What happens when the speed of "F-Zero" meets the crashes of "Burnout" and is wrapped in the eye-popping colors of "WipEout?" You get the latest movie based spin-off game "Speed Racer."
The Wachowski Brothers-produced movie hits theaters this May. "Speed Racer" the game will hit Wiis and DSs right around the same time, courtesy of WB Games. (The PS2 version will coincide with the DVD release later this year). The game is also the first third-party title to be compatible with the Wii Wheel.
After spending a little time with the game, it's hard not to compare it to some of the more classic racing franchises.
With the Wii controller turned sideways you steer your way around the track just as if you are driving a car. The controls felt comfortable and intuitive, but they may take a little time to get used to for anyone that has played a driving game before, and is used to steering with an analog stick.
While "WipEout" comparisons are immediate based on the screenshots that have been released, "Speed Racer" borrows more heavily from the "F-Zero" franchise in both look and feel. "Speed Racer" is a direct descendant of the GameCube's "F-Zero GX." You have a boost meter that builds as you perform "car fu" on other cars as you pass them, but the boost meter acts exactly the same way as it does in "F-Zero." You have the option to use your boost to heal damage to your car or boost your way through the track (sound familiar?).
One of the biggest things that separates "Speed Racer" from "F-Zero" though is the intense feeling of speed that the Nintendo series is known for. While "Speed Racer"'s sense of speed holds up against most racing games, you are supposed to be reaching speeds of 500 MPH. In the preview build I played it sometimes didn’t feel like it. You don’t need to time your turns to the millisecond, or anticipate the entire next lap in order not to crash. Then again, slowing down the pace of the race might actually make the game more playable for most gamers.
"Speed Racer"'s gameplay isn't 100% inspired by "F-Zero." It also pays homage to the "Burnout" series. With a quick shift of the controller to the left or the right you can slam, shunt, and crash into your opponents as they try and pass you. Honestly, I've been making the same motions to no avail for years while playing the "Burnout" games, and finally someone has made them mean something. It's extremely intuitive and adds another, more aggressive level to the game.
After playing the game for a few minutes, and seeing where the game gets most of its inspiration from, I wonder if it was right for a licensed game to borrow so heavily from already established franchises. The answer is simple: absolutely, especially when this one brings a new motion-controlled feeling to the table.
When it comes out, "Speed Racer" will offer 20 different characters, each with their own unique cars, and a wide variety of tracks. Sadly, it looks like only the DS version will have unlockable skins that enable the characters to be seen in their full 1960s glory. And, no, Chim Chim doesn’t have his own car (it was the first thing I asked).
When most licensed games -- particularly ones based on movies -- tend to be wholly unplayable, "Speed Racer" offers a glimmer of hope, particularly if you're waiting for the next "F-Zero" game.