Like so many of the games in the mighty Sims franchise, the focus in MySims Racing is on customisation and choice. This makes playing the game a helluva lot of fun, and whether EA meant to or not, they have created a gaming experience that plays like a full-throated answer to that king of novelty racers: Mario Kart. The reason I think this has the chance to be a mistake is that any developer in their right mind ought not to bother; across every Nintendo platform, Mario Kart has dominated this genre. There's also the fact that MySims Racing fits into the wider collection of MySims titles - it seems as if a racer was just a logical progression. MySims games are cute, silly and arresting, and I am pleased to say that Racing fits the Wii's ever broadening catalogue like a glove.
I used to have a real problem with cutesy titles like this one, but I have grown to adore them. How weird is that? I put it down to the trauma of a misspent youth, drinking Kristov 62 and playing Perfect Dark with my friends. Back then a game like MySims Racing would have turned me right off (and, how many times can I say it: back then, we had Mario Kart 64, and what else did we need?). In this title from EA, I have been able to re-cement my love for the sort of irreverent characters, soft backgrounds and preposterous reward challenges populating the game and others like it. Maybe I am mellowing out or something.
MySims Racing takes place in a small town dedicated to racing. The name of that town is up to you. In it, you'll come across a string of archetypal text-talkers, who will help you move along the path to becoming a supreme racing master, and in doing so save the town from an evil property developer called Morcubus (not since Ganondorf has a name sounded so implicitly evil!). Morcubus wants to turn your town into a landfill and is convinced he has the right to, following an old bet that went a bit sour. Your racing coach, an overalls-clad farmer type called Ol' Gabby, can't let that happen, and turns to you for help.
That's the story mode, responsible for the narrative flow, but adding nothing more than a base in which to anchor the game's various play modes. Like all good racers, MySims comes with a multiplayer mode and quick race setting as well as the story mode. To really get the most out of the game, go first to the story mode and get going on MySims Racing's many challenges. There's your standard races, of course, but also a number of tracks on which you'll need to collect items or avoid obstacles. The Mario Kart style weapon/power-up system is a must for any such game, and while the premise is extremely similar (which may prompt a call of rip-off) it is executed extremely well. The danger with anything copied is that it can seem lifeless, but there's no issue with MySims Racing. If you imagine the base mechanics of a game like Mario Kart, then you end up with something quite similar, but the folks at EA know what they're doing and have several tricks up their sleeves.
Before a long and sometimes quite difficult tutorial phase, you will be asked to construct a Sim and fitout a car. The range of options for both look and feel are very diverse, with options for customisation increasing as you collect the crystals which represent a kind of power-up currency. You'll go into your first tutorials and challenges quite happy with your playable character, because nothing is left to chance. Once you're in the game's menu, you're faced with a map of the town, with some of the inhabitants marking places to explore. Ol' Gabby is there to take you on your driving test, and a lab and garage are both available for you to learn how cars are stored and customised, and how game mechanics like basic steering and collecting items work. You'll also learn about the various types of boosts that are available, and between screens helpful hints will appear that might spur you on to new ways to find power-ups. It was on one of these screens that the game advised me Dr F's lab uses only recyclable materials; there's a nice message for ya, kids.
The game has four control options available, allowing a classic sort of comfort in approaching how you play. With familiar gameplay access, gamers will feel at home: choose to use the Remote, Remote+'Chuck, Classic Controller or GameCube controller - a case of deciding what's best for you. Naturally this game is also compatible with the steering wheel. I tried out a couple of input options, and each is easy to use and very responsive. In the end I settled on playing just with the Remote, tilting it to steer and using the buttons for the standard acceleration/fire weapon/boost/drift etc.
Now comes the part where I add in the obligatory line about it being an adequate graphical experience: nothing too flash, but nicely thought out and delightful for what they are. I never feel quite comfortable going into detail about the graphics on the Wii - we all know that this is a system focused on generating a difference experience. What I can say is that the sound is great! The music is especially cool, and simple things like busting through obstacles have fantastic effects attached. Some of the sound through the Remote is dodgy in a number of Wii games: not so here. If you play MySims Racing, take some time to think about how they have fit the music to the various facets of the game; they've spent some time on it.
Can we honestly expect MySims Racing to become some sort of darling? Probably not. Everyone knows Mario Kart's all over it. But that doesn't mean that you shouldn't give it a whirl.