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Wacky Races (NES) artwork

Wacky Races (NES) review


"Each of the 10 levels looks different and is divided into multiple parts. Muttley's opposition varies from level to level, as well, which at least gives the illusion you're doing something different in each stage. Sure, for the most part, you're running and jumping from left to right on the screen while avoiding or disposing of foes, but when the monsters and locales are constantly changing, it at least tricks me into not realizing that most of the game's "variety" is superficial."



One of the greatest cartoons of all time was Hanna-Barbara's Wacky Races. The show centered on the attempts of Dirk Dastardly (in the 00 car) to cheat his way to victory in a number of auto races with the help of his snickering canine sidekick Mutttley. Unfortunately, Dastardly was a protagonist in the vein of Wile E. Coyote, so all of his efforts wound up being in vain, causing his car to wind up in last place and his "faithful" companion to mock his failures.

Making a video game based on this show seemed to be a great idea, as the concept of having a racing game where winning and losing was determined more by your skills at setting or avoiding traps as opposed to actual behind-the-wheel ability was a pretty novel idea in the days of old. So, with this concept firmly in their minds, the folks at Atlus...created a Mario-esque platformer. The only real references to the cartoon's racing theme are a handful of brief vignettes serving as bookends to the game's three worlds and the fact each of the game's 10 bosses were Dastardly's Wacky Races opponents.

A bizarre decision? Sure thing. More than a bit disappointing to me? Yep. A complete failure? Not even close. While Wacky Races did strike me as a short and easy platformer, it was well-designed and capable of providing a decent bit of entertainment. Nothing I'd go out of my way to experience, but I can't complain about the afternoon I had playing it.

Each of the three worlds is set up by Dastardly commanding Muttley to complete some random task. You then control the pooch through a handful of stages -- each containing multiple zones and a boss. Collect 100 gems (which are scattered all over the place) and earn an extra life. Muttley also can pick up bones and use them to gain various power-ups, such as the ability to toss bombs as foes (far more effective than his basic short-range bite attack) or fully restore his life.

What makes this game work is its simple charm. Each of the 10 levels looks different and is divided into multiple parts. Muttley's opposition varies from level to level, as well, which at least gives the illusion you're doing something different in each stage. Sure, for the most part, you're running and jumping from left to right on the screen while avoiding or disposing of foes, but when the monsters and locales are constantly changing, it at least tricks me into not realizing that most of the game's "variety" is superficial.

And to be honest, the only levels that I didn't enjoy were the ones most different from the rest. One stage had Muttley spending some time underwater, where he swam instead of walked. I found it to be as dull and easy as any underwater level I'd experienced in a platformer. And another level's two sections showed that Atlus wasn't shy about giving players two annoying gimmicks back-to-back. Part of the place is on an icy surface, so you slip and slide constantly. The rest...on trampoline-like clouds, so you're in constant motion hopping into the air, ensuring you'll take cheap hits due to uncontrollably bouncing into foes and projectiles.

It also would have been a good idea for there to have been a bit more variety in boss fights. In each one, Muttley goes up against an opposing driver in their car, which will follow a programmed path around the screen while occasionally firing projectiles. Hit it enough times and it will vanish, only to reappear for you to fight it again as it follows a new pattern. Most of these confrontations blended together in my mind, with the only one that stood out doing so solely because of how frustrating the fight was. Not because of the enemy, itself, but due to the quicksand terrain of the battlefield. I had to constantly tap the jump button to keep Muttley from being sucked underground to his death, but in order to avoid damage, I found it useful for him to be completely submerged for a good portion of the fight. Of course, you can't see the damn dog when he's under the quicksand, so you have no way to know if you're one button tap away from popping above ground...or just a hair away from descending too far and losing a life. A very annoying confrontation.

Fortunately, those frustrating bits were in the minority. Much of this game allowed me to relive those olden days of Mario and his brethren, so I can't complain too much. While it's a bit bizarre to create a game based on a racing cartoon that has nothing to do with racing, Atlus did a pretty good job at creating a fun diversion. While Wacky Races isn't a memorable or iconic eight-bit platformer, it's put together well enough to provide a decent amount of entertainment.

Rating: 7/10

overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (January 13, 2010)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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