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Retro Roundup – Dreamcast Racers: Wacky Races

WACKY RACES (NTSC) - Front[Retro Roundup takes a look back at the games in different genres on different SEGA platforms. Each week we look at a single game, rate how well it has held up over time and then, after we have reviewed all (or as many) of the games in the same genre – we give you a roundup of our top three.]

Our first selection of Retro Roundups focuses on Dreamcast Racers.

In this week’s roundup of Dreamcast Racers we take a look at Wacky Races. So, how has this licensed kart racer held up over the years?  

About:

Released in 2000 and developed by Infogrames, Wacky Races is one of the few kart-style racers to grace the Dreamcast.

Based on the Hanna-Barbera cartoon of the same name, all the classic characters are there: from Peter Perfect and Penelope Pitstop all the way to the infamous (and let’s face it, the best) duo – Dick Dastardly and Muttley.

It received just above average scores at release, a lot of sites obviously comparing it to the likes of Mario Kart, Diddy Kong Racing and Crash Team Racing and stating how it just didn’t really hold up to the better selection out there.

How has it held up?

[Note – we realise that comparing retro games directly to new ones is pointless. But here we are looking at whether things like the visuals have held up over the years – to an extent that the game is still playable and not marred by dodgy retro graphics/sound/gameplay or control]

Visuals:

Vehicles and characters show their personalities - like Peter Perfect's Turbo Terrific's nose bends as you go around corners
Vehicles and characters show their ‘personalities’ – like Peter Perfect’s Turbo Terrific’s nose bends as you go around corners

I’m just going to go ahead and say it, Wacky Races’ visuals look fantastic – even by today’s standards. I mean I could easily see someone just taking the game as it is and putting on XBLA or PSN without batting an eyelid.

Yes, modern games (especially full retail games) will have more detail and higher textures in the visuals, but due to the cartoon-style of the visuals, it doesn’t look dated in the slightest.

There is no noticeable pop-up as you drive around and the tracks have plenty of items and objects on them.

One great thing about the visuals is that it really does look like you are playing in the Wacky Races cartoon. The colours are bright and vibrant and you have the option to turn on and off black outlines – with the outlines on it looks more like cartoon drawings than computer generated characters.

The animation of the characters and the karts is brilliant too. Each of the characters and their vehicles have kept their ‘personalities’ – the Ant Hill Mob race around with part of their crew hanging out of the Bullet Proof Bomb (the name of their car); Peter Perfect’s Turbo Terrific’s nose bends and twists as it goes around corners – just like in the cartoon – and Professor Pat Pending’s Convert-A-Car has the ability to change on the go.

Sound:

Wacky R 4The sound is one of trickier things for me to judge on Wacky Races.

Basically all the characters have sound bites they blurt out as you race around, which are all true to the original characters from the show – which is fantastic. However, these sound bites do become grating after a while.

I understand there are only so many sound clips they could record for the game, but after several races you will find them a tad more tiresome.

There’s also the announcer, who helps to make the game feel more like you are in an episode of Wacky Races. He lets you know what is going on at the front of the race, or when something exciting happens.

Again though, the announcer only seems to have a limited number of sayings and sometimes you just want him to shut up. It’s handy when an enemy gets a lock on you – because he shouts out that you’ve been targeted – but it’s irritating when you suddenly fall from 1st to last place after getting hit and he makes a comment about how you need to try harder.

Gameplay:

Ahhh the delightful Penelope Pitstop - not so delightful when she's firing her 'lippy shot' at you
Ahhh the delightful Penelope Pitstop – not so delightful when she’s firing her ‘lippy shot’ at you

The gameplay, again, is a mixed bag of nuts and it’s one of the more complex kart racers out there.

Any fans of Diddy Kong Racing might feel at home with Wacky Races’ setup. You start the game in a hub world and drive to one of the three starting areas – you have a snowy, winter-themed location of Snowfall, the desert-like area of the Wild Frontier and the tranquil wooded Redwood Valley environment.

To be honest, I’m not sure if these are actual locations from the cartoon (it’s been so long since I’ve seen it) – but they look right at home. Anyway, by winning races you earn golden stars, which unlock extra races and new locations in the hub world (just like Diddy Kong).

From the hub world, you drive to a signpost at each location to choose a race style. Now, Wacky Races five race styles. You have the Time Trial mode, Track Challenge, Wacky Cup Challenge, Golden Muttley Challenge and Battle Challenge.

Now this is one of the weirdest and most annoying things about Wacky Races, from the start you only have access to Time Trial and Track Challenge. To unlock Wacky Cup Challenge, you need to win all the Track Challenges. Winning the Wacky Cup unlocks the Golden Muttley Challenge and so on.

The reason why this is annoying is because Track Challenge is just a basic single race mode. So, you have to win each race in a location and then you enter the Cup Challenge – which makes you race through each of those tracks all over again!

And while the Cup Challenges are points based (9 points for 1st place down to 1 point for 4th – and then 5th-8th you receive no points) you have to place 4th or above to actually progress to the next race.

Wacky R 3This became mostly irritating for me when I won EVERY race in a Cup and then on the last race I kept coming 5th and 6th – I had more than enough points that I had a clear enough lead to no be bothered about not getting any points in the last race, but the game physically wouldn’t let me proceed, and you only get three lives in the Cup Challenges. Luckily on my last life I came in 3rd, but no other kart game forces you to repeat courses like this if you haven’t done well enough. If anything it should be a choice that you make – to forfeit a life and race again, or just be happy with the points you scored and move on to the next race.

The vehicles control really well and the physical gameplay of just driving around is pretty much flawless. You also get two options for controlling: Advanced and Kart. Kart is more forgiving, allowing for less braking and easier handling. Advanced makes you feel more like you are in a normal racer – needing to really concentrate on your braking and turning to win races.

But honestly, the game is challenging enough without having a more difficult handling style.

Every single race is incredibly close – you are constantly jostling between the other racers throughout the three laps.

Even driving in the fastest vehicles, the enemy AI will soon catch up
Even driving in the fastest vehicles, the enemy AI will soon catch up

According to the game manual, each character/vehicle has differing stats, though they really aren’t evident when you are racing, because the AI cheats so damn much.

I even tested my theory out; I chose Sergeant Blast & Private Meekly in their Army Surplus Special – which the manual says has an ‘unrivalled top speed’. I was cruising along in first place and was suddenly over-taken by about 5 other racers on a straight.

Now, if the Army Surplus Special is meant to have the fastest top speed and I was in first place, how did the other racers not only catch up to me, but suddenly overtake on a straight? I experienced this with every character in the game.

And sometimes the enemies are just too damn aggressive – firing off weapons literally as soon as you pass them. It’s frustrating really, because while this always leads to some intense and close races, it also becomes just too ridiculous at times.

Speaking of weapons, I do like how Wacky Races handles the weapons you use. Unlike Mario Kart or Diddy Kong, you don’t have a set standard of weapons littered through the races. Instead each character has their own selection of weapons unique to them and the player chooses three of them at the start of each race and assigns them to the X, Y and B buttons.

[Note: you actually only start with three weapons to choose from, but unlock more as you progress]

At the start of each race you get to assign three weapons/items to the X, Y and B buttons
At the start of each race you get to assign three weapons/items to the X, Y and B buttons

As you race, you collect Wacky Tokens, which unlock your ability to use your items. Depending on the character and the item you want to use, you need to collect a different number of tokens.

This is just a nice touch, because it feels like you have more control over your weapons and can adjust to your own driving style – rather than rely on a random pickup.

There is one area where Wacky Races really shines through though and that is multiplayer. Wacky Races allows for up to 4 players to race at once and that 4 player option is available throughout the entire game.

So whether it be a single race, a GP or a battle race – you and your mates can all enjoy the experience together.

This also makes it easier to actually progress through the game. Back in the day, I had a few friends round and we basically teamed up against the AI to enable us to win races more easily – it’s great to get some retribution on the pesky AI.

Is it still worth buying?

Wacky R 7While Wacky Races is far from perfect and is certainly not the best kart racer out there, it is pretty fun, but very hard.

Visually it has held up really well over the years and the karts handle really well.

The multiplayer really makes the game, not only because it makes it easier to handle the AI, but also because it’s just fun to race along with friends.

Really, the only thing that holds the game back is the ridiculous AI – if you thought Mario Kart 64 cheated, then you’re in for a surprise with Wacky Races.

Then again, if you love a challenge and don’t mind some frustratingly close races, then Wacky Races could be perfect for you.

Pros:
+ Fantastic visuals have held up really well over the years
+ Stays true to the original cartoon really well
+ Good, solid gameplay/handling
+ Multiplayer is awesome!

Cons:
– AI is just too damn challenging
– Bit frustrating that you have unlock all the game modes
– Having to replay races can be tedious
– Announcer and character phrases become repetitive

Graham Cookson

I'm the European Editor of SEGA Nerds and co-founder of the original SEGA Nerds website with Chris back in 2004 or 2005 (genuinely can't remember which year it was now!). I've been a SEGA fan pretty much all my gaming life - though I am also SEGA Nerds' resident Microsoft fanboy (well, every site needs one) and since SEGA went third party, I guess it's now ok to admit that I like Nintendo and Sony too :0) I'm also the Content Manager of the big data company, Digital Contact Ltd, in the UK: http://digitalcontact.co.uk/company/team/

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