MySims Racing was born in response to marketing polls. Shortly after the release of MySims, EA asked users what other titles they would like to see in the universe and the most commonly seen responses were party and racing games. The publisher did not hesitate. MySims Party debuted in March to a 6.0 rating from IGN.com
, and MySims Racing -- well, that's out now. It's certainly not the first or last time that a major company's marketing department influenced the creation of a game, but MySims Racing is somewhat unique because the end product does not feel like a complete cash-in. Despite EA's claims to the contrary, the racer is every bit the Mario Kart clone, from controls to power-ups and wacky track designs. However, while the project may not possess an original bone, it does at least present an enjoyable racing experience made possible thanks to a certain polish seldom seen in third-party Wii releases. That noted, if you already own another MySims game and are looking forward to any sort of cross-title integration, prepare yourself for disappointment because Racing is a self-contained endeavor.
Some might say that MySims is a watered-down take on The Sims, losing what has always been a central component to EA's PC-popular franchise, the advanced artificial intelligence and customizations its characters live and die by, for a cuddlier, simpler presentation made more accessible. Call it a spin-off: certain liberties are expected if not demanded, and I get that. The MySims games have at least always maintained some recognizable attributes of their grown up predecessors -- enough, anyway, to hang onto the Sims moniker. But with MySims Party and now Racing, EA's really stretching it because there's obviously no evidence of AI-controlled characters (unless you count those on the race track) remaining and the only customizations you'll be making relate to vehicular enhancements. Indeed, in the case of Racing, the MySims label seems stamped on the box as a reminder that the colorful, kid-friendly style of the series is back -- just not much else. In fact, the game is completely incompatible with previous MySims titles. You cannot even copy your created Sims over from another game, which is unfortunate.
In MySims Racing, you begin by creating your character and customizing his car. The editor is as simple as ever, enabling you to point at certain character or automotive features and cycle between different geometry and texture sets. You can edit everything from the hair, eyes, mouth, and shirt of your driver to his car's make-up, tires grills and bumpers, engine, frame and so on. One of my favorite inclusions in MySims Racing is that specific upgrades to your cars actually do have profound influences on the way they speed and handle. For instance, if you use the essences you've earned in races to build and install new engines, your autos will drive noticeably faster and if you similarly upgrade the steering system, the controls will improve. As you advance through the game and expand into new territories, earning more parts, you will continually return to your garage to make improvements to your vehicles, which is a fun mechanic -- literally.
The storyline is fluffy and practically pointless. In a nutshell, you're new to the town (which you name) and have already made an impression on the various Sims who live there, including the mayor, who wants to build the metropolis outward into a thriving racing community and also the evil nemesis, who wants to thwart your every move. EA has included a variety of recognizable Sims from previous games, which is sure to please some fans. As someone who has played through and reviewed most of the MySims titles for IGN.com, though, I'll be the first to admit that these characters have never really held my attention or respect in the same way that the much more likable icons from the Mushroom Kingdom have. Maybe that's a failing of the MySims universe, but since Racing is bound to be compared to Mario Kart Wii, and rightfully so, it's worth mentioning that skidding around corners as WaLuigi is simply more colorful and exciting than it is as my generic, spiky-haired Sim.
MySims Racing takes you through an overworld map that inevitably branches out into different territories. The initial stages unfold in the dry desert, continue into the forest and eventually move onward into the snowy mountains before climaxing in futuristic, over-the-top racetracks. The designs are extremely stylized, fit well within the MySims universe and are ultimately very pleasing to take in, not to mention fun to race. However, levels repeat way too often for my liking. The overworld map allows you to progress in a semi-non-linear fashion, but you will still have to complete a certain amount of objectives before you will open up gain access to the mayor's championship racing finale and, afterward, the unveiling of the next region. The map system is well made and the freedom to navigate around to different challenges of my choosing is a welcomed freedom. You will encounter all sorts of Sims with various competitions and objectives, but the variety is a fake out because all things said and done, you either race against other characters, against a countdown timer, or try to collect a pre-determined number of items before said timer runs to zero. You will spot the repetition early on and it continues throughout the experience, despite EA's attempts to mask it.
Where gameplay is concerned, MySims Racing is Mario Kart Wii with cute Sims. There's no better way to describe it. So if you already own Nintendo's racer or share my opinion that Mario and friends are simply more intriguing than super-deformed Sims, well, you can stop reading this review now because there's no point in continuing. If you're a kart racing fiend who feeds on the arcade action like some kind of twisted addict, MySims Racing will probably satisfy that addiction until the next big thing comes along. Like Kart, you can play with a variety of control schemes, including Wii remote with twisting motions, remote and nunchuk, classic controller or even GameCube controller. And like Kart, you're best off playing with anything but motion controls for a tighter, more responsive racing experience. Sorry, but it happens to be true. Tilting the Wii remote sideways and twisting feels sluggish compared to an analog stick. I'm not suggesting that's always the case. I reviewed Excitebots, too, and adored the control scheme in place for that racer -- it just doesn't respond as fluidly in this game.
Racing feels good and the overall sense of speed is adequate. You can boost, drift, jump, and use power-ups as you speed along twisting, curvy tracks filled with jumps and complemented by a handful of shortcuts. Power-ups include everything from slippery pumpkins (bananas) to F-Energy Zaps (lighting bolts) to force fields (stars) and to Bunny Luvs (squids). Uh-huh. They've all got different names, but they essentially do the same things as the power-ups in Mario Kart, with a few exceptions. The Tornado Inverter is one of my favorites because it literally flips the screen upside-down and inverts the controls for about 10 seconds, and all the while you're forced to continue driving without crashing into walls or veering off course. It's definitely an enjoyable modifier. I wish EA had featured more like it instead of the same old variations on Kart.
MySims Racing features a four-player split-screen mode, but no online component whatsoever, which is extremely unfortunate. First, because Mario Kart Wii does -- and it's a good one -- which makes it all the harder to recommend this racer of Nintendo's. And second, even the DS version of MySims Racing includes a Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection four-player option. That EA couldn't get the same thing working for the Wii build is patently disappointing. Although the framerate takes a hit, the four-player split-screen mode stays replay value, particularly for gamers who unconcerned with the limited screen real-estate the somewhat archaic multiplayer offering affords them.
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