Speed Racer in the Challenge of Racer X – Review

Pops, mentor of the Go team, dedicated his life to perfecting the ultimate race car—the powerful Mach 5. Now it’s Speed Racer’s turn to show the world what the car is capable of, leaping over opponents, mowing over trees with whirling saw blades, kicking in afterburner jets for speed, and somersaulting end-over-end through tough traffic.

If only Pops knew how Speed really drives—with the wild and reckless abandon of a teenager with hormones in overdrive, giving little thought to the hours of swear and toil I’ops has sunk into the Mach S. But Speed puts his foot to the floor every race, his little brother Spridle and monkey Chim-Chim stowed away in the trunk, as he does everything in his power to cream the robotic Melange team, trying to beat his long-time rival Xoonier Slick as well as his estranged brother, the infamous Racer X. With his girlfriend Trixie following his race in a helicopter, ready to swoop down at the first sign ol trouble, Speed, in his calfskin gloves and blue polyester shirt and ascot, races with immortality that only a gifted teenager in a quartcr-million-dollar race car can. After all, he has to prove to the world that he’s the best driver ever, and that Pops, who has labored long in anonymity, builds the best race cars the world has ever seen.

Accolade’s latest licensed venture, Speed Racer in the Challenge of Racer X, brings the world of this japanimaiion cartoon to lile in a driving simulator that models the outrageous courses and demonically inspired driving that made Speed Racer a cult cartoon hit. Speed Racer takes place over six episodes, each with different tracks and races, and multiple levels of difficulty. Speed can race against the villains alone, or in two player mode over a split screen, either on the same computer or over a modem or null-modem connection. Since the quest to complete the racing circuit will take more than one sitting, the games arc saved via passwords. Thankfully, Speed Racer saves the last used password as a matter ol course, so most of the time you will not have to type ii in, bin you will have to jot clown passwords il you ever want to go back and tiy a previous level.

The look and the feel of the Mach 5 is admirably done, from the seven-button steering hub that controls the multitude of options Speed has at his disposal, to rhe familiar “whoosh-whoosh” of the spring-loaded auto-jacks. The game is controlled by keyboard, mouse, or joystick, with the keyboard controlling the “optional equipment” that you’ll never find listed in a blue book.

In addition to driving the fabled, fin-back Mach 5, you can also drive Racer X’s Shooting Star, the low slung yellow speedster that looks like the LeMans cars of the 1960s. Each car has a different arsenal ol goodies—the front mounted chopper blades ol the Mach 5 and the side mounted hydraulic rams on the Shooting star—and each car can be outfitted with ranged weapons such as rockets or cannons.

The Strategic element of the game is very simplistic: amass the points awarded for a good race to buy more and better gizmos lor the Mach 5. Each race is set in an episodic context, and learning about the opposition and what dirty tricks they have in mind will give you clues as how to best outfit the car.

The game also features Pops’ test track where you can hone driving skills against the opposition without fear oi losing any ground in the race to complete all of the game’s episodes. Placing well on Pops’ track will earn you sufficient points to begin to build up the Mach 5’s arsenal.

Pot Holes

While the overall depth and range of options do a decent job of capturing Speed’s cartoon racing adventures, the game comes up far short of thrilling in its gameplay and execution.

First off, any computer game enthusiast will laugh at the graphics. While the colors are rich and the backgrounds beautifully rendered, the cars themselves arc a joke. Instead of driving, the opposition’s poorly-scaled cars seem to float aimlessly over the track, moving in a jerky pantomime of driving that recalls some of the old Colecovision driving games. Although the background is adequately rendered, the sides ol the track, with gorges, canyons, and sharp drop-oils, are simple fields of mottled colors, looking like they were added as an afterthought.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect ol this game is the actual driving experience. The game plays more like a coin-op “swerve and dodge” game than any semblance of a driving simulator—even a comical, cartoon-ish one. The now outdated coin-op Outrun and original Pole Position would lap Speed Racer in a test of “driveability.”

When driving the Mach 5, you can see an abbreviated dashboard running along the bottom ol the screen and a rear view of the Mach 5 (as in thecoin-ops mentioned above). The dashboard is virtually useless, except as a best-guess meter to see if you’ve got a shot at finishing in one ol the top three places in the race (the only positions that are recorded, and it is necessary to place in the top three to move on to the next level of difficulty). Driving consists mostly of frantic swerving and jumping as ridiculous cars hop and bob all over the track. Swerving off the track will only slow Speed down (though if the Mach 5 takes sufficient damage, it will go up in flames and Trixie will have to deliver a fresh one via helicopter). While all of the neat-o extras that the Mach 5 or Shooting Star can be equipped with are nice in theory, the haphazard, epileptic style needed to drive the courses makes it difficult to use and enjoy these options.

Playing the game is much more an exercise in frantic hand-eye coordination with no real need for strategic acumen. The oppositions’ cars are too random and too numerous to even allow any real buildup of adrenaline as in the frantic Outrun drives. Providing lor fewer, more realistic opponents would have put some spark in the game’s payability plugs.

The game really shows its weaknesses when Speed drives oil the road and over a sloping mountain side. 1 lis car just seems to float there, losing speed until he gets it back on track. When the road narrows to a two-lane stretch ol twisting highway and the path just ahead is packed with eight or nine jittering cars, all credence is tossed out the window, even lor the most forgiving of players. Another feature ol the game, which is an attempt to make it more challenging, is that the roadways arc littered with countless (and pointless) obstacles including rocks, oil drums, barricades, and other less obvious hazards (such as odd colored sticks). There seems to be no rhyme or reason for the obstacles, some of which cause the Mach 5 to swerve or crash, while others seem to have no effect whatsoever.

Playing the game in two-player mode adds up to more fun, especially when playing on a single computer (the experience is not really worth the phone charges of modem play), since the two player banter adds ro the ridiculous excitement ol the game.

In addition to questionable gamcplay, the game has several serious bugs, often locking up when an episode is loaded (though, thankfully, it still retains the password). Other times, I was sure I finished in the top three, received the congratulations from girlfriend Trixie and a new cache of points, only ro find out that I was nowhere near the winner’s circle and had to run the episode again.

I’m not really sure what age-level this game is aimed towards. It will be the 20- and 30-somcthings who will remember Speed Pacer (though the newer generation can get their fill of it on late night MTV), yet the game plays at a level which isn’t nearly as sophisticated as some ol the Genesis and Super Nintendo carts that teens and preteens play. The price tag and hardware requirements seem to indicate that this game is to be taken as an “adult level” game, which, if that is the case, makes the game even more of an embarrassment for Accolade.

Speed Racer is a game built on a solid idea, and I believe that the producers truly wanted this one to work, to bring the pounding, horn-backed music and racing of the animated series to life on the computer. I think they made the right choice in focusing entirely on racing rather than adding any real role-playing elements, and there were times when I was playing (when the track was clear ol annoying floating cars) that 1 could catapult the Mach 5 over a train intersection as the train hurdled by below, and I truly enjoyed myself and could glimpse what the game might have been. Sadly, though, these were fleeting moments set in a sea ol awkward graphics and gamcplay, and it was very easy to park this game in the lot of disappointments.

Screen Antics: Johnny Castaway Review

Billed as the world’s first story-telling screen-saver cartoon, Johnny Castaway is a great launch (and subsequent shipwreck) for Dyiiamix’ Screen Antics series. We weren’t sure what Jeff Tunnel I intended when he formed a smaller creative group under the aegis of Dynamix, but the first few products we’ve seen from Jeff Tunnell Productions look very different from the award-winning designer’s other works.

Gamers who enjoy the Johnny Hart style art and humor of the B.C. comic strip should enjoy this randomized film clip of tried-and-true sight gags in a fresh new environment. The artists obviously emulated the Hart style, as the background is minimalist (the tiniest imaginable desert island, decorated by a single coconut tree). The design team also must have been inspired by Gilligan’s Island re-runs in that the title character, a marooned seafarer who regularly misses opportunities to be rescued, has an unending supply of accoutrements with which to make his island more “civilized.” He fishes, goes diving, builds sand castles, goes jogging (in his “three hour tour” style jogging suit) and even entertains a lovely mermaid for dinner (in his clairvoyantly packed tuxedo).

The concept behind this style of screen saver is, of course, that the computer user is often surprised by the animation that appears on the screen. As the user talks on the phone or works off-line for a while, there are supposed to be enough animated sequences that the antics will be entertaining for months. Johnny will always be looking in the wrong direction or doing the wrong thing whenever potential rescuers (whether yachtsmen, aviators, ghost ships or whatever) pass by. Whether all of this actually works as a screen saver or not is debatable. Only a portion of the screen is used for the animated sequences and much of the background is static. Of course, the same might be said about the entire category of screen savers, whether fireworks or aquariums.

Gamers who want to boot the screen saver and simply view a few hours of gags may find themselves disappointed. Johnny usually ends up pausing after each sequence and, if the gamer doesn’t touch a key, will read the disk and start another round of animated slapstick. This staggered pacing shouldn’t bother the casual viewer who occasionally glimpses a sequence or two while performing other tasks, but it could be distracting to someone merely wanting to view the computerized cartoons.

Also, computer users who use Photo Styler, or any other program that requires the computer to work for long periods without keyboard input, should avoid installing Johnny Castaway. Those cute animated sequences can certainly play havoc with a .TIF file conversion. (Wonder how we know that?)

All in all, Johnny Castaway is proof positive that Jeff Tunnell is thinking outside established lines. A screen saver that tells a story, no matter how disjointed or random, is a fascinating concept and Jeff Tunnell Productions has brought it to the computer in an artistic fashion. Fans of Johnny Mart-style comics and sight gag lovers everywhere should love it.

King’s Quest VI: Heir Today. Gone Tomorrow Review

Following a very successful series of installments, the latest chapter in one of adventure dom’s most popular game series is ready to unfold. Sierra’s King’s Quest VI: Heir Today. Gone Tomorrow looks to outdo all previous installments in quality of story line, graphics and audio, sheer number of puzzles, player amenities and overall gameplay.

An Heir Raising Experience

As the story unfolds, Prince Alexander, heir to the throne of Daventry, finds himself shipwrecked and washed ashore on The Isle of the Crown, one of several mysterious islands which provide the backdrop for this quest. It seems that young Alexander was on his way to visit Cassima, Princess of the Green Isles, when his ship went down, (it was when King Graham rescued her from the evil wizard, Mordack, that Alexander and Cassima first met, apparently, with more than a passing interest in each other.)

However, upon his arrival at the Royal Palace, Alexander finds events have taken a turn for the worse. While Cassima was away, her parents became ill and died. Now, he finds her sequestered in mourning, taking no visitors. At least, that is the sequence of events according to Vizier Alhazred, the man in charge and Cassima’s recent intended. His inhospitable stance toward Alexander and refusal to allow him to even see Cassima, seems more than a little strange. Determined to see the Princess, Alexandersets out to discover the true nature of the events that have transpired. Thus, the stage is set for yet another King’s Quest or, in this case, that of a prince.

Get That Heir Out of Your (Intcr)Face

One of the most difficult acclimations 1 have ever undergone is the transition from Sierra’s old text parser to their new icon-driven one. This is not, of course, because it is more complex, but because of the loss ofsome of the conversational interaction and depth of personality (if only perceived as such) found in the characters resident in the game world. It seems that the move from a textual to a graphical parser has forever changed the nature of the puzzles and interactions of the past. Yet, with its demise, the textual parser has taken with it the last vestiges of the multifaeeted difficulties and cumbersome nature associated with pre-graphic adventures, and replaced it with a more intuitive, user-friendly window to game interaction.

It has taken some lime on the part ofseasoned adventurers (those who cut their teeth on text parsers) to become acclimated to the new interlace, and for Sierra to begin to really exploit its possibilities. However, the new parser seems to have finally come into its own with King’s Quest VI in a way beyond that of any previous offering. This is a result, in part, to the increased overall scope of the adventure and the many optional puzzles included. Such additions serve to provide a more expansive, and consequently more enjoyable, playing environment (it is nearly twice the size of King’s Quest V, weighing in at 18MB). Indeed, this is the first of Sierra’s newer adventures where I actually did not miss the character interaction of old.

An Heir of Distinction

It seems almost redundant to speak of good graphics in a Sierra game. The graphics are up to Sierra’s usual high standard ofquality, beautifully rendered in 256-color VGA and featuring some intriguing and picturesque locales to visit. Background music is also very good, providing a rich, atmospheric environment in which to explore this new world. However, I’m most impressed with the advancements exhibited in the animation department. Character movement is improved over previous efforts, offering a more lifelike appearance. Especially effective, though, is the spot animation provided
throughout this newest King’s Quest. Leaves on trees and ferns move realistically, indicative of a “digital breeze,” and water appears to lap against the shore. These little touches all help bring the game world to life.

Only Her Heir Dresser Knows

Many stylistic additions accent King’s Quest VI. A unique introduction created by Stanley Liu of Kronos (best known for his work in Batman Returns and Lawn-mower Man) features realistic 3-D perspective animation and incorporates powerful “camera angles” to provide dramatic effect. This six megabyte animation (based on an original design that used 1.2 GR of hard drive space) does a more than ample job of setting the background for the story that is about to envelope the player. Art and animations employed in inset boxes have also received significant attention.

Other new and notable additions include a built-in help facility for the novice gamer, a brief history of past King’s Quest games, playing hints for King’s Quest IV and a beginner’s walkthrough for the first few puzzles — all available on-line from within the game. The help feature, in actuality, is an animated tutorial that walks the player through the use of the game interface and the exploration of the opening game screen. Use of icons, insets and object manipulation are fully explained, as are the mechanics of the graphic interface.

Information is also provided about the song Girl in the Tower, a love ballad from King’s Quest VI that will be one ofthe first computer game songs to be played on the radio (DEVO’s “Some Things Never Change” was digitized for Neuromancer prior to its being released on the Total DEVO album). As part of a special marketing effort, 1000 radio stations have been provided with a copy ofthe ballad to play by request. A listing of these stations with their request line numbers is included in the game box. All the player need do to hear the full rendition ofthe song is call a local station and request it.

Heir Apparent

As mentioned previously. King’s Quest VI benefits significantly from a larger game world, featuring more puzzles and sub-plots than actually need to be completed in order to finish the quest. Nearly 50 percent of the total puzzles in this adventure are optional, with many having multiple solutions.

Due to an open-ended game world, no fixed order is imposed on most puzzles encountered. The player is free to move on to solve other conundrums when faced with an overly perplexing puzzle, and then return to solve it at a later time. Up until the end of the game, the player is relatively free to travel between the four islands making up The Land of the Green Isles. There are even two possible ways into the Royal Palace at the game’s conclusion — an easy and a more difficult route. The choice made determines the parts of the palace seen by the player.

Neither Here Nor (T)Heir

Since I had played beta versions of the game prior to playing the finished release, I ran across a particular bug early on which necessitated running the game without sound and music to keep a certain action from locking up the computer (it, of course, has been corrected). This left only the IBM speaker available for sound for sound. Gag! Ptooie! Yuck! It has been so long since 1 played an adventure without a quality sound card, I had forgotten how bad the emanations from a IBM speaker sounded. I could not believe what I heard, or rather, did NOT hear. Players still without a sound card should install one before playing King’s Quest VI. It will be money well spent, and will greatly enhance the playing experience.

The only area where Sierra adventures still lack polish and professionalism is that of digitized speech. Though there is little speech encountered in King’s Quest VI, what speech there is suffers from the contrived and corny sounding voices exhibited in the CD-ROM version of King’s Quest V. Professional voice actors arc desperately needed. Hopefully, Sierra will make use of trained professionals, rather than their staff personnel, in the CD-ROM version of King’s Quest VI that is scheduled for an early 1993 release.

Though King’s Quest VI supports both 256-color VGA and 16-color EGA on the same set of disks, there is no contest between the two versions. All serious gamers should have a VGA card installed by this point in time, as well as a quality sound card. It is the only way to get the greatest enjoyment from the playing experience.

To Heir an Opinion

It is evident that a great deal of time and talent was invested in this animated adventure, which is. in my humble opinion, the best ofthe King’s Quest games to come out of Daventry, and Sierra’s

finest adventure to date. The game world is intriguing and entertaining, and the puzzles are varied in difficulty and style, providing a rich and enjoyable playing experience for gamers of all skill levels. King’s Quest VI: Heir Today. Gone Tomorrow has all the signs of becoming a classic. I guess it would be fair to say that King’s Quest VI has a certain heir about it.