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Speed Racer

For: DS   Also on: Mobile, N-Gage

Everybody was Car-Fu fighting

Product: Speed Racer | Publisher: Glu Mobile | Format: DS | Genre: Film/ TV tie- in, Racing | Players: 1-6 | Version: US
Speed Racer DS, thumbnail 1
In the eyes of young boys there's only one thing cooler than a sports car, and that's a sports car with hidden gadgets. It's this undeniable truth that's responsible for the enduring success of Mach GoGoGo, a rather goofy 1960s Japanese cartoon that is better known to western audiences as Speed Racer, and has recently been granted the dubious pleasure of receiving a big-screen Hollywood make-over courtesy of those widely admired chaps that brought us The Matrix trilogy.

Naturally this cinematic event is accompanied by various video game tie-ins and given the nature of the target audience it should come as no surprise whatsoever that Nintendo's kiddie-friendly DS is playing host to one of these digital adaptations.

It might prove to be equally unsurprising to discover that Speed Racer plants itself firmly in the racing genre, although it would be a gross disservice to brand it as just another racer, because developer Virtuos has worked hard to transfer much of what makes the vacuous-but-visually-stunning popcorn flick so appealing: namely, the extravagant displays of vehicular martial arts, rather ridiculously referred to as 'Car-Fu'.

You see, in the world of Speed Racer your car is so much more than just a mode of blisteringly fast transport – it's a weapon that must be put to good use if you're to have any chance of passing the finish line in first place. During each race you can perform a host of death-defying manoeuvres such as spins, barrel rolls and smashes, all of which have the express aim of putting your opponents out of action, as well as keeping the watching fans enthralled.

For example, by pressing Y you can place your car into a spin, which is handy for both attacking rivals and recovering your composure after a failed jump or stunt. Holding the L trigger, meanwhile, results in a powerslide, which can be used to slam rivals into walls and is also predictably handy when attempting to take some of the sharper corners in the game.

However, by far the most interesting aspect of the control method is the aforementioned 'Car-Fu' mode, which takes place when you press B in close proximity to another car. The screen quickly switches to a one-on-one viewpoint and by pressing the correct button at the right time you can slam your rival off the track in a spectacular (and wholly inconceivable) display of brute force and driving skill.

All of this racing tomfoolery is underpinned by a boost meter, which is topped up as you perform stunts, drifts and attacks. Ah yes, stunts. Many of the circuits feature jumps and ramps, both of which permit you to indulge in some particularly impressive high-speed vehicle acrobatics. It's even possible to drive sideways or backwards without any serious drop of pace, which is certainly something you don't see in your average Formula One event.

The ultimate aim of the game, however, is to drive to success in each of the three racing classes, which spread themselves over nearly 20 different racing arenas. These locations are both colourful and fantastical in their design, with gravity-defying loops and turns pushing your sense of disbelief to the limit.

Successful performance of 'Car-Fu' and general stunt-work earns you the adoration of the watching fans, which in turn helps to unlock additional drivers to use, new cars and other bonus material. Naturally the more extravagant your driving, the more followers you're likely to win over, so it's vital that you keep a steady stream of elaborate stunts going.

Add to this an enjoyable six-player local multiplayer mode and some eye-wateringly fast graphics, and on paper things look as though you've got one of the finest racers available on Nintendo's portable. Sadly though, there are some aspects of Speed Racer that serve to erode the good work done elsewhere.

Although the racing leagues become progressively trickier, your opponents never tend to fight back, even on the harder levels. Although the ultimate aim is obviously to finish first, the combat portion of the game is what helps to set it apart from similar titles and it's a shame that you seem to be the only participant who is interested in trading paint on the track.

That's not to say the game isn't challenging in its own way, but rather than incorporate intelligent rival AI, the developer has instead opted for a cheap 'rubber band' difficulty setting where it's impossible to really put much distance between you and the second place car because they appear to get an unfair speed boost when lagging behind. This method of sustaining challenge has been witnessed in countless other games (including Nintendo's legendary Mario Kart series) but it doesn't make it any less annoying.

It's a shame that these niggles are present because Speed Racer is otherwise an excellent game. The action is fast and varied, the stunt work genuinely adds an extra dimension to the game dynamic and the graphics are detailed and move at an astonishingly smooth and brisk pace. Ultimately the issues mentioned curtail the long-term appeal of the game, but if you're after a worthy alternative to Mario Kart DS and crave high-speed racing antics, this is probably the closest thing you'll get until Nintendo indulges our wish of a DS update of F-Zero.
Speed Racer
Reviewer photo
Damien McFerran | 2 June 2008
A genuine surprise. The intoxicating mixture of exhilarating stunt work and impressive pace help to make this a top-notch racing title, albeit one with a few disappointing issues
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