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1995-2001
GamesFirst! Magazine

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by LucasArts

 

7-01-01.jpg (6022 bytes)The Phantom Menace effectively turned the Star Wars mythos into a live action cartoon. It was only a matter of time before the game franchise turned to the dark side: kart racing. And a welcome turn it is, the Star Wars cannon being ripe for the tongue-in-cheek humor of kart racers. Unfortunately, despite moments of genuine charm and innovation, Star Wars Super Bombad Racing is a horribly uneven game, and frustrating to the point of losing its younger target audience.

9-01.jpg (7021 bytes)SBR contains the standard list of kart racing options. Up to two players (or four with that infernal multi-tap) can race individually or in pairs on any of nine courses, or can battle in one of four arenas. There are eight characters available in the beginning. A secret character can be unlocked through the courses, and two others via codes. While none of these numbers are impressive, even when compared to aging N64 kart racers like Diddy Kong Racing, SBR does get a lot of mileage out of the Star Wars universe (or galaxy, I suppose—long, long ago; far, far away). The courses include the Dune Sea where Jawas jabber and fire shrinking rays at the racers, and the Theed Power Station, site of the climactic Jedi/Sith battle of Episode 1. One of the arenas is the Great Pit of Carkoon, where the almighty Sarlacc preys on unwary drivers. Then there are the characters—Darth Maul, Yoda, Obi-Wan, Anakin, Queen Amidala, Sebulba, Jar Jar, and Boss Nass (in his Boss Nascar, no less). These guys, and gal, volley taunts and movie quotes (Darth Maul: "you are no match for the power of a Sith," Yoda: "slow you are, yes"). They hit each other with blasters, tractor beams, even personalized attacks like Darth Mauls’ light saber, Boss Nass’s slobber, and Jar Jar’s tongue. The secret racer is the perfect addition to the cast (I won’t spoil the surprise) and the code racers I know of are Boba Fett and a Battle Tank. Okay, the Battle Tank is lame. And I wish the taunts and reactions of the characters weren’t quite so limited. They have a tendency to pick one and repeat it ad nauseum. But the game more than redeems itself as you knock Jar Jar into a chasm and he screams "Where’s Meesa going?" It’s cruel and satisfying!

2-01.jpg (7031 bytes)The personality of the game really comes out in the sound. The movies have always excelled in this department and I can’t remember a Star Wars game that didn’t take advantage of that. SBR takes sound effects we know and love—the engine of Sebulba’s pod racer, blaster fire—and makes them cartoony, silly. The horn on Anakin’s Naboo Fighter is a tricycle bell, things like that. And the music is hilarious. The warbling, bells-and-whistles kiddie version of "Duel of the Fates" is classic. But the voices range from exact (Jake Lloyd and Ahmed Best voice their characters from the movie) to bafflingly out of character (what’s with Obi-Wan’s Bill and Ted impersonation? "Eex-cellent").

4-01.jpg (7163 bytes)The game looks good. There is nothing breathtaking here, but the graphics are bright and clean and all the familiar environments are rendered with care. It does suffer from draw-in and clipping problems, however, and you will sometimes find your racer going right through solid objects. But this rarely detracts from the game as you are usually focused directly on your racer. What does detract from the game is the terrible frame rate during multi-player races. The game just seems to drag along compared to the single player experience.

8-01.jpg (7970 bytes)It is hard to define all that is good or bad in SBR in terms of game play. Often, what I had first decided were good things later turned into faults, and vice versa. For instance, the courses, excluding one of the weakest opening tracks in history, are some of the most innovative that I have seen. These are large, sprawling tracks with diverging paths, pitfalls, and obstacle courses. The majority of the Otoh Gunga course takes place under water, and the Droid Control Ship momentarily takes the race into space where the karts react in zero gravity. All of the courses contain various shortcuts, the kind that are sly and quick and only meant to give you the edge, not necessarily the victory. However, there is something to be said for being too ambitious. The courses are often so complex that they seem more like mazes. This is not helped much by the directional cues, which, rather than being clearly marked, blend into the background, or the HUD which uses poorly rendered character icons instead of simple, colored dots. The arenas, too, are out of control. They are so large and intricate that most of your battles are spent finding your opponents instead of fighting them. Yes, these courses and arenas are deep and challenging, and can be great fun with practice, but they make racing against anyone who doesn’t own the game unsatisfying. And they are completely alienating to the younger crowd—the ones who should love the game most. My seven year-old, a rank-and-file game maniac who has mastered a great many titles adults have trouble with, was furious when he couldn’t find his way through some courses. Nothing is more frustrating in a race than receiving a "wrong way" message when there is no clear path in front of you.

6-01.jpg (8630 bytes)This is further complicated by a slippery control system that does not adhere to any kind of rational physics. The karts in this game float and glide around the track. At times they can speed through the most diabolical looking terrain, while at other times they get hung up on the tiniest of obstacles. Then there is the damn bouncing. Sometimes your racer will come out of a jump or a fall and just keep bouncing up and down along the track like it’s made out of rubber.

10-01.jpg (10488 bytes)All of this creates a pretty steep learning curve for the game. The courses, arenas, and control system do make sense after practice. In the end, I found that along with the steep learning curve comes a similar fun-factor curve. At first, the game is no fun at all. But I invested some time in SBR, and at the peak of my playing time I was having a great deal of fun. The game was challenging and engaging. I was mastering the different characters, learning to use the weapons, finding new shortcuts. Unfortunately, this curve is a bell curve, and the peak only lasted a couple of days. After that, the single player experience just gets played out. The replay value of a good kart racer depends upon the multi-player experience. This game just doesn’t have it. No one else I know owns this game and no one had any interest in playing long enough to master it. And who could blame them? As I said, the game isn’t much fun in the beginning anyway. But it is even less so when you are sitting next to your buddy on the couch, feeling like an idiot because you are lost in a silly, big-headed kart cartoon and your character is bouncing around the screen like a freakin rubber ball. I don’t care how many times you get to feed Jar Jar to the Sarlacc, it isn’t worth that kind of humiliation.

Jeremy Kauffman

Snapshot

Ups: Nice tracks; cute characters; beating up on Jar Jar.

Downs: Frustrating; slowdown in multiplayer; tracks are confusing.

System Reqs:
Sony PlayStation 2

 

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