Wacky, fun, and various other adjectives. - Review By Mad Carl
I have a sickness... I like pain. Seriously. The more painful the better. Oh, I don't mean that real stuff with needle pricks and cuts and blood and me simpering like a school girl. No, I'm talking about the bad movie kind of pain. The kind of nastiness that only Manos: The Hands of Fate and Starship Troopers can deliver. Bad TV will do the trick too. I was a huge fan of Team Knight Rider and the Telemundo Spanish language version of Charlie's Angels. My wife has to tolerate me watching some truly awful stuff, cackling away all the while, my gut wrenching in pain, my brain begging me to change the channel.
That brings us to Wacky Races. I hated Wacky Races as a kid, and I hate the show now, as an adult. There's nothing fun about that show. It's just plain bad... Bette Midler naked kind of bad. Indeed, even thirty-three years after its inception, the Wacky Races cartoon it is still one of the worst pieces of tripe to ever be foisted upon the children of the planet Earth. As one of my friends once said "it's the kind of cartoon that makes you understand why grown-ups don't watch cartoons." So why sign up to review a game based on a show I hated, especially when it's a well known fact that games based on licenses tend to suck? Well, it's like I said, I'm a glutton for punishment. I also figured that the game couldn't be worse than the cartoon upon which it was based.
I suppose what I was really after was to see if the underdog could make it. I wanted to see if a team of people (in this case, Infogrames Sheffield House) could stand up against the juggernaut of the natural order of the universe and create something that was not just another well-packaged coaster for my ever-growing collection. This way, I figured, I would be satisfied in either direction. If it was bad, I would have that gut wrenching pain that only an abortive attempt at creativity can bring. If it was good, I would have proven that not all licensed games suck.
Let me start with the same thing you will the very first time you see Wacky Races for yourself: it is the single coolest looking game I've seen on my TV screen since Aladdin hit the Genesis many moons ago. A fine mixture of cel-animation style shading and brightly textured polygons gives you a world unlike any other seen in this day and age of video gaming. Wacky Races does the very thing a cartoon licensed game should be required to do: it looks like a freakin' cartoon! Adding to the effect is some very fluid animation. Cars bounce and wobble and look to rattle at the seams. If Hanna-Barbera animation had ever looked this good, it might have been tolerable to watch. When the race ends, you have the choice to watch a replay. To all students of video game animation, I highly recommend that you do watch and manipulate the camera so you can see the cars head on. Each driver and his teammates are performing more animations in every collision than most games even try. While the game does suffer from some noticable frame dropping, the rest of the art is so well done that I'm willing to let it pass.
That's not a building -- it's one of the cars! The nice panorama situated in front of it is the game's central hub, where you choose your course.
Now, for the meat of the game: the kart game mechanics themselves. What initially appears to be another in a long line of Mario Kart clones actually turns out to be something much cooler. Yes, you're still driving around a track shooting off power ups at other cars and trying to win the race, but here there are "wacky tokens" added to the mix. The tokens work to power up your special attacks (each car has three, with the ability to unlock others). When a power-up is fired off, the tokens are jettisoned out onto the track for others to collect. This creates a constant churning in the pack since those drivers in the lead must hand their power over to those in the back every time they use an attack. With these tokens, drivers at the back of the pack are able to work their way to the front -- and bide their time while the former leaders work their way back up the ladder.
The race courses are all uniquely themed, always making it easy to not only remember which course you are on, but to learn the layout and find the myriad of shortcuts. The best part is, the shortcuts are incredibly organic. Too often in this style of game, the shortcuts feel tacked on and artificial. Here it really feels as if you've found a loophole in the track design, allowing you to get from Point A to Point B that much quicker.
The characters look just like cartoons, or at least as close as can be done with current technology.
And getting from A to B wouldn't be much fun if it were hard to do. This is where I once again applaud Infogrames. They have proven that the Dreamcast controller is good for something other than a focal point for unbridled hatred. The analog stick works as well with this game as the N64 and PlayStation analog sticks do with any of their games. You'll need that control to stay ahead of the race. Unlike other kart games, nobody ever seems to trail behind, or rocket too far ahead. Within this tight pack you will have to do your best to properly time your attacks on other drivers. Because, just like the AI, you will never be allowed to simply rocket ahead of the race and relax. This gets even more interesting when you realize that each course in the game requires its own skill set. While some courses accent sharp turns and a mastery of cornering, others require you to learn the proper use of turbo and flight power-ups. All of this combined makes for a sweaty controller at the end of a race.
As the game progress, you will unlock more and more features of game play. I've been at Wacky Races for days and still haven't scratched the surface. New drivers, new courses, new power-ups, and even new modes of play are unlocked after every few races. The level of replayability this creates is tremendous. A lot of games can be put down when bedtime arrives. With Wacky Races, however, I was left trying to unlock the next course, or trying to figure out the secret of unlocking Dick Dastardly & Muttley.
Next: More Good, The Bad, and The Final Word