Moero!! Downhill Night (PC) review
"Here you're not racing against testosterone-fueled gearheads; you're going against girls whose only thrill in life is speed. There's just one catch. You don't get to drive."
Moero!! Downhill Night touts itself as a softcore hentai parallel to Initial D, Shuuichi Shigeno's glimpse into Japan's popular world of illegal street racing. In fact, the box brags that its CG cutscenes, where cars fly down narrow mountain roads, were rendered by the same team that handled the Initial D anime. However, here you're not racing against testosterone-fueled gearheads; you're going against girls whose only thrill in life is speed. There's just one catch. You don't get to drive.
Instead, Daichi Shou is a navigator, not that he knows it. He busts his hump delivering noodles all day on his moped; he doesn't even have a license to drive a car. But his boring life comes to a screeching halt when taxi driver/secret racer Michi runs him over. Convinced Daichi is a legendary talent, she insists that he impart all his knowledge to her and refuses to race without him in the passenger seat. And he's a natural. Daichi passes out whenever Michi hits the gas, but an unknown persona takes over who knows exactly how to race.
Essentially, you're that alter ego, stealing his most exciting experiences: high-speed battles and higher-speed women. This first task is navigating the races; each of the five opening chapters contains one. At certain points on the course, you'll have a limited amount of time to pick the best action from a list of multiple-choice options. Choose too many wrong answers and it's game over. At first, it seems strictly like a guessing game, but most all of the battles take place on the same curvy stretch of pavement. As you advance, you'll learn when to shift gears, change lanes, and step on the gas. Now, Downhill Night still does a nice job of keeping you on alert. The questions won't always deal with the same situations in a rote order, and the choices become longer and the phrasing more nuanced. It strikes a balance between preserving the excitement of the unknown and calling upon your previous experience.
That tension isn't generated by the second task: wooing the ladies. Michi and Daichi's opponents are an eclectic bunch of girls. There's Maria, an unorthodox nun who can't resist the temptation to race. Kyouka is brash and rebellious; she wants to do anything besides taking over her parents kimono shop. Yuuna is the resident lolicon; she's a spoiled heiress who barks out orders to her beaten-down older brother. The problem is that these girls never develop any personality beyond their typecast. Besting them in a race is the only prerequisite to love, if even that. It reaches ridiculous levels when the mysterious foreigner Lily shows up at Daichi's door for a rendezvous, and the pair haven't even engaged in a real conversation. There really aren't any decisions or backstory involved; your only straightforward choice is whether to claim the spoils of victory and sleep with Michi's vanquished rivals.
A large part of this condition is that you can only race with one girl in the driver's seat. The game teases you with other possibilities; you can swing by the convent or kimono shop to catch a ride to a big event, but Michi is always waiting at the starting line to take over. Since each chapter can only roll out in one way, it's a real chore to have to replay a section. Most of all, it's a missed opportunity to establish a bond with any girl you happen to like best.
Even if you don't care about characterization, the game's linear nature translates into a paucity of sex scenes. In the few hours that Downhill Night lasts, there's a chance for two encounters with each girl. That's one when you defeat her and one if you choose her in the end. (With the exception of Michi, who has two separate endings.) The raciest scene is the first you can unlock, where Maria will expose her lacy underthings in an empty church pew. What follows are ordinary setups, in the bedroom or in the bath, like the game is just going through the motions.
The same criticism can be leveled at the 3D CG of the races themselves, especially because of their highly touted pedigree. These were a chance to blow your doors off, but they fall short in a few areas. First, most clips are only one or two seconds long, meant to illustrate the effects of your choices, which doesn't allow any time to see the cars in detail. Since the illegal racing takes place at night, the lighting is also really dark; your eyes are drawn to the headlights above anything else. And it certainly doesn't impress when, during the climax of the final race, both vehicles clip off the road and through the mountainside. Still, these scenes do greatly add to the experience. The final stretch to the finish line is usually exciting, as the cars spin out with a cacophony of screeching tires and clouds of burning rubber. It would just be totally lame to read about the flow of the race rather than seeing it.
So just be glad you get to see the action at all. Having full control over the car certainly would've made this a unique offering amongst H-games released in the West. In fact, its far off successor, Moero!! Downhill Night Blaze, promises to have just that. In the meantime, this initial installment at least provides a mechanic that applies more pressure to its races that a typical decision-based system. However, it can't outrun the fact that the rest of the game is shallow and lacking in replay value. For those reasons, Moero!! Downhill Night finishes in the middle of the pack.
Staff review by Benjamin Woodhouse (February 07, 2010)
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