These days, youthfulness is no barrier to success in the world of traditionally ‘grown up’ motor sports.
A prime example is Lewis Hamilton, who at the tender age of 23 is poised to take out the coveted Formula 1 World Championship crown. They’re starting ‘em out even younger at Sony, with the latest Buzz! Junior title for wannabe racing drivers.
Okay, so maybe the wacky track layouts and vehicles in Buzz! Junior: Ace Racers aren’t quite up to F1 standard, but it is packed with fast and furious action guaranteed to put those buzzers through their paces. Sony and developer Cohort Studios have taken a refreshingly different direction with Buzz! Junior: Ace Racers; rather than the collection of mini-games we’ve come to expect from the franchise, the core game is a series of high octane races. Mini-games do put in an appearance but they take a back seat to the racing.
Controlling the racers is quite literally child’s play. The big red button is all that’s required; it's a simple matter of holding down the button to accelerate and letting go to ease off. The racers steer themselves, so all the player needs to concern themselves with is managing their vehicle’s velocity, and timing. Jumps require a ‘pedal to the metal’ technique, while tight corners and slippery terrain, such as ice, require a light handed approach to walk the fine line between stylish drifting and spinning wildly out of control.
The game’s hosts, Suzy Sprint and Max Torque offer advice and running commentary. The latter can become repetitive to the point of irritation, but kids who tried the game didn’t seem to mind. They were more concerned with the limited character selection (male or female – one for each colour). The funky, upbeat race music is a great choice for Buzz! Junior: Ace Racers, although at times it overpowered the hosts’ verbal direction. Graphics are par for the course for both the PS2 and the Buzz! franchise, and the different terrain types are well defined and markedly different from each other.
There is a decent selection of team and multiplayer options including sprints for the speed demons, and grand prix for those wanting a combo of multiple laps and mini-games. Vehicles are not restricted to four wheels; some of the circuits are water or air-based, with turbo charged jet boats or planes to match. Driving hazards include a jaywalking ogre, mine carts, a giant spinning cog and huge chunks of volcanic rock floating down a river of molten lava. There is plenty of flexibility when it comes to duration, creating a custom game and even adjustable AI for racers not under your control. The game can accommodate 1-4 players but as we’ve come to expect from Buzz! titles – both junior and senior – it’s another case of ‘the more, the merrier’.
The mini-games - or ‘bonus games’, as they are called, are largely racing themed and there are 10 of them to try out. They feature in the Grand Prix option, or you can give each one a go in practice mode to work on your technique or determine some favourites for the custom game.
Approximately half of them involve using the coloured buttons only, with the other half requiring buzzer only. One mini-game uses both, and this one proved the most difficult for our younger gamers. As with previous Buzz! Junior titles, many of them are variations on a theme, and while most are reasonably fun to play, one or two are total lemons.
Overall, Sony has pretty much nailed it as far as younger gamers are concerned. Its format, while familiar to anyone with a set of buzzers in their gaming kit, is refreshingly different to previous Buzz! Junior titles, and with the exception of a couple of tricky mini-games, is simple to operate. In all honesty, our adult testers quickly grew bored with its repetitive nature and perceived lack of challenge; however the kids were still having fun for over an hour… and they, after all, are the target demographic. Buzz! Junior: Ace Racers is a good candidate for the Christmas stocking.