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Speed Racer Box Art
GENRE
Racing
DEVELOPER
Sidhe Interactive
PUBLISHER
Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment
NUMBER OF PLAYERS
1-2
WI-FI ENHANCED
No
DS COMPATIBLE
No
BUY NOW AT

Speed Racer

Video game tie-ins to movies have mainly been about profit, not quality. Developers are put on tight schedules with short budgets and expected to deliver a gaming experience that usually suffers tremendously in comparison to its silver screen counterpart. However, Sidhe Interactive hopes to break that trend with Speed Racer. While a first glance of screenshots or the game in motion may spark comparisons to F-Zero, the title’s gameplay resembles a weird mash-up of the Burnout and Mario Kart franchises. This combination actually comes together to produce an entertaining experience in short bursts, but lacking the depth and polish to be superb.

visuals

The most integral aspect of any racer is the fluidity of its framerate. While Speed Racer fails to hit the holy grail of 60 fps, the smooth animations and decent draw distances will give the impression of taking the wheel behind the Mach 6. There are a few hiccups, however, such as when taking gigantic leaps off the track or other racers blowing up ahead of you. These problems happen on a consistent basis and likely could have been fixed with more time and testing.

The game instills the bright, neon color palette of the movie with a mixture of stylized, cartoon character portraits to form a pleasing visual offering. The use of cel-shading -- for smoke billowing from a near-destroyed car or for vivid red lava -- also helps reinforce the unique graphics. On the downside, the biggest drawback relates to the lack of attention to car combat. First, the absence of physical damage to cars during the race fails to immerse the player fully. Players will only see a trail of smoke when a car has almost bit the dust. It would have been awesome to see fenders bent and doors smashed on cars like The Shooting Star. Also, the car explosions are totally uninspiring, as the rides disappear and several grayish pixels separate; very dull. The addition of particle effects and slow-motion wrecks that showcase each jewel breaking off of Prince Kabala’s vehicle could have put an exclamation mark on a good graphical offering.

audio

The musical tracks and character voice-overs create the most polished aspect of the Speed Racer package. For one, the soundtrack explores a variety of genres to generate futuristic-like offerings. The beats fit well with the racing and add to the speed and intensity of each race, with thumps that bang to your heartbeat. In addition, the film's actors voice each of the twenty characters, so players get to hear Christina Ricci excitedly shout "Cool beans!" Unfortunately, these lines of spoken dialogue are repeated one-liners that will start to irritate you after a couple play sessions.

gameplay

Speed Racer breaks away from the movie by not using any cut-scenes or "story modes" to relive the plot. Players initially start with a selection of only a few characters, such as Speed and Trixie. Ultimately, the cast grows to twenty through four different championships. The Championship mode takes place on only five separate tracks, which change by length and direction. After completing this mode, players can also work on Time Trials or figure out new codes through the unlocked Mirror Mode. Obviously, this is a pretty bare-bones package. There are no online modes to speak of, not even leaderboards.

The game attempts to make up for this oversight by using the Wii Remote for steering and tilting. Speed Racer allows gamers to either use the Remote by itself, as was done with Excite Truck, or use the Wii Wheel. For a fast game, players may worry that an analog stick would be far superior. For better or worse, the developers made track designs that automatically guide players into turns and thus titling and steering do not require precise movements. There is so much assistance in the roadways that we actually beat several cars by not even turning the remote once during a race. Therefore, each configuration works rather well, with the Wheel having a slight advantage because of the more accessible B button as well as greater maneuverability for jolting motions. This combination of buttons and movement relate to Boosts and Car-Fu Combat.

Boosting is easily the most integral aspect of the game, but the focus of the tutorial relates to a mechanic called Car-Fu. Using Car-Fu will help you fill your boost meter more quickly. However, the boost meter also replenishes by avoiding the sides of the track and hitting speed boosts. The main trick relates to filling up four boosts that will put your driver in the zone. Essentially, players can win almost every race by punching the B button four times consecutively and flinging their car into a purple, particle-filled overdrive during the last quarter or third of the race. This does for Speed Racer what the blue shell did for Mario Kart Wii; namely, it takes away a lot of the game's strategy.

However, Car-Fu Combat also plays a central role. Players can motion the remote from side-to-side to shunt opponents and inflict damage to gain points. Also, pulling back on the controller will skyrocket your car into the air, either avoiding a competitor or jumping onto another car. By pressing the d-pad, more moves become available, such as a spin attack. While the movements feel good, especially the shunt, the reward and disadvantages are not fully realized. For instance, your car also contains a health meter while racing. Thus, dealing damage can destroy a car and your car can also be turned into scrap metal. But, there is no set number of lives and players can blow up as much as possible. We actually blew up around four to five times on longer races and still won the race. This highlights the rubber-banding AI that regrettably has a lot in common with Mario Kart Wii. No matter how bad or awesome you drive, your opponents will stay close to you. Essentially, players should not worry about their damage and instead just have fun hurting others and saving up imperative boosts.

Finally, the game also throws in an Ally and Rival system to the Championship mode. This system works in tandem with Car-Fu. An ally will not hurt you, while rivals will continuously try to break you down. While a neat concept, it boils down to whether you want to battle a lot of cars or just focus on racing more with tons of allies: players can ask for alliances between every race and also accept offers.

multiplayer

The game does not contain any online component, but instead offers an almost archaic two-player split-screen option. Surprisingly, two players can embark on the Championship mode together, but the Ally/Rival system is removed. However, this does allow for players to enjoy the main mode with a friend, which is a pleasant addition. Also, the multi-player features were smooth and contained no additional slow-downs in framerate.

overall

Speed Racer is definitely a rental unless you’re a fan of the television series or the newly released movie. While the game does offer an amusing combat system and stylized visuals, the lack of depth and polish leave you wanting more. The combat could have been more fully realized with better graphical damage details and more balancing in regards to the health meter. The racing aspects become over-simplified with the all-too-powerful four boost zone ability. These speed bumps ultimately slow this ride down too much for a wholehearted recommendation.



final score 6.4/10





WRITER INFORMATION
Staff Avatar Evan Campbell
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"Real men don't fight — they sing!"


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