When I saw Star Wars Journeys: The Phantom Menace for sale on the App Store, I didn't think much of it. It bills itself as an interactive storybook, where you can relive the story of Star Wars Episode 1 through gorgeous renderings and an audio narrator. But somewhat tucked away in the app's feature list is a note that, hey, you can play an podracing minigame, too.
For anyone who looks back on the release of Star Wars Episode 1 Racer with glee -- which describes me perfectly -- this is the app for you, even if it doesn't appear to be at first glance.
The storybook mode, which you'll need to venture through in order to gain points to unlock additional Podracing options, is a fun little treat. Each scene is drawn in loving detail with faux-3D effects and other hidden character movements that are enabled by tapping around the screen. The story is greatly condensed and doesn't take long to get through, but it's still a fun way to relive the events of the film.
But once you're done with that, the Podracing mode is what you have left, and it is a ridiculously fantastic time. It plays almost exactly like the original Star Wars Racer title, featuring a total of 12 tracks (on Tatooine only, unfortunately), a handful of racers with vehicle variants, and a surprisingly deep customization system that allows changes to color and even decal patterns.
You can also tweak vehicle performance in a variety of ways and keep an entire virtual garage filled with high-powered Podracers for every occasion. You can compete in single races, a tournament mode, time trials, and a more brutal knockout mode where the last place racer is eliminated after each lap. In short, there's a ton to do here and without any in-app purchases to worry about, it's a rich racing experience from the very start.
If you pick up Star Wars Journeys: The Phantom Menace strictly for the storybook mode, you might find your US$6.99 purchase to be a bit of a letdown, if only because it's so brief. But if you've always dreamed of an iOS Podracing game, this is indeed the one you're looking for. In all honesty, I'd have paid the asking price for the racing game on its own, so you can look at the storybook as a bit of an added bonus.