Speed Racer Review

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Graphics: 7.0
Sound : 6.5
Gameplay : 7.5
Multiplayer : 4.0
Overall : 6.5
Review by Chris Matel
Is it possible to make a movie-to-game title that isn’t a complete failure?...

When looked at historically, licensed games don’t have a strong track record of providing for compelling gameplay. More often than not, we’re left with a game that is more about merchandising a brand than creating a quality gaming experience. With such a history, it’s easy to go into yet another movie-to-game title with little more than trepidation. Like summers before it, 2008 is set for a list of blockbusters to hit the silver screen, and thanks to the Wachowski brothers (The Matrix creators), we all have a chance to see Speed Racer in heavily air conditioned theaters. Speed is no stranger the games, and with the new movie comes a new chance to play as the race-loving teen. What is strange, however, is this arcade racer doesn’t necessarily adhere to shoddy craftsmanship that is usually associated with licensed titles.

Go Speed Racer, Go Speed Racer, Go Speed Racer, Gooooooo!....

For those not in the know, this summer’s Speed Racer movie finds its roots in a much older Japanase manga series of the 60’s, which was later adapted into a television anime. The premise has always been simple for each episode, as Speed, the race car driver, would find himself in precarious situations and a need for a fantastic escape, while trying winning a race; but the show’s execution was indelible, with frenetic dubbing to match expedient lip movements. At Speed’s disposal was the Mach 5, complete with an array of armaments and gadgets, as well as friends and family to help him along in each episode.

With all of its character, the Speed Racer anime was one of the first big hits in the States for the genre. You won’t find any of that dilemma in this latest game, as it adheres to the re-envisioned style of the film. What you get in Speed Racer: The Videogame is a competent arcade racer that integrates the Wii-mote’s motion controls almost flawlessly.

The Speed Racer brand has seen its fair share of videogame incarnations on multiple platforms, but leave it the GripShift creators, Sidhe Interactive, to get the racing element fairly solid on the Nintendo platform. Don’t expect any tacked on story elements which try to follow the film. Instead of poorly made cutscenes, we’re left with a stark single player experience that focuses solely on driving, shunting your opponents and placing top-three in a race.

Warning: Not Epileptic friendly…

Much like its big screen counterpart, Speed Racer’s visuals concentrate on color and intriguing aesthetics, instead of raw polygon power, to create a compelling presentation. While in-game, there is an explosion of vibrant, electric color and lighting, reminiscent of a mix between TRON and F-Zero. Also, each vehicle has its own specialized model which does well in translating the driver’s character onto the track. Add to that some great character art when choosing your driver, and you have a game which doesn’t look like the smoothest thing out there—due to some blocky explosions and an overall cartoony feel—but it all works appropriately for the game, and the hardware.

Also exceptional is the soundtrack accompanying you as you zip around tracks which take you through volcanoes, around giant corkscrews and across large jumps. Like the WipEout series, expect a thumping, techno beat that changes pace as you speed up with boosts. There is in-game dialogue as well, from the different characters who will berate you as you pass them, or as you get passed. Unfortunately, although the soundtrack is fitting and does well in providing a pumping rhythm while racing, it’s only a few songs deep. Similarly, although the dialogue is a bit cheesy, it’s not overly ridiculous and could use some additional responses.

Seriously, it’s called Car-Fu...I know…

While in other titles gameplay is usually an utter disappointment for licensed titles, Speed Racer’s turns out to work competently. To begin, you have your choice of controls: Wii Wheel or Wii-mote only. Both options use the Wii-mote’s accelerometers while you tilt the controller to steer; but before you can write-off the usual laggy response of the motion functionality, know that it has been integrated extremely well. Cars have different attributes (speed, acceleration, strength and handling) and if you choose a car with more responsive handling, expect its movement to be spot-on with your tilting.

Motion controls aren’t reserved for steering, however, as flicking the mote upwards, or jarring it left or right, causes your vehicle to perform jumps and shunts, respectively. By holding a direction on the D-pad, you can modify the action performed, as each Car-Fu technique has an intended purpose. Here, too, the motion controls aren’t a disappointment; though, it can take a considerable amount of effort in your horizontal movement to perform shuts and other Car-Fu moves.

Taking out rivals during races with these moves also net you points, which, in-turn, are used in determining rankings at the end of the race. The setup is a fun twist that allows the more brash players to lose a race, but still win in the end if they can beat up enough players during a race. It just would have been nice to see different moves for different racers.

Car-Fu and shunts aren’t the game’s only gameplay novelties. Prior to each race you’ll be able to make or break alliances with otheres, to ensure you’re safe on the track. While it’s a good idea, and one that can make for strategic gameplay—do I want more rivals in the field to score points off of, or do I need extra help while racing—you can only effectively make partners if other racers initiate the alliance.

Can it be? It really is a good licensed game?...

With strong controls, visually stimulating environments and an aurally enthralling soundtrack, you’d think Speed Racer is the perfect racing game, but, unfortunately, its limited nature stops the Accolades Train from pulling into the depot.

Just like the short amount of dialogue and music, nearly every other aspect of the racer could use some additional content. Although it’s a racing game, it would be nice to see more than five tracks to race on. The single-player Championship mode only has three Classes (18 Championships total of a varying number of races), and even though unlocking 16 additional racers and different track lengths is fun, only doing so on the same five courses can get repetitive.

Repeating the same tracks doesn’t get any better when you have a completely arbitrary computer to play against either. The game is afflicted with one of the worst cases of rubber-banding AI. Ever. With the ability to race against 19 other racers, you’re going to want to use on-track boost pads for added speed, as well as build up your Boost Meter for four additional boosts. However, even if you initiate the psychedelic Zone mode (a quadruple shot of your built up boosts), and get three seconds ahead of your competitor, and even if they crash repeatedly behind you, just know they’ll be passing you within the next few moments—make sure to time your boosts strategically.

The game’s additional options are just as lacking as you only have the choice to play either Time Trial or Single Race events. Each gametype allows you to choose your track, its length and your racer, but after playing through the 18 Championship races, of the same tracks, there’s no reason to further extend your solo time. Also, there is the de facto multiplayer racing, but only two players can play…on the same tracks, again.

Oh, so close…

When all is said and done, Speed Racer: The Videogame is a licensed title that is actually a fun game, but it’s just not complete. Luckily, there aren’t many technical bugs to complain about; it doesn’t run at 60 frames, but drops aren’t overtly noticeable. Usually when we ask for more from a licensed game, we’re basically looking for a completely different experience then what has been developed. In this case, however, by simply adding additional tracks and refining a few problem areas, Speed Racer has the potential become more than just a movie tie-in.

Hell yeah:
+ Great visuals with fun tracks
+ Engaging soundtrack
+ Spot-on motion controls

Oh, hell no:

- Limited number of tracks
- Short-changed on songs
- Ridiculous rubber-band AI