I pity anyone who doesn’t have fond memories of playing with Lego. Any kid with a grain of imagination could participate on grand journeys through space, or fighting ghosts at a dark medieval castle. The Lego company has always seemed to innovate on a constant basis, adding original and often more advanced things than it has had in the past. The Lego Racer line of toys is one of its more recent additions, where kids of any age can build motorized gizmos, make plenty of wrooom noises, and pretend you’re racing on some distant planet in an epic quest that could save the Earth, or something like that.
With Lego Drone Racer on the Gameboy Advance you can race with each of the cars in the Racer line-up, pick up weapons, use boosters, and hopefully win fame and fortune.
When starting the game you’ll end up at the main menu, where you have some familiar choices. Let’s start with Championship, which is the most interesting mode for single player gaming. Here you begin by selecting the team, which can be H.O.T., Maverick, Zero, R.E.D., Nitro, and Exo Force. Each team has three cars, and each team share a certain characteristic, such as having generally good handing, good top speed etc. All the cars have statistics in Speed, Acceleration, Handing, and Grip, and every time you get a reasonably good position in a race, or win a drag race you get to add to the stats, which naturally improves the cars and makes the races easier to win. Before you actually do a race you’ll have an option to do a drag race, where you race against one opponent on a flat stretch. The trick here is to change gears at the best time, and using nitro at the right time. If you do win then you’ll not only get a stat point to add, but you’ll also get pole position in the actual race. Winning in the drag race against that one opponent isn’t necessarily enough though, because your time is compared to every other contestant. There are two types of races to participate in; ones with asphalt, and ones with dirt and ice. You have one car for each type of race, so it’s obviously crucial to distribute the stat points you win to the car that needs it the most. In challenge mode there are several levels of increasing difficulty, ranging from novice to expert. The tracks you race in range from urban city to snowy mountains, but when you’ve finished a few of the tracks you’ll also do some of the first ones backwards, which adds an interesting dimension.
Racing in this game is about as far from a simulator as you can get. The game’s mechanics are largely borrowed from Wipeout, because not only do you race at very fast speeds, you also drive across boosters that add to the speed temporarily, you pick up rockets, mines, shields, rotating spikes, homing missiles, and speed boosters that can be activated at any time. Finishing first is what matters, so if you have to blast a few opponents then that’s what you’ll have to do!
Additionally you have Quick Race, where the game selects a track and a car for you, which you can either go for, or regenerate. By selecting Quick Race you can actually go from the main menu to being in a race with just the push of one single button.
Next you have Arcade, which is split into three parts. First you have Single Race, where you select a car and a track. Then you have Time Attack, where you do the same, only with the goal of beating the previous record in the track you’ve selected. And finally you have Dragster, which is again split into two modes: Single Race, and Battle Mode. In the first you select a track, specify the length (novice, intermediate, professional, or expert), choose the car that seems best, and then start the drag race. In Battle Mode you choose a car and race in a series of matches on progressively longer tracks, which get more difficult as the track length increases. A nice feature is how you’re actually able to specify auto or manual clutch, which is something you don’t see in a lot of racing games. Choosing manual is obviously harder, but it gives you an additional gear, which makes you go faster if you’ve got the skills needed.
In my opinion the single player portion of the game is just too easy, because you can finish all of the cups with relative ease. It does get a bit hard in the expert cup, because at that point the opponents use all the weapons and shields they can pick up, but I seriously doubt that anyone will have a problem finishing the Championship mode. I can assure you that playing the game with friends is a lot of fun, because when doing so the difficulty depends entirely on the skill of your friends, and when you have four friends linked up you can bet there’ll be some exciting matches.
Bringing 3D to the Gameboy Advance has had mixed results, as we’ve definitely seen in some of the first-person shooter games. In my opinion THQ did a great job with their engine, because despite a few slowdowns the game runs really well, sporting actual 3D maps, filled with hills, ramps, mountains, and more. Most of the game isn’t texture mapped, so you have to rely on solid colors, which was not a real issue. Shadows are done by coloring the appropriate area with a darker shade, and the result looks quite nice. The cars and the effects of the rockets, shields and such also look quite good, so owners of actual Lego Racer toys should hopefully recognize something if they look extra hard.
Lego Drone Racer’s audio is also quite good, albeit not as good as it could’ve been. The sound effects are actually very well done, with plenty of wrooming noises fading in and out as cars pass you by, the crowd cheers as you pass finish line, rockets boom as they hit a wall right next to you, and you hear the screeching noise of your tires as you do you best to navigate the icy tracks. What could use improvement is the musical score, which consists of one single song. Does it get annoying? Indeed it does.
This is definitely a purchase you should consider if you’re a fan of the Lego Racer toys, and don’t happen to have any really good racing games on the Gameboy Advance. Lego Drone Racer has a reasonably good single player mode, with some neat innovations and depth Multiplayer mode is fun, there are really cool looking tracks in actual 3D, and sounds effects that are nothing to scoff at either.
I doubt this is a game you’ll be addicted to for a long period of time, but when you and your friends need a break from Lego building this could be good alternative.