Smashing Drive (GameCube) review
"The minute you have control of your cab, things start happening. Cars are speeding toward you, jets are landing and taking off, ferries are moving across the water, a giant gorilla is scaling a skyscraper, and so forth. The environments always sport a good level of activity."
Because Namco is a big name in the industry, one frequently associated with quality, and because developer Gaelco is the one responsible for Surf Planet, an interesting Atari-published skiing game that sucks numerous quarters at the theatre where I work, I was extremely interested when I heard about Smashing Drive coming to the Nintendo GameCube. It was Namco's first offering for the system and it had all the markings of one of the most stellar racers ever made.
The markings lied.
Perhaps the biggest problem is that this is an arcade game. Now, I have nothing against a good arcade game. I liked Marvel vs. Capcom in the arcades, for example, and I liked it at home. And even Namco themselves did a good job of bringing Soul Calibur home to consoles. They added lots of special features and made it feel like a game with some true depth. If only they had done the same for Smashing Drive.
Right from the opening screen, it's apparent that this was an arcade game. The graphics just feel like something from an arcade. There's none of the FMV. Instead, things happen in realtime. And they don't look half bad. You see a monstrous cab swerving about through the streets of New York. It's all very nice, and when I first saw it I was pumped to play. From there, you'll see a menu where you can select from options, arcade, head to head and survival modes. The options mode is about as scarce as can be, the simulation mode is a cheap attempt to lengthen gameplay, head to head is nice, and the arcade mode is really the thing you'll be worried about. After all, it's the true meat of the game.
And just what is arcade mode? That is, what does it mean in terms of gameplay? Not much. You are a cabbie. You have a passenger and you are trying to race the rival cab driver to the goal. Along the way, you'll take shortcuts and grab special items, all in an attempt to gain more points. Do it successfully and you'll be on to the next level. Complete three consecutive stages and you'll have a new set of three stages available. Complete the first three sets of three stages and you can challenge the bonus stage, a special race.
What's wrong with that, then? Nothing. It's great, as far as it goes. And it's fairly fun, once you get used to what you're doing.
Graphics aren't so excellent, I wouldn't say, but they get the job done. Sure, they pale in comparison to most other GameCube software. However, they're competent. There are very few instances where you pass through apparently solid objects, and slowdown just doesn't occur. The result is that things feel extremely smooth, precisely as they should. You may not rub your eyes in disbelief, but there are some moments where the graphics are nice, like when you're racing under a jet at the airport, or when you're following King Kong up the side of a New York building.
Sound is, well...sound sucks. Not the sound effects so much as the music. When I first began playing, the music started and I thought it was okay. But it lasted about one minute in that first stage, if that, before it began repeating itself. After hearing it twice through--and that was just enough to complete the first stage--I decided I didn't want to hear it again. Unfortunately, the second stage (and the third) sported the same tune. It turns out there are about four or five tunes in the whole game. The first one is the worst, but they don't get much better from there. So while the sound effects aren't bad (they're not great, either, but not bad), the music is so annoying you'll just probably end up turning the volume down to nothing. The sound effects and music are linked, so it's all or nothing.
But like I said above, it's still fun while it lasts. The developers chose to simplify things for a reason: they wanted to provide a rush. And this game is nothing if not a rush. The minute you have control of your cab, things start happening. Cars are speeding toward you, jets are landing and taking off, ferries are moving across the water, a giant gorilla is scaling a skyscraper, and so forth. The environments always sport a good level of activity. So you go speeding through the streets, weaving between lanes of traffic, flying over ramps and collecting powerups as you search for the next shortcut that will rocket you past your opponent.
Powerups and shortcuts turn out being what the game is all about. Like Hydro Thunder before it, Smashing Drive forces you to memorize shortcuts and item locations if you wish to succeed. This might sound like an annoying task--and to a certain extent it is--but in no time you'll have most of the important information memorized. You'll know when to duck into the other lane to hit that ramp, what angle you need to take in order to reach the second story alley and slide through the hotel lobby. Shortcuts in this game are probably more fun than they've ever been in a racer before.
And items are fun, too. At first, I wasn't so sure what each did. Basically, though, they power up your car in a minor fashion that lasts for several seconds. My personal favorite is the horn, which blows up cars all around you and makes it easy to negotiate the tight corners. There are other good tools, too. The 4x4 powerup turns you into Bigfoot for a time, and there's the usual turbo move. Also, you can buzzsaw through tankers and there's a battering ram you can attach to the front of your vehicle.
So what's wrong with all that? Well, it doesn't last long enough. Like I said above, it's easy to memorize all the shortcut and item locations in every stage in the game. In fact, three or four hours of playing and you'll have done everything you really can in this game. Then what reason is there to play? Well, you can challenge a friend. And you can go through survival mode. And you can try for more points, more perfect trips through your favorite area, or whatever. It's just that a game shouldn't force you to that extreme once you've played it only a few hours, not when it took you ten hours of work just to pay for the thing.
In short, this game is too short. It's Smashing Drive's only true flaw, but it's a big enough one that you really should rent this before you buy it. Some of you might even decide you like it enough to own it. The majority, though, will put this one on their list of games to pass. As young as the GameCube is, there are plenty of other games more worthy of the $50.
Staff review by Jason Venter (Date unavailable)
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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