Damn the success of Super Mario Kart.
Ever since that game hit the Super NES, we've had character kart racing featuring anyone from Bomberman to Crash Bandicoot to Spongebob. It's the "default" genre: when in doubt, throw eight characters in a racing game. Boom. New franchise. The latest culprit is Bandai, sending it Digimon characters to the pavement in a Mario Kart
-style competition. Of the literally half dozen kart racers already available on the Game Boy Advance, Digimon Racing
isn't all that bad. But apart from being the first racing game to offer Wireless Adapter support (the one that's packed-in with Pokemon FireRed/LeafGreen
, the game doesn't offer much in the way of unique kart mechanics, and technical issues prevent it from being a truly great racer.
- 15 tracks
- 11 Digimon racers, 3 hidden
- Play modes including Cup Race, Time Trial, and multiplayer
- Link cable support for four players
- Wireless Adapter support for four players
Ever since Bandai called it quits with its WonderSwan system in Japan, the company has given its strong Digimon property a home on the Game Boy Advance. Digimon Racing
marks the third GBA game using the license, but because Digimon: Battle Spirits
and Battle Spirits 2
were basic ports of WonderSwan games, Digimon Racing
is technically the first original Digimon product on the handheld. It's also the first Western-developed GBA Digimon
game, produced by Griptonite who's already known in the GBA circles for games such as James Bond: Everything or Nothing
, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
, and The Sims: Bustin' Out.
As with the other umpteen Kart-racing clones out there, Digimon Racing uses the same Mode 7-style presentation as Super Mario Kart The design itself is a six Digimon racing challenge, with points awarded depending on the position crossing the finish line in each track. Players use their chosen Digimon's racing abilities (each has different attributes in speed, handling, and acceleration) as well as special powers to do what they can to stay ahead of the pack. Of course, players can pick up items along the way that'll help them or hurt others (or both), like an energy bolt that'll send the targeted opponent spinning if it connects.
Though much of the game seems very formulaic, it's not entirely unoriginal. The unique design element of Digimon Racing is its "digivolving" mechanic. Anyone familiar with the series knows that each Digimon has different creature forms, one more powerful than the other. It's the same in this game, and when players "digivolve," they rise up to the next tier of that character's abilities. To "digivolve" is a simple matter of riding over hotspots of energy, similar to how players receive energy in F-Zero; the longer players spend on an energy spot, the higher their energy meter goes, and the more powerful the Digimon creature becomes. At the highest point of the energy bar players will receive that Digimon's special attack that can be used to hurt one or all of the opponents on the track...depending on the Digimon, of course.
Digimon Racing also puts a lot of emphasis on kart hopping in its track designs, and it's this that makes the game a lot more action-oriented and challenging: players will have to do a lot of bouncing over holes and wrecked pavement to keep their speed up. The kart "hop" can also be used as an offensive attack: players can leap into the air and headstomp anyone that gets in the way, slowing those opponents down in the process. It's something that really hasn't been done in racing before, and though it's a mechanic that happens somewhat rarely, it's fun as hell when you actually pull it off.
There are also a handful of Digimon boss battles after each of the main racing circuits, challenging players to take out a somewhat stationary evil Digimon using power-ups scattered in the area. These challenges certainly to offer a bit of variety between races, but they're not all that challenging once you figure out the simple pattern to take them out. Even more puzzling and disappointing: the designers didn't build off of these boss battles to provide multiplayer battle modes using the link cable or wireless link.
At the very least, Digimon Racing's control and gameplay is finely tuned; driving around the tracks is extremely tight and responsive, and there's a good amount of challenge if you bother to bump up the difficulty. The game also has a lot of replayability; the single player Cup challenges aren't that difficult to complete, but it's the time trials that are a real struggle to win. Little tip for next time, guys: put a "restart race" menu option in. It's a little bit of a drag to have to quit the entire game just to reset a time trial challenge. And a menu showing the best lap times and other data is almost a requirement in racing games nowadays...it's nowhere to be found in Digimon Racing.
Unfortunately, as balanced as the racing is, a lot of the weapons in the game -- especially the character's special attacks -- have almost no defense against them. Many times during the race you'll simply be "zapped" into a spin-out with no advanced warning...as cool as it is to have this ability, it's frustrating as hell when it actually happens to you. It's hard to ignore the technical problems that hinder the action; just like Crash Nitro Kart released late last year, Digimon Racing's Mode 7 engine tends to get choppy and slow the more that's displayed on-screen. And when you've got level designs that have lots of objects zipping past, there are plenty of times when the action noticeably bogs down during particularly hectic points in the race.
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