Speed Racer was the pinnacle of retro-futurism. Dating back to the mid 1960s, Speed Racer (initially titled Mach GoGoGo) was created by anime legend Tatsuo Yoshida and started as a Japanese Manga comic. Shortly after it was made into a cartoon show and was one of the first shows from Japan to gain an American audience after it was translated.
However, Speed Racer wasn't for everyone. The Japanese style, glittering eyed characters, fast dialogue and overly complicated plot lines meant that many kids failed to latch onto the genius behind the show. Now over 40 years later, Speed Racer is back and looking stronger than ever.
As well as a new cartoon show announced for Nickelodeon, the cult classic has also made it onto the big screen thanks to the Wachowski Brothers. Set for release here in NZ on the 26th June, the trailer promises the same over-the-top characters and break-neck paced car racing as the original. The Wachowski's have also lent their own flair to the franchise with their vision of Speed Racer's futuristic world, filled with neon lights and gravity defying tracks. The jury is still out on whether the movie will rake in the box-office moola, but meanwhile local lads Sidhe Interactive have been busy making the official videogame for the cause.
Speed Racer: The Videogame steers well clear of any of the storyline from the movie, instead focusing purely on the trademark racing elements. However the tracks, car models and characters are all there, allowing you to pick your favourite racer, including Trixie, Racer X and of course Speed Racer himself.
The Wii version of the game uses the Wii-mote sensitive tilt method of steering, with the 2 button being accelerate and the B trigger used for turbo boost. Despite the treacherous looking race courses that twist and turn and even flow upside down, driving is fairly straight-forward due to the fact that you can't fall off the edge of the track thanks to rails on the outsides. But you'll soon find that actual driving is merely a fraction of the game thanks to a new feature known as Car-Fu. As the name implies, this can only be described as martial arts with cars. Each vehicle has the gravity-defying ability to jump, flip and twist in the air by jerking your controller up or down whilst holding a directional button. For example if there is a car behind you, you can back-flip on top of it, causing your opponent to spin out or even blow up, at which point they get respawned with a slight penalty. Or if there is an opponent in front of you who you can't get past, you can perform a spinning torpedo move and smash them from behind. Every successful Car-Fu move earns you points and powers up your turbo boost bar. Plus you get to look retarded jerking your controller up and down with a deranged expression on your face as you try and knock your opponent over the side railing and into the abyss below.
Causing your car to instantly back-flip and still have plenty of forward momentum might sound a bit ridiculous, and physics students will be rolling their eyes at some of the logistics of the moves. But what it does create is an intense, hectic stunt-ridden mash-up of madness as your car speeds at over 400 MPH with cars flipping and exploding all over the track. The game also contains some excellent music tracks that really do build the tension in closely matched races, plus the option to replay the race afterwards complete with cinematic camera angles just like what we’ll see in the movie.
The Wii controls work beautifully and are extremely responsive. The only button that isn't well placed is the A button which is used to heal your car after taking on damage. Fortunately this button isn't used very often and considering the limited buttons on the Wii-mote, it’s not very surprising they had to improvise. Graphically the game is also very impressive, producing excellent frame rates on the Wii despite the amount of carnage taking place on screen. The car models probably could do with a bit of polish and don't exhibit any damage during racing, however with the break-neck speeds the vehicles reach you would be hard-pressed to notice anyway.
Speed Racer: The Videogame excels at multiplayer, allowing two people to play split screen across a variety of Championship races. However, the single player is very limited. As previously mentioned, the game doesn't include any of the movie plot and the game play is identical to the multiplayer. You select your racer/car, choose which race you want to compete in and aim for first position. Doing well simply unlocks new tracks and new racers until you have access to everything the game has to offer. It's a shame that Sidhe didn't include a progressional section of the game, focusing on just Speed Racer himself as he quests for the title of being the ultimate racer.
The game does include some character developments, though, with the interesting feature of having Rivals or Allies. Before each race, you can request and break alliances between the other racers participating in the tournament. Racers who are allied with you won't try to knock you out with Car-Fu, but obviously you can't attack them either, which limits the amount of potential boost your car can gain.
For a racing game, Speed Racer: The Videogame is definitely in a new realm of the genre. Sidhe Interactive have learnt from their previous racing/stunt game GripShift and possibly seen the good aspects of WipeOut and combined them into a stunning, action packed racer. Hopefully, this new spark of life to the Speed Racer franchise is enough to keep it alive and well for another 40 years.