IGN Review of Speed Racer: The Videogame
I like developer Sidhe Interactive. I like it a lot. The tragically overlooked Gripshift brilliantly mixed stunt runs with racing, and the result was something that was entirely unique when it hit the PSP (and still is now that it's gone to the PSN and XBLA). Some of my fellow co-workers may not feel as strongly about the games, but I really do feel like they pushed into new ground with its mix of different vehicular-based bits o' gameplay.
Speed Racer, to an extent, repeats this ideal, though not quite to the same extent nor with the same kind of depth to it. Blending plenty of speed with car combat, two things that ordinarily don't really go together (most, if not all games that normally fall under the "car combat" genre tend to be slower, more arena-based affairs, or focus on using weapons) actually results in a rather compelling -- if short-lived -- kind of racer.
If you haven't seen the movie, then you missed out on one of the cooler little bits of design: all of the T180 cars in the game (and, by extension, the big-screen flick) have four-wheel independent steering, which opens up plenty of acrobatic moves Sidhe has dubbed "Car-Fu." Using the right analog stick to flip, roll and spin to attack other racers (for instance, you can get up directly behind someone and back flip, using your front bumper to send them skyward), and X, Square and Circle buttons to spin (or do a full 360 if held) and shunt players left/right, respectively all let you attack the other cars while maintaining control. Using boost while performing some of these moves can turn them into more powerful attacks.
Boost, which functions as something of a special moves currency, is earned simply by simply staying off the sides of the track. Of course, performing Car-Fu moves adds a little too, and if you do get forced to the side, you can grind the rail, and even turn it into an attack by clicking R3 to jump and land on another car.
You're also allowed a bit of freedom in how you use stocked boost. You can trade it for health, or save it and just slipstream for speed. Boosts can also be chained and with each new boost, more and more of the trackside elements drop out, the colors become even more saturated and dream-like until eventually you slip into "The Zooooooooooone" (okay, they don't refer to it as such, but there's really no other way to say it). It looks great and can actually be the key to overcoming the game's ridiculous rubber-banding -- but only if you use it at the last second, because they will catch up eventually.
Championship Mode is the meat of Speed Racer's experience, though it's more than just winning races. By performing Car-Fu moves and notching the fastest lap, it's possible to earn more points than just the standings. The result, then, becomes a rather interesting mix of combat and racing -- but it really is unlike what nearly any other car combat game offers.
Unfortunately, it's almost entirely all Speed Racer: The Videogame offers. There are Time Trial and Single Race modes, but they use the same environments as the Championships, of which there are only three speed classes and within them three actual championships. This leads to more than a little recycling of tracks, and since those tracks are littered with alternate routes or shortcuts, you'll start to get a little burned out fairly early on, which is a shame since the game really is a blast to play.
It's also downright gorgeous at times. Sidhe took its experience with Gripshift's undulating, corkscrewing and looping track designs and smoothed them out a little, opening things up for plenty of speed. It also sports some of the most cohesive and interesting visual designs I've ever seen in a racer. Far-off views of the tracks in replays show just how ridiculously roller coaster-like they are, and the overabundance of neon and pastel glows layered on top of buildings actually serves to make the tracks more visually appealing -- especially when kicking on the boost and things get even more surreal. The actual texture detail for the sideline tracks isn't stunning, though you'll rarely get a chance to check it out in anything but the replay modes.
The audio isn't quite as strong, but that's only because it's limited to some basic sound effects, quips from the game's 25 different riders (21 of which have to be unlocked in Championship Mode, as do their cars, and all have mildly different handling, speed, toughness and acceleration stats). The music in the game happily bounces back and forth from vaguely tribal, ambient tracks to more driving, aggressive sounding electronica loops.
It's actually some rather nice stuff, though I definitely found myself leaning more toward the softer stuff -- particularly the muffled, muted synth notes and 4/4 beat found on the game's main menu, but most of the audio was, if nothing else, certainly competent. I just wish, like the rest of the game, there was a bit more of it.
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