"The game depends too much on those gag items for its own good. There are moments where things get downright frantic and every racer seems to be throwing down anvils and storm clouds like theyíre going out of style. Racing jets are piling up everywhere and flying off the edge, and really itís either a total blast (because youíre surviving) or itís frustrating (because youíre not). It seems there are no in-betweens."
Bugs Bunny flew by me in a blur as his vehicle belched flame. I smiled quickly and pressed the ĎAí button. Not much later, on a crazy corner with no railing, I flew past the unfortunate rabbit. He was pinned beneath an anvil. It felt good, real good. The unfortunate thing about Looney Tunes Space Race, the Infogrames-developed racer for the Dreamcast, is that such highs are almost always ruined by painful retribution.
The idea behind the game is simple: you are one of eight cartoon mascots (two of which you must unlock by playing through the whole game) determined to make it past the checkered flag in first place and in one piece. It doesnít matter if you almost come in second, even if thereís the tiniest fraction of a second holding you from victory. Thereís the first place finisher, and then there are the losers who donít count.
To avoid being that loser, you must master the fine art of dropping elephants, pianos and other weights on your opponents, pummeling them with a boxing glove, zapping them with electricity, dropping them down holes and so forth. At first, this is quite exciting. The animation is good and itís fun to hear your racerís exultant shouts as he zips past his grumbling victims. Plus, thereís something about the sight of a falling piano thatís just plain funny. The problems only start when you get sick of such gags, which you will find happens rather early in the proceedings.
Then you suddenly realize that no amount of racing skill will save you if you arenít ready to rely on those pesky gags. Race like a champion and youíll still finish short of the gold just because everyone else is relying on cheap tricks. Suppose, for example, that you take the lead. Letís even say your driving skills are such that youíve almost lapped one of your opponents. Guess what? It doesnít matter! Out of nowhere, you hear a sound like a falling jet plane and in an instant, youíre squashed under a pink elephant. Within seconds, that enormous lead you had trickles away. If somehow it doesnít, odds are youíll be seeing another colossal mammal in the very near future.
Now, there are ways to avoid such setbacks, but they are plagued with new problems of their own. Upon hearing the bombing jet, you might choose to use a speed booster. Congratulations, youíve avoided that hazard. But what about the corner youíre suddenly headed toward at breakneck speed? Enjoy your fall and watch the seconds tick by. Instead of the speed booster (which isnít even available until youíve grabbed five oil cans from the track), itís better to use the lucky clover. The problem is, you only get these once in a blue moon. More frequently, you get bombs or boxing gloves or something similarly lackluster. Even if you get the clover early on, do you hold onto it for a moment of need and watch everyone pass by you with gags of their own, or do you quickly use it and hope you grab another from the next set of item boxes?
Some would call this strategy, but it really isnít. The game depends too much on those gag items for its own good. There are moments where things get downright frantic and every racer seems to be throwing down anvils and storm clouds like theyíre going out of style. Racing jets are piling up everywhere and flying off the edge, and really itís either a total blast (because youíre surviving) or itís frustrating (because youíre not). It seems there are no in-betweens.
Fortunately, or perhaps not, thereís not a lot of length to the game. There are a total of twelve tracks. These are divided by theme, and the number of honestly unique racing venues is closer to around six. Because the developers knew that no one in his right mind would care to race through such a small number of locales, they divided things up and then set up the game so that to see everything, youíll have to play through the same environments again, and againÖ and again.
Besides the default racing mode, which just lets you run through the twelve tracks until youíve placed first on each of them, there are the occasional challenges that pop up. These may place small variations on things, or perhaps they wonít. One example is a stage where you must survive as an endless stream of anvils rains from the sky. And if you survive that, thereís the occasional piano (which you canít avoid). Does that sound like youíre idea of fun? Thereís also the time trial mode, where you race without the distraction of opponents or gags, just hoping you can beat the lap record. This is actually a nice change of pace if youíre sick of all the portable holes and rocket blasts. Itís nice to do that for a break from the tedium.
So if the game can be so tedious, why even play it? Well, itís like I said. There are those moments where you can genuinely enjoy yourself as you create chaos and squeak over the finish line ahead of your opponents. Even better, you can play the game with a friend or three in split-screen mode. If you thought things were frantic alone, try it with another human sitting on the couch beside you. Though you can unlock every character, track and bit of gallery artwork inside of six hours in the single-player mode, playing with a friend extends the discís time spinning in your Dreamcast. In the end, thatís enough to recommend the game to anyone who wants a slightly different experience for Segaís ill-fated system. Donít go in expecting Mario Kart and youíll like it just fine.
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Staff review by Jason Venter (April 30, 2005)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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