Ah anime. What can’t we adapt and pillage from your tentacle-guarded shores?
Western media has fully embraced the Japanese phenomenon in the last decade, eking inspiration from the East with great aplomb. Some products of this cross-cultural renaissance have proven to be vibrant and worthwhile endeavours, see Samurai Jack et al. Others have proven to be nothing more than slightly off-kilter rehashes lacking in depth, relevance, humour… And a point.
Enter Speed Racer, the cherished 1960s anime favourite, fast cars, crazy tracks, good guys versus bad guys. Perfect fodder for kids of all ages, rich in one-liners and bizarre plots to keep you laughing and coming back for more.
Sadly, the same can’t be said for the 2008 Watchowski Brothers cinematic remake. Sure, while it looks eye-meltingly amazing on the big screen, there’s not much to it. Water the movie down a little and you have a nice looking video game for 4th generation consoles. Mix that with talcum powder and make some utilitarian changes to the graphics engine and you have the game I am here to review.
I would like to praise this game for it’s ability to do the basics well. Because, let’s face it, it’s 2008. At the core, racing games need to consist of tracks to race on, opponents to race against and a championship mode to keep you busy. Sadly, I can’t give any such praise. While the menus are very effectively produced (Sidhe always develop a great UI), what lays beneath them borders on the definition of lacklustre.
The AI in this game is shocking. For a game based on a franchise with supposedly witty and argumentative characters, it seems a little off to have the same hackneyed phrase spouted at you every time you pass someone. The grunts and squeals fired off in Mario Kart have more emotion. Opponents follow a standard racing line around the track unless directly disturbed by the player, making for some annoying repetition. Speed Racer features an alliance editor, allowing you to pick and choose your buddies and enemies. This is a feature the game could do without. Why would you bother outlining enemies (especially with computerised opponents)? Making friends is worse, as allies often get in your way and you are penalised for crashing into them.
Okay, so the AI in a racing game is less than desirable. Call the papers. That’s nothing new - the racing is what matters. The feel of speed and the control afforded to the player - that’s what really counts.
Well, Speed Racer gets the first part right. The game feels fast. Faster than Wipeout, faster than Gran Turisimo 4. Sidelines blur as your car hits speed boost after speed boost and nitros fire out your tailpipes. For the brief period you manage to sustain it, Speed Racer makes you grip your DualShock tight and lean into the curves.
Unfortunately the fun is short lived. By the time you get past the first championship, the speed and aggression of your opponents requires some hair-pulling tenacity to overcome. Any time you hit the side of the track your car slows to a crawl, leaving you open to attacks. The acceleration of your vehicle is comparable to molasses dribbling down an igloo roof. Combine these two factors and you quickly discover a vein in your forehead you didn’t know existed.
As I mentioned earlier, you hit the sides fairly frequently. This is due to most of the cars available handling like bars of soap. Although cars hurtling wildly around bends doing 360 degree spins and flips makes for an exciting film, controlling the chaos in the game leaves you wondering why a more elegant (or at least more responsive) system wasn’t implemented. The flawed controls coupled with aggressive opponents, penalties and gummy acceleration all lead to one conclusion: a distinct lack of fun.
Many of you will remember playing racing games like Gran Turisimo, coming back time and time again to gain increasingly difficult licences. Speed Racer had potential to be a thrilling racing title but shoots itself in the foot with sloppy design and a cringe inducing game engine. The dated multiplayer options do little to rectify the situation, leaving this title gathering dust on my shelf.
Unless you’re a massive Speed Racer fan, avoid.