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Speed Racer: The Videogame (DS) artwork

Speed Racer: The Videogame (DS) review

"You wonít have much time to pay attention to your surroundings, however; in the vein of such series as Wipeout and F-Zero, Speed Racer: The Videogame is set in a futuristic society where races move fast! At the beginning of the race, you can expect to accelerate from zero to 300 miles/h within seconds; at top speed, your vehicle will approach Mach 1. Nevertheless, the experience isnít completely about speed; itís also about style..."

Brothers Andy and Larry Wachowski grew up in big-city USA. As kids, they were heavily influenced by comic books, cartoons, and Japanese anime Ė all staples of geekhood. While in high school, the two developed a love for directing and eventually turned that into the breakout 1999 theatrical release, ďThe Matrix.Ē When ďThe Matrix: RevolutionsĒ damaged their career in 2003, however, critics stopped paying attention to the Wachowskis...until now. One of the Wachowski siblings thought a horrible thought, and many would pay for it: "Hey, why donít we create a live-action version of the original Speed Racer movie?"

Thankfully, thousands of childhood memories will not be ruined by the movie tie-in video game for the Nintendo DS, aptly named Speed Racer: The Videogame. While developer Virtuos obviously shot for a more realistic look - ignoring the option of paying homage to the original ďSpeed RacerĒ cartoon - the sheer lack of graphical horsepower with which the DS is imbued means by necessity the game has a bright color tint to it that gives it the cartoon feel.

The resulting look is quite pretty. Verdure treetops anchored by great mahogany trunks litter the side of multiple racetracks. Raging rivers and dazzling seas are plentiful, represented by gorgeous hues of blue and green. The stylish vehicles themselves are all well-designed, too. Even better, there's no slowdown throughout the race events, despite strain being placed on the system by the bevy of realistic sound effects, animation and graphical highlights such as overhead clouds and falling waterfalls (all of which effectively dazzle the senses). Furthermore, Virtuos has properly integrated anti-aliasing, meaning that there are no pixelly environments.

You wonít have much time to pay attention to your surroundings, however; in the vein of such series as Wipeout and F-Zero, Speed Racer: The Videogame is set in a futuristic society where races move fast! At the beginning of the race, you can expect to accelerate from zero to 300 miles/h within seconds; at top speed, your vehicle will approach Mach 1. Nevertheless, the experience isnít completely about speed; itís also about style. By utilising a system called ďCar FuĒ, you can obtain new fans; with new devotees, you can unlock new drivers, new car skins (some of which are downright sexy) and even new game modes.

Fortunately, the genius who came up with the name 'Car Fu' wasnít responsible for its development. 'Car Fu' is in essence a stunts system. The most basic of these include your propelling your vehicle into the air and performing a front/back/sideflip or rotation, or launching over a gap in the road while pulling off flips and spins. The audience loves audacious stunts; pulling a wheelie may attract a few watchers, but pulling off an 1800 degree spin combined with a 540 degree sideflip will recruit many more.

Ramps also line every track. You can drive your car over them to engineer leaps similar to those a skateboarder might make on a board course. Using more advanced techniques, you can do cool stuff like spinning your car to knock an opponent off the track. The ultimate technique, the 'Car Fu leap,' allows you to press 'B' to leap onto a rival's car when within range. This produces a bar with a dot in the middle. Pressing either 'X' or 'Y' as a moving line nears the center will determine which of the affected vehicles wins the battle. Victory allows you to move ahead on the race track. It's always fun to overtake an opponent, jump at him from behind and then send him sprawling.

An additional use for Car Fu is it fills a 'Boost' bar. You can use this energy to temporarily accelerate to an even higher speed, using that to plough through any opponents that cross your path (which provides a satisfying animation). Filling your bar before activating it adds an addition effect called the 'Zone,' which not only boosts your car's speed but also steers it automatically along the perfect path through the course. It proved especially useful for me as I would abuse it to correct my path when I came close to crashing into a curve.

The racetracks themselves also provide a fun racing environment, with different locations available by both daylight and nightfall ensuring a sense of variety. Each level is intricately designed: jumps, ramps, curves and seven other racers all wait to trip up the unwary player at thousand-kilometer-per-hour speeds while accompanying techno tracks ranging from sombre to harmonious occupy the background.

While I took a liking to the general gameplay, though, there were a few things I didn't quite care for. First and foremost is the game length. Each cup contains three races, with each race requiring you to complete three tracks. However, the shortest laps usually last about a minute and a half, with some reaching asinine extremes of 3:30 (which requires a time investment of ten minutes for one race and half an hour for a cup. The kicker? No saving in between). Not only can this be inconvenient for a portable system such as the Nintendo DS, but it's also ergonomically uncomfortable. Holding the 'A' button (which accelerates) through such lengthy marathons often resulted in a sore thumb or circulation loss.

A more irksome point came in the form of the various curves on each track. Supposedly, each racer has a different driving classification, whether it be All-Around, Fast, Control, or Popular. However, the Fast and the Control-style drivers dominate simply because curves are a mere nuisance thanks to their increased maneuverability. Those same bends present a major obstacle to other classes. This can especially be upsetting for anybody who may prefer to play as the titular Speed Racer, who is an All-Around. Along similar lines, the A.I. is only built to drive: each Car-Fu car jump you attemptóeven in 'Hard' modeóis easily won because opposing drivers rarely if ever get their line close to the dot, and they rarely pull off stunts such as spinning into your own racer.

Itís a glitch which upsets me most, however. Although it is not game-breaking, it is still frustrating; as mentioned before, each race track includes sections where you jump across gaps over ravines and valleys. Sometimes a car will fall down one of these gaps because another car struck it while in mid-leap or another inexplicable reason. When this occurs, the fallen car is instantly transported to the front of the pack, ahead of the opponent formerly in first place. Often, a large cushion then separates them from the other racers. I often lost multiple Ďsafeí first-place spots because of this glitch. Thankfully, it only rarely occurs because racers donít fall down the gaps very often.

While it is disappointing that Speed Racer: The Videogame did not use the trademark cartoon style of the original anime, it is still no reason to not play it if you are a fan: much is offered in the way of unlockable content and there are multiple modes such as Arcade, Story, and Wireless Play. Aside from one infrequent glitch and a few design flaws, the technical system is well done. Even though it falls short of the benchmark set by games such as F-Zero GX, the game still provides action-packed adrenaline-pumping moments aplenty. With futuristic racers, sometimes that's all that matters.

yamishuryou's avatar
Freelance review by (June 13, 2008)

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