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.

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