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Despite glossy trailers and the oft-epic power of nostalgia, the Speed Racer film seems firmly ensconced in the realm of box office bombs, drawing barely $30 million in its first two weekends (against a nine-figure budget) at North American theaters. Such dismal figures might dampen your enthusiasm for a $50 adaptation of the material, but shockingly, Speed Racer: The Videogame proves to be one of the most engaging racers on the Wii.
Speed Racer maintains the shiny look and aggressive feel of the film's high-speed sprints, with races upon rollercoaster-esque suspended platforms that loop in every which direction. With speeds in excess of 400 MPH, the resulting experience could have been easily botched, but Sidhe Interactive, maker of the original racer Gripshift, keeps you from bouncing off every wall with some minor steering assistance. Don't flip – Speed Racer is by no means an interactive cinematic; paired with the frequent camera shifts, the steering help merely keeps you focused on maintaining the integrity of your vehicle. Oh, and engaging in a bit of good, old-fashioned car-fu.
Unlike Wipeout and other combat-focused racers, Speed Racer completely shuns projectile weapons and pick-ups in favor of actual physical interactions between vehicles, such as slamming competitors sideways (like in the Burnout games), flipping them from behind, or crushing them with well-timed jumps. It works surprisingly well (with practice), although because the Wii Remote's motion controls are tasked with steering, jumping, and all the various car-fu maneuvers, you'll occasionally trigger the wrong action. For instance, you might jump instead of shunting sideways. Otherwise, the steering and combat mechanics are largely spot-on, allowing the racing and metal mashing to remain front and center.
Narrative is nonexistent (though the primary film actors each recorded a handful of vocal quips), so the single-player campaign is limited to straightforward multi-race Championship cups, and the two-player split-screen races don't offer any additional gameplay types. It's also easy to nitpick the visuals a bit, as trees pop into view on every track and simple structures line the backgrounds, but the sense of speed is fantastically conveyed via the (mostly) smooth frame rate, and the unique, vibrant style of each track makes Speed Racer one of the prettiest Wii games in motion.
You won't find an epic amount of unique content here (perhaps throwing the full price tag into question for some), but while it lasts, Speed Racer: The Videogame is a thrilling, futuristic race experience that succeeds with stylish visuals, incredible speed, and addictive combat.
May 19th, 2008