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The King of Route 66 (PlayStation 2) artwork

The King of Route 66 (PlayStation 2) review

"Because you needed more 18 Wheeler in your life."

18 Wheeler works as an arcade experience, something that would be functional at a Dave & Busters or Chuck E. Cheese, hooking in tons of people with its seated cabinet, unusual concept of big rigs racing and clashing towards a finish line, and a casual, easygoing presentation. It's like a grander version of those kiddie rides that rock back and forth for a solid five seconds. But as a console port, it was one of the most questionable things imaginable, since there wasn't any effort into adding to the core idea. You can seriously complete the game within 20 minutes on your first or second go and never touch it again due to no real desire for a replay. Apparently, someone finally realized that doing a straight conversion of a very short and shallow game was an awful idea, because when it came time to port the sequel, The King of Route 66, it appeared some form of toil was thrown into the project.

The first noticeable thing is the surprising inclusion of a plot for the main mode, where you pick one of four stereotypical characters with varying driving attributes to compete against Tornado, a company of flamboyant stereotypical characters. Between stages, you'll either view brief cutscenes of unruly Tornado goons harassing other drivers or have direct confrontations with them in the form of dialogue boxes... complete with voice acting! Considering the lack of additions that went into its predecessor's conversion, this is shocking. There's also more stages to plow through, 15, as you go from Point A to Point B destinations in the allotted time, hauling cargo while a Tornado driver recklessly destroys the road and its surroundings in opposition. It's a far cry from 18 Wheeler's measly four stages, each lasting less than five minutes, outright feeling like highway robbery.

Things feel a bit more "rowdy" in this sequel, too, as you're encouraged to cause destruction with the inclusion of many more alternative routes. Half the shortcuts require the need to crash through buildings and structures, ranging from restaurants to silos, and if a ramp is involved, expect a dramatically goofy multi-shot if, beforehand, you activated your limited stock of nitro boost. Seems like the devs took a few cues from Hitmaker's Crazy Taxi's method of madness, though restrained into a linear style; its layout designs are far from the Grand Theft Autos or Crazy Taxis of its day.

Considering the amounted content this port received, I thought it impossible for Route 66 to succumb to the shallowness that surrounds its predecessor. However, as I made my way through those 15 stages, it sadly dawned on me just how much this has in common with 18 Wheeler, in all the worst ways possible. While there's nothing inherently wrong with linear Point A/Point B games, Route 66 fails the concept by making the stages bland in design and segmented, often causing very short runs. Sometimes a stage seriously ends after making three to four hard turns, and when stages are long, they're only long because you have to drive on long stretches of road where nothing of value happens. Keep in mind, this is being done while you drive big, clunky, slow trucks, with cargo, that are difficult to turn in tight spaces. Remember: this is a Sega arcade game about "racing."

Ridiculously, even the race aspect is butchered. How do you mess up a racing game with only two competitors? Give it the worst case of rubberband AI you'll ever witness in a video game. 18 Wheeler also has rubberband issues, but it's not as aggressive, so bringing it up would feel like grasping at straws. Route 66, though, insults your skill, and does so by constantly backhanding any form of progress you make against the AI. You can make zero mistakes, grab and use all nitro boosts, take every straight shortcut, constantly use slipstream as much as possible, and you can still somehow fail the race. When nearing your opponent from behind, the AI is designed to stay close ahead when at normal speeds. But when you use a boost or a shortcut to gain the upper hand, the AI goes ballistic, automatically bolting to unrealistic speeds to position itself in front of you again.

My mind was in near shambles when struggling to beat this game, due to the audacity of the AI programming. In one stage, I drove off a highway ramp to reach the goal in front of me, while the AI truck had to make a long, hard u-turn to reach the same spot. That didn't matter, because an inch before touching the finish line, the rival truck conveniently appeared in front of the goal. In another stage, I saved up three nitro boosts for the final leg of the race. In the middle of using all three in swift succession, I managed to ram the rival truck, turned its entire body in the opposite direction, and forced it to a halt, all while never losing any speed myself. I quickly used my final nitro boost to dash across the finish line just a few feet away... and to my utter astonishment, the AI truck was by my side, at breakneck speeds, ready to usurp my victory. I had to use my entire truck as a barrier to prevent that from happening. That entire incident happened within the span of five seconds.

18 Wheeler is definitely simple and shallow, but the biggest praise I can give the game is that it never overtly stunted progress. The King of Route 66 is not only simple and shallow, but also penalizes you with malicious, cheating tactics, all because you wisely used the game's mechanics and gimmicks to succeed. The game is also a fine example that simply adding more of the same thing, for a longer experience, doesn't necessarily make it a better product, especially when the core concept doesn't have much going on to begin with. More bland Point A/Point B destinations with no fresh ideas thrown in? Lovely. The only other relevant mode, The Queen of Route 66, actually has you doing different tasks, which consist of boring collect-a-thons and dodging unpredictable hazards within brief time limits...

I can't believe I'm saying this, but you're better off playing 18 Wheeler.


pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (October 05, 2016)

Even after reviewing all these Double Dragon games, it's crazy to think there's still a ton of games left to review due to varying interpretations.


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