Review: Speed Racer (Wii)
Posted 21 May 2008 at 18:13 by Mark Lee
|"On the harder difficulty levels the AI is pretty intense too as rubber banding steps outside of the mushroom kingdom with venom. "
It's a rare sight in the videogame industry to see a title based around a movie offering a solid, entertaining ride. But let me cut to the point: Speed Racer is, surprisingly an exception. Developers Sidhe interactive took a different approach from the typical movie adaptation template and (shock!) set Speed Racer: The Videogame one year after the film's events. This affects the title in many ways. Not only does this mean that the title can go in it's own direction but it also means it isn't weighed down by countless cutscenes and shoe-horned gameplay mechanics. For those who which to recreate the movie on their Wii it may be a sticking point, but for all the lack of movie atmosphere, having gone in it's own direction, Speed Racer fares far better as a videogame.
Starting off with possibly the longest intro ever it certainly captures the look of the movie. (Think Lazytown gone bad.) Unfortunately the introduction segment is horrendously compressed and offers no indication of what races look like. The initial menu loading times are also a bit on the long side which is frustrating as they only sport comic book stills of characters, looping audio and few options.
Yes, you will loose your dinner on those loops!Those few options may have been the staple diet of 1990's racing, but these days the title holds limited gameplay modes with only grand prix, tutorials, time trials and multiplayer modes being offered. Coupled with a lack of menu diversity, it comes off feeling like a barebones package. This impression is further enhanced when you find that the multiplayer mode only seats two and no online options are present.
Having almost sighed into submission of another terrible movie tie in, I was unexpectedly caught off guard when the racing actually started. Jumping into the tutorial section was a slightly laborious affair due to the loading times but it wasn't long before the surreal visual and audio combination started to take a strange grasp over me. The audio involves a somewhat imperial theme with violins, stamps and claps thunderously bombarding your senses and coupled with the neon backgrounds this certainly leaves an atmospheric impression. The officially voiced actors also augmented proceedings and when races kick off, the package starts to feel like a decent futuristic racer with style – ala F-Zero.
Just like that influential racer, there are deeper mechanics resting under the hood. Each car has it's own strengths and weaknesses and battling other racers is the staple diet of the title. Fused with good driving, Car-Fu (smirk) is what will get you through. Car-Fu works in a similar vein to F-Zero's move set with spins, jumps and shunts being your primary means of attack and defence. Battling other cars (and not hitting the sides) earns you boost and as every race fan knows - boost wins races! Furthermore, carrying four boosts will grant you an entrance into 'The Zone' which is the fastest route to good finishing positions.When in 'The Zone' you hit super-sonic speeds and are propelled through a warp-like tunnel. But get shunted around and rather than using 'B' to boost, you'll have to use your hard earned to heal yourself with the press of 'A'.
With all of these mechanics involved Sidhe could have lost everyone yet racing and shunting other racers with the Wii remote is enjoyable and easy. Pushing others means the Wii Remote must be shunted in the required direction. Jumping involves a flick upwards and all other moves are handled with these same motions and a combination of d-pad presses. Surprisingly it works far better than imagined and when racing it offers some hair-raising moments. The decision to take a corner tightly or get alongside another racer and shunt them is just as exciting a decision as it was in F-Zero. Coupled with the fact that when you shunt your not tilting the Wii remote to steer, and you're looking at a finely tuned mechanic of risk and reward. It's really well done and feels intuitive and perhaps more importantly - the motions always work.
Speed Racer offers three tracks from the movie and these are perhaps where the developers took their inspiration from as all other tracks seem to echo them. Even though the backgrounds differ, it's hard to shake the idea that each track is just a remake of the previous one. For all of their mid-air loop-to-loop designs, it is also impossible to physically drive off the side of the tracks (unless shunted off) so there are no Rainbow Road moments here. The opportunity to make alliances before races is an important facet of the AI as allies won't attack you. It's not really developed as it could have been but it is still a nice option when you're gunning for one racer in particular.
On the harder difficulty levels the AI is pretty intense too as rubber banding steps outside of the mushroom kingdom with venom. Boost numerous times to escape the pack and you'll still be battling everyone five minutes later. It's a cheap mechanic and with no ability to look behind you you're only left with a countdown clock on each racer to see where they are in relation to your racer.
The computer controlled AI is horrendously cheap yet the competition this affords means the title will see more play time than most movie tie ins. It's just a shame that there were no more modes outside of the split-screen two player. With titles such as Mario Kart sitting on store shelves at the same price, with a wheel and with online, Speed Racer had it's work cut out from the start. A shame really as it has plenty to like.
Note: N-europe tested Speed Racer with the Wii Wheel and Component cables.
N-Europe Final Verdict
A solid yet unremarkable experience, but with a great sense of speed.
Decent, if unremarkable movie tiein
Fabulous sensation of speed with no framerate issues
Solid motion controls
AI can be cruel on higher difficulty levels (Damn rubber banding!)
Some tracks are too samey
A basic package with few modes
Only seats 2 players in multiplayer