Speed Racer

Summer’s here. All the signs are there – blockbuster movies at the cinema, men wearing socks with sandals, and games releases take a turn for the worse. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we are entering the slow season, with film tie-ins keeping us busy until the decent stuff comes out in September.

Speed Racer: The film is a chunk of high octane, brightly coloured, cgi-created racing with some acting and Christina Ricci doing very little apart from saying “Cool beans!” a lot. Hmm, I wonder how they could make this film into a game…

So, Speed Racer: The videogame finds you racing around various brightly coloured twisty, gravity defying courses. Place in the top three in the championship and you unlock the next one, and maybe a new car or driver along the way. In a nutshell (or maybe that should be a Koopa-shell) Speed Racer is Mario Kart meets Wipeout, but without any weapons. These races are all about full contact, baby.

Controlling the basics of the game is simple, you steer with the Wii-remote (or with the Wii-Wheel if you have one), accelerating and breaking using the 2 and 1 buttons respectively. So far so good. The only problems, I found, came when carrying out the hideously named “Car-Fu” moves. In order to make it to the front of the pack, you have to slam into the other cars while pulling off spins using the d-pad. It’s this shunting move that feels so at odds with the otherwise smooth driving controls. To shunt, the game requires you to jerk the wheel horizontally left of right which just feels plain wrong.

The visuals in the film cry out for the game to have next gen graphics. The fact that the game has been released on Wii and DS (with a PS2 version on the way soonish) goes against that, which in turn puts a lot of pressure on the gameplay to make it worthwhile. I think it’s safe to say that Speed Racer doesn’t handle pressure well. The gameplay just isn’t exciting or varied enough to really hook you in. To illustrate this point, I will furnish you will an example. The first championship takes place over two courses. Once you’ve placed in the top three and the second championship is unlocked you find that it’s on the same two courses, but the other way round. It just seems that no real thought has gone into the game at all. The courses look almost identical (just different garish colours, and the odd background element), and there’s no map or radar to show you where your opponents are. This becomes increasingly annoying as you’re suddenly overtaken at the second to last bend by someone you had no idea was there. The final masterstroke, however, is by creating a game called Speed Racer without actually given any illusion that you’re going at any sort of Speed. Even with full boost it still feels like you’re crawling along, but (for some unknown reason) at this level you’re in “the zone” which serves no other purpose that I have found other than to make the screen go a bit psychedelic.

There’s a lot to unlock – new characters, new cars, the various courses – but I think you’d struggle to actually want to do any of that. There’s all the usual modes – races, timetrials and multiplayer – but even they aren’t enough to keep you interested. It just seems to lack any of the accessibility or general pick-up-and-play feel of any number of racing games, and with Mario Kart already released there’s not much reason to even open the box.







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