Racing Gears Advance (Game Boy Advance) - Review by Andrew
For a while it looked like Racing Gears Advance would suffer the fate of many promising GBA titles which simply failed to get published regardless of gamer and critical praise. It's not uncommon and in my years of reviewing GBA titles I?ve seen a number of gems which have yet to gain a publisher despite their original content and gameplay quality. Racing Gears Advance also lacked one major ingredient which appears to swing publishers into actually getting the product on to the market: a franchise. That's right, no recognizable characters, no part of a trilogy and not a movie or TV link in sight. So why publish it? Much of this could be due to the PR department at Orbital Media who managed to get the preview carts in the right hands. The game was tested, previews written and the wait began. It was only a matter of time before one of the more progressive publishers stepped up for the challenge and thanks to DSI/ZOO Digital here it is. The previews though only dealt with a early build of the game so what's the finished product like? Read on and see...
As with most racing games it's not only about entering a full season of races and Racing Gears allows you to sample various modes before committing to the longer and far tougher Championship area. Practice is pretty self explanatory whilst Quick Run allows you to select anyone of the available tracks and race against AI opponents. Selecting Championship involves you racing through the whole game but before you do anything you'll need to choose your driver and car. They all start out with a 'D' grade license and little driving experience so it's really all down to which one you like the look of. After that it's not off to the first track as you'd expect but rather a strange mini-game which challenges you to press the 'A' button as quickly as possible when the starting grid light flashes green. Clearly this is all based on your quick reactions and the fastest does gain pole position on the starting grid. Now it's all about winning and as with most racers you want to create some space between yourself and the other competitors and they will hamper your progress on contact causing you to spin out of control. You could always stop them in their tracks with one on the many weapons available but these aren't always as effective as you'd like and you do have to buy them. Winning (or even finishing) is rewarded with a cash prize which you can add to by picking up the '$' icons scattered about the track. The better your position the more you win and this is where the strategy element comes into play.
Like all cars you have to spend money on them to improve and repair them and the vehicles in Racing Gears are no exception. Before spending your winnings on anything though you may want to check out how damaged your car is and while you can select a partial repair any damage will slow you down and also encourages you to drive with a lot more care on the next track. It's then onto the other various upgrades and while you'll be tempted to kit your car out with more weapons than James Bond's DB5 it's actually more sensible to go for better tyres and engine upgrades. This will give you better traction and obviously more speed and some of these upgrades are essential later on. Boring we know but this forward planning will not only increase your chances of success but also upgrade your license as you rise through the driving ranks. There is also an excellent multi-player (for up to four players) to add to all this racing fun but you'll need an extra copy of the game and whilst we wouldn't normally recommend shelling out for another copy of the game this really is so entertaining it's probably worth it. Everything is saved thanks to a battery back up so there's absolutely no excuse not to take a break from gaming every now and then.
Control wise the game is very tight indeed which is essential when you see some of the tracks. It's simple too so forget about even touching those shoulder buttons to control your car. This is 'A', 'B' and the D-Pad and if you can?t work out what they do you should probably stop reading this review now. Shoulder buttons are used but only for weapons and as you have to purchase these they're not really important initially. There's a well pitched learning curve too with the track?s difficulty indicated by the number of stars on the main menu screen although almost all the tracks can be practiced which is essential for discovering the short cuts available. There's also evidence of a change in performance and handling when you alter or upgrade your car and while this seems obvious it's not always apparent in the majority of GBA racers.
Visually the game is stunning with the developers demonstrating just why they may be one of the studios to watch in 2005. This is most evident in the huge racing areas which are both detailed and incredibly well designed and some even have added weather effects such as rain and snow. The various cars are also suitably different in appearance and well animated and a mention must go to the rather helpful rescue helicopter which appears when ever you decide to do something daring like try and drive underwater for example. One nice, not to mention useful, touch is your car turning into an arrow when you go under a bridge or other object. It's a simple addition but anyone who's spent valuable seconds trying to figure out which direction a car is facing will no doubt welcome this feature. The overall presentation is also well above average with everything from the front end to the menu systems clear and intuitive.
There's always one area that stops the game from being perfect and here it's the audio. It's not that it's particularly bad it's just that it all seem so generic and there's little in the compositions that accompany almost every area of the game to link it to the racing genre. The sound effects are a little on the weak side too. The cars sound more like they're solar powered than petrol droven. There are some highlights most notably the sampled countdown and everyone?s favorite rescue helicopter and, not forgetting, the sound that comes just before that, your car crashing into the water.
As soon as you've completed the first track in Racing Gears you'll remember just why you love gaming so much. Quality at this level simply doesn't come along every day but when it does it raises the bar slightly as to what we should expect from the next game in its genre. No, there's no movie version of the game, audio or images of film stars or even a series of Racing Gears games planned but there is an amazing gaming experience in this tiny cart and one that deserves commercial and critical success for both developers and publishers. It may seem strange that a reviewer should plead with readers to go out and buy a quality title for their GBA but this really does belong in every racing fans collection. As a gaming community we also need to encourage more diverse and original content and another 'this-kart' or 'that-pinball' is certainly not what 2005 should hold. Need we say more? Go get it now!
Pro: Huge Detailed Tracks.
Con: Can Be Tough
Final score: 8.6
|Platform:||Game Boy Advance|