Pros: Interesting method to earn attacks, generally competent.
Cons: Too difficult, overly generic, no online component.
Some video games are great, some are awful, but the Ben 10 games, based on the children’s cartoon series, always manage to studiously avoid either extreme. The name “Ben 10” on a video game is basically a guarantee of mediocrity; something playable that always feels like it ought to be better than it is.
The latest example, Ben 10 Galactic Racing, is a competent but uninspired kart racing game.
The Basics: Cartoon-Themed Kart Racing
Ben 10 is a cartoon series about a boy with a device that allows him to transform into various aliens. In Galactic Racing, you can choose one of these aliens as your avatar.
The game is typical of kart racers. You race around an eccentrically designed track against a variety of cartoon opponents. You steer by holding the Wii remote like a steering wheel (you also have the option of using a remote/nunchuk combo). You speed up and down hills, shoot off of ramps and deal with hairpin turns that, if not properly handled, will fling you into the abyss. Along the way you can drive into “pick-ups” that give you a one shot power which could let you sabotage a competitor or put on a speed burst.
A more unusual feature is that players can earn other attacks and defenses by the way they drive. If you pull tricks after taking a ramp up into the air by shaking the remote you fill an attack gauge. If you do drift turns, in which you hold a button while turning to perform long slides, you’ll fill up a defense gauge. Once a gauge is full you can unleash its power.
Difficulty: Too Hard for Kids
It is always risky to release a kart racing game for the Wii, because it will invariably be compared with Mario Kart Wii, one of the best kart racing games ever made. And that is a comparison Galactic Racing can’t handle.
Even by the standards of lesser kart racing games, Galactic Racing has issues. One of the most obvious is its high difficulty. The game is set up as a series of circuit races in which you race on several tracks and whoever has the highest average score for all tracks is the winner. The game starts you out with two circuits, and you must get at least third place to unlock more circuits. In those two circuits I never placed higher than sixth, even though one circuit is called “Beginner’s Luck.” If a circuit called “Beginner’s Luck” isn’t supposed to be easy, what is?
This is particularly unfortunate in a game based on a TV series targeted to young children. One review on amazon.com was by a parent who complained that because his five-year-old couldn’t beat any of races the parent was forced to play through himself to unlock everything.
Just Misses: How a Game Avoids Quality
But the real problem with the game is the way it messes up the little details. For example, in Mario Kart Wii, you might go wide on a turn and drive off the road, but at times you will be half off, you will swerve and try and get back on and there will be that moment of excitement when you wonder whether you will plunge into the chasm below or whether that one wheel that manages to just catch the edge will pull you back on.
In Galactic Racing, on the other hand, there were times when I went off the track but could see a bend in the road meant there was a good chance I was going to land back on the track, but before that could happen the game would suddenly reset me, leaving me a little ways back and at a standstill as the other cars sped by. This happened over and over. There is no possibility of saving yourself; the game takes a potentially suspenseful moment and tosses it away, making players feel they weren’t given a chance.
It’s a small thing, but small things are what differentiate a good game from a mediocre one. And in every small, insignificant detail, Galactic Racing fails. Tracks aren’t bad, and yet they have neither surprising twists nor striking visuals. A kart game doesn’t have to have an online component, but the lack of it in Galactic Racing is just another indicator of how little effort was put into this title.
This is typical of Ben 10 video games. It’s strange how every one of them feels off; the controls will feel just slightly mushy, the graphics will be a bit too generic. The games often seem promising for the first 10 or 15 minutes you play them, but all ultimately feel like a waste of time. The best you can say of any Ben 10 game is that, in a world that is often uncertain, you always know exactly what you’re going to get. You’re just not going to like it a lot.