Conspiracy Entertainment's almost selfless devotion to localizing and releasing quality Japanese games has long been well established. The publisher's latest endeavor is called Gadget Racers, though it's known across the Pacific as the PS2 installment in Takara's perennial Choro Q series--Choro Q HG. Quite popular in Japan, the games revolve around life-sized penny cars and the races in which the cars engage. The series is known for its lighthearted design, deep level of customization, and unique set of physics. Gadget Racers manages to keep all of these elements intact and sports the added bonus of having been translated to English.
Gran Turismo's influence on the Choro Q series is very tangible in Gadget Racers. Heavy customization element aside, the game's structure, as well as its feature set, is nearly identical to that found in the classic racing line. The game's grand prix mode is essentially a facsimile of (or a tribute to) Gran Turismo's simulation mode--it boasts several sets of individual races that you can run for money, as well as several circuits and component-specific events. As you progress through the game, you'll gain access to both new opportunities to race and new shops full of wares that boost the power of your little racer.
The opportunities for customization run pretty deep. Though you can boost your specs in most of the traditional areas (top speed, acceleration rate, and such), much of the game's draw revolves around the less-orthodox components you can add to your car--things such as skis, wings, and propellers. You see, many of the game's tracks have built into them pools of water, jumpable cliffs, and the like, which you'll have to prepare for if you want to speed through them in the most optimal fashion. The game gives you many options when it comes to the makeup of your car, so you're likely to find a configuration that appeals to your inclinations. For instance, when it comes to water, you can opt to propel through it or float on its surface. If you equip your car with a high-powered rear prop, you'll cut through it with surprising ease, and if you attach floats to the car's sides, you'll be able to traverse the surface of a body of water as easily as you would a stretch of road. On top of the terrain-related components are a bunch of other enhancements you can attach to your car. Some of them are merely cosmetic, while others have mild performance-related effects (speed-providing spoilers, for instance). Others, still, such as the offensive and defensive bumpers, impart more tangible benefits--during the circuit races, the game takes on a markedly simlike bend, as the cars take damage to their chassis and put wear on the tires. When equipped with one of the aforementioned bumpers, though, you can actually skew things in your favor by ramming them to cause damage, which causes them to take pit stops.
Given the dwarfish nature of Gadget Racers' cars, it's natural that they'll behave a little differently from those in most arcade racers. These cars are very prone to spinouts because their bodies are so compact. Still, they're also pretty good when it comes to a series of twisty turns, as their tendency to overcompensate will require from you only slight input to get them to maneuver the right way. Another thing that will take some getting used to is the way that the cars react to collisions--if the object being collided with is short enough, you'll simply fly into the air and clear a good bit of ground. Takara has taken advantage of this, however, and built many such objects into the tracks, making ping-pong ball-like propulsions pretty commonplace. Once the game's physical quirkiness becomes second nature (and it quickly does), you'll likely find it quite endearing. It keeps things fast and flighty, which complements nicely the rest of the game's emphasis on fairly straightforward racing.
Gadget Racers is also an OK-looking game, despite its few graphical quirks. The frame rate is a smooth, constant 60fps, and it doesn't seem to have compromised much eye candy to achieve this. The game's tracks are quite busy, to be honest, and many of them are made pretty by various color light sources and animated elements, which will make you even more grateful for the game's generous sense of speed. The cars themselves are nicely modeled, though they're relatively plain.
There's a bit of graphical weirdness going on, though, which rears its head too often to warrant higher marks in this department. One example is the way that cars materialize behind you as they approach. At certain points behind the camera's view, you'll see the interiors of the models coming in, and they'll look like hollow textures when they do so. There is also a bit of clipping on some of the tracks, as well as some noticeable pop-up in many areas. While these problems are fairly minor, they're still very noticeable.
The game's audio is largely unspectacular; the music ranges from cartoon lounge to boss-battle melodramatic. The sound effects are decent enough, though the engine sounds--when they're running a full tilt--really grate on the ears.
Gadget Racers is a fun, engaging little game, and it will have you running quick cash laps for longer than you'd like to admit--for the purpose of netting the next neat little power-up. The gameplay complaints are minor--you can't switch to an alternate view (it's third-person all the way), and it's way too hard to go in reverse. These are minor gripes at best; the game is remarkably solid, though you'll probably have trouble taking it seriously at first. But if the idea of RC Pro Am meets Gran Turismo intrigues you at all, then you might want to check it out.