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Cartoon Network Racing (PlayStation 2) artwork

Cartoon Network Racing (PlayStation 2) review

"There are a few problems with Cartoon Network Racing, all somewhat typical of hastily-designed games within the genre. The first of these is a tendency to rely on items rather than good courses to provide the bulk of your experience. That translates to a lot of frantic rocket firing and oil slicks. At first, itís kind of fun. It quickly grows tiresome, however, when you spend half your time spinning cookies after rebounding from an attack you couldnít avoid."

A few years back, I had cable television. During that time, I grew to rather like the comic antics of characters like Johnny Bravo (who isnít half as brave as he thinks he is) and Dexter (who is blessed with a clumsy sister who ruins everything). The Cartoon Network has all sorts of heroes that remind me of the Looney Tunes, only updated for a modern audience. They hit each other, they befriend one other and in general, they have one heck of an animated time. Now, thanks to Cartoon Network Racing, they race each other on your PlayStation 2.

Kart racing games have a short but amusing legacy. Super Mario Kart opened the floodgates and now it seems that every mascot aimed at an audience under 12 has no choice but to take it to the race track and show once and for all who is the better racer. Maybe itís the fascination kids have with cars, or maybe itís the unspoken rule that says cartoon characters must smash one another with anvils and send each other sliding with banana peels while preparing rocket fire. Cartoon Network Racing is aware of that heritage and it embraces it to. . . decent effect.

The way the game works is pretty simple. There are six different cartoons reflected here: Courage the Cowardly Dog, Dexterís Laboratory, Powerpuff Girls, I Am Weasel, Cow & Chicken and Johnny Bravo. Each of the cartoons contributes three racing environments that are collected into circuits. Youíll also be able to choose characters from the shows and karts that reflect their distinct personality (though why Courage would drive a frightening Jack-O-Lantern shall remain an eternal mystery to me; Iíd sooner expect to see him steering a giant marshmallow).

When the game first begins, youíll have only one available circuit, with each new one unlocked as you finish the previous one in first place. Finish the first six circuits and you will have unlocked a clip to go with each of the represented shows. They are all present in their entirety, including opening and closing credits. They also happen to be quite hilarious and, if youíve not seen a given show before (as was the case for me with ďI Am WeaselĒ), will acquaint you with the personality of each series. Finishing all six tourneys also unlocks the ĎSuper Tournament,í which you can race through to reveal the latter half of a total of 12 cartoon clips.

As neat as that is, you might be asking yourself how the gameplay is. The answer can be summed up in one word: Ďtepid.í

There are a few problems with Cartoon Network Racing, all somewhat typical of hastily-designed games within the genre. The first of these is a tendency to rely on items rather than good courses to provide the bulk of your experience. That translates to a lot of frantic rocket firing and oil slick dropping. At first, itís kind of fun. It quickly grows tiresome, however, when you spend half your time spinning cookies after rebounding from an attack you couldnít avoid. There are times when youíll take two or three hits before you even regain control of your kart. Thereís a nice assortment of offensive and defensive weapons like artificial crates, oil slicks, rockets and boosts, but none of the available options have the simple charm of a red shell or a banana peel.

Perhaps because there are so many items scattered about (and opponents ready to use them), the game employs what some have aptly called rubber band AI. The minute you take the lead, you can be certain youíll maintain it for only a second or two. Then the red exclamation mark will appear to tell you that youíre about to be wiped out by an attack from behind, and then you are. Alternatively, you might build up a healthy lead, then round a corner and watch in surprise as an opponent glides right by you as if the move didnít take any effort at all.

Some might suppose that my complaint is the result of me taking a corner poorly. I assure you that it is not. Cornering is actually pretty decent once you get used to the loose controls and fully utilize your drift capabilities. Even the tightest of corners can be pulled through if you hit them at the right angle, then release the gas, drift off to the side and then accelerate out of the curve. Switchbacks are no match for a cow and a chicken with the passion to win!

Of course, there also are those corners you canít possibly take the way you might intend. Maybe youíre still spinning from one of the too-numerous weapon attacks, or perhaps a kart has bumped you from the side just when you were about to turn with a figure skaterís grace. Maybe you just werenít paying attention. Whatever the case, it seems like half the corners you must attempt arenít met under optimal circumstances. Then you hit a wall off to the side and try to correct yourself, only the kart spins wildly at all sorts of odd angles and everyone passes you.

Itís no matter; you can take all the time in the world on the normal tournament. Maybe youíll sit there and stare at the wall for a second, admiring the textures and collecting your thoughts. Then youíll race like crazy again, and in half a lap youíll be in the middle of true contention for first place all over again. That is the nature of the artificial intelligence on display here. You can love it or hate it, but make sure that you use it to your advantage when possible.

Once you figure out how to do so, it probably wonít take you long to unlock each of the six course sets. When I played through, I was half ready to start cussing any number of times, but I always managed to pull through in the lead. All six circuits fell to my superior racing skills on the first attempt, and then it was on to the Super Tournament. Only that isnít nearly as easy as the first one. There, the racers arenít gracious enough to wait for you and they arenít any nicer about pelting you with weapons. Veteran racers will find themselves plenty challenged, while kids would almost certainly just keep playing the early races if not for the desire to unlock additional cartoon episodes.

In any event, Cartoon Network Racing is a decent game that suffers from the same flaws youíll find in any of its contemporaries. Thatís perhaps not so much its fault as it is a fault of the genre. If youíre ready to put up with the AIís deficiencies and longer load times than normal, youíll probably find that the game is a perfectly acceptable way to pass a rainy afternoon.

honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (December 05, 2006)

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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