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'Speed Racer' Game Review

A Forgetable Movie leads to a Somewhat Memorable Game

About.com Rating 3.5 Star Rating

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speed racer screen shot
I rather liked the recent Speed Racer movie, even though a half hour after the end almost everything in the film had evaporated from my mind like an icicle in a blast furnace.

All I remember is John Goodman and Parker Posey were charming, there was an annoying kid with his annoying monkey and race cars could jump up in the air, which made me want to check out the Speed Racer video game.

My expectations were low when I started playing Speed Racer on my Wii. Movie-based video games are always a dicey proposition. Remarkably, Speed Racer does an excellent job of translating the movie’s frenetic races to the Wii.

Crash and Burn

As with most Wii racing games, Speed Racer is played by holding the remote horizontally and wiggling it around like a racing wheel. The most interesting aspect of the game is “Car-fu,” which is the ability to use your car as a weapon against opponents. If a car is next to you, shove the remote to one side to slide into it. If a car is in front, get right behind it and pull the remote up to make your car jump, catching the other car’s bumper to flip it over. You can also combine button presses with gestures to make your car spin around or jump and land on top of an opponent.

The other cars can do the same thing to you. Take enough damage and your car will explode.

Of course, racing games aren’t just about destroying your opponents, they’re also about racing, and Speed Racer’s tracks are nicely laid out, with areas that if hit will speed you up. There isn’t much in the way of gravity in the game; you can do loop-de-loops or go off ramps and somehow curve around in mid-air to land on a parallel track. The tracks have an approximation of the color-saturated quality of races in the movie; the Wii doesn’t have near the graphics power to match the film, but tracks are colorful and sometimes surreal.

Eat My Dust

The game also attempts to create a sense of competition by having your opponents shout out things as you pass or attack one another like “it’s not going to be that easy,” or “I hate it when you do that.”

As you drive, you gain Boost Power, which can be tapped either to speed up your car or to repair some damage. You can fill up to four Boost Power slots, in which case if you hit the Boost button four times quickly you will go into a super high speed mode that turns the scenery psychedelic and bumps cars out of your way with ease.

Oddly enough, even if you are in first place and trigger the ultimate Boost, it is still quite possible for your competitors to easily catch up with you. The A.I. cheats a bit too much to keep races close; if I pull off a brilliant job of driving, I don’t expect to come in third when two cars I should have left in the dust suddenly shoot past me.

Like most modern driving games, Speed Racer allows the use of drift, in which you angle your car so it screeches around a corner at which point you can burst forward. Unfortunately the tracks aren’t really designed to make drift that useful; it’s generally easier to just drive flat out rather than deal with the slowdown you get in a drift.

The game is most frustrating if you get caught on an edge of the track facing the wrong way. One can drop from 1st to 16th place in the few seconds it takes to get back on track.

Eclipsing the Source Material

Overall Speed Racer does a good job. It is not as good as the gold standard of Wii racing games, Mario Kart Wii, but it is an interesting, well designed, fun game.

This is something one rarely says about movie-based game, which usually has to be made in a short period of time. Unfortunately, movie-game designers always have to cut corners somewhere, and in Speed Racer this is in track variety. There are far more races in the game than tracks, so a lot of recycling is going on. Tracks repeat, and even when they don’t, they tend to seem an awful lot alike.

Still, Speed Racer is an above average racing game that is well worth playing. And while it will probably not live in my mind forever, I will remember it longer than the plot of the movie, which I’ve forgotten even more of during the time it took to write this review. I can’t recall anything about it now except that, if I’m not mistaken, John Goodman played Parker Posey’s pet monkey.

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