Wars” is a banger idea; one I wouldn’t mind seeing again, hopefully handled much better. It also makes sense that LucasArts wanted to pursue this following the success of Star Wars Episode I: Racer in 1999, a surprise racing hit which also spawned a more than decent sequel.
However, Super Bombad Racing had to fight an uphill battle from its very inception, as development was exclusively handled by Lucas Learning – a short-lived spinoff to LucasArts whose previous experience was making simple educational software for classrooms. Super Bombad Racing quickly turned into a bomb and effectively killed Lucas Learning as a whole despite its seemingly limited budget and production team.
Like most things Star Wars, no matter how obscure, the franchise’s take on Mario Kart eventually gained some attention, if anything because it’s one of the zaniest games the IP has ever put out. Not many people are aware of its existence, but it’s a fascinating experiment worth revisiting with proper emulation, up to three friends, and maybe a bunch of beers to enhance the fever dream. The nightmares start with the AI-generated (just joking) hellscapes of the loading screens. I’m leaving one example below.
I (sadly) couldn’t trick anyone into running a few laps of Super Bombad Racing for science, but I had just enough fun on my own. Mind you, I still believe the best thing you can do with this game is torture gamers who’d rather be playing any other kart racing title, but I found myself accepting its kid-friendly and openly uncomplicated nature this time around. Also: it just plain rocks that Yoda does racing with his Jedi council chair while everyone else is using either an actual vehicle or a flying beast.
The extremely limited selection of modes is a bad start when you first boot up the game, made even worse when you notice that Challenge is simply about trying to beat your own fastest laps and that Arena is a lamer version of Star Wars Demolition with big maps that don’t make sense for the player count and nature of the action. So… you’re only left with the standard race mode and the option to coerce soon-not-to-be-friends into local play sessions. At least the goofy-ass, playful covers of John Williams’ all-timers go hard. If I ever have kids, I’ll make them dance to this version of the Imperial March and you should do the same.
To my surprise, the game doesn’t handle terribly, or at least not as bad as I remembered. The controls are adequately floaty (you can jump over obstacles and reach secret routes and spots), and it’s easy to imagine a small kid getting used to it rather quickly. In fact, Super Bombad Racing is a perfectly okay entry-level Mario Kart-like game aimed at the younglings. The thing is… there’s no good reason to make anyone play this over other kart racers such as Crash Team Racing or the Sonic ones if you’ve exhausted Mario’s many installments. I guess it’s more fun than Garfield Kart, but you need to be a true Star Wars sicko to truly enjoy this one
Super Bombad Racing’s biggest crime (and perhaps what doomed it besides a piss-poor marketing campaign) is that it does so very little with the IP as a wacky adaptation of the material and the characters that inhabit its universe. Yes, the Funko-like renditions of The Phantom Menace’s biggest players are laughter-inducing even before you get into a race, and the music is pitch-perfect for what the game is trying to do. But items lack any identity and convincing Star Wars sounds effects, and the “unique” mechanics and obstacles of the more fun circuits leave so much to be desired, as if the Star Wars stuff was slapped on top of a project that switched IPs midway through development.
In spite of everything, I don’t think Super Bombad Racing is a terrible game, mainly because it was so unambitious and harmless, but at the same time, it represents a huge missed opportunity that reminds fans of what happens when “cool ideas” are hastily put together without the proper resources and rushed out the door. Do or do not. There is no try.