SPOGS Racing - hands-on

Nintendo's online history is damn shaky, so we're enormously relieved to see so many developers lining upto support WiiWare, the company’s downloadable software system. With so many titles already in the pipes (and several confirmed for the May 12 launch date), there's every reason to believe WiiWare will turn out to be the inde-developers platform of choice - we're already eager for more time with World of Goo and Lost Winds.

The latest title to join the fray is SPOGS Racing, an everybody-can-play title built with same-screen multiplayer in mind. The developer, D2C, has its roots in old EA head-to-head games (like say, Madden) so it decided to stick with the classic 2-player split screen approach rather than go fully online. That might sound like a throwback to some, but others might easily sink right back into the N64-style same-TV party game theme of the '90s (it was called The Fun Machine, after all).

SPOG stands for Sport Player Object Gyroscope. As you can see above, said Gyroscope is what you'll be racing on 12 courses filled with loops, ramps and NASCAR-style oval tracks. The goal, as you might have guessed, is to cross the finish line in first place, but to make it there you'll have to collide with other SPOGS and steal their parts. Swapping SPOG parts simultaneously empowers your vehicle with better engines, mufflers, tires and brakes (you choose one part to steal per collision) and deflates the other. The trailer sums it up pretty well.

You don't want to just grab parts for the hell of it though; each SPOG is different so you could easily bump into someone with nothing but weaker parts. Collected upgrades/downgrades persist throughout every game mode, be it solo, multiplayer or battle mode, so if you're really obsessive about customizable parts, you could spend many, many laps searching for the best possible combination of goodies. Or you could just hop into a no-parts quick race and get a feel for the levels. Your call.

For even more customization you can hop into the SPOG maker, a feature that lets you decide the vehicle's color, name, emblem and base attributes. Emblems span a wide range, from pirates to astronauts to ninjas, and there are several different base SPOG types to choose from, each with specialties like Handling+, Speed+ and the like. There was talk of supporting Wii's picture viewer for super-customized images, but looks like that feature won't make the cut as Nintendo hasn't lifted the veil on the totally-not-forgotten photo channel.

We tried a few laps first with the remote and Nunchuk, then another set using the Classic Controller; both function fine, button placement makes sense, but the expert mode works in motion control. You know, that thing everyone tries to find a way to work around - didn't have a go with that, but we suspect it handles as well as any of the other titles that use tilty steering.

Crashing into other SPOGS was difficult at first, but after a few tries we had it worked out pretty well. Weapon pickups, like missiles and tire spikes, work like they have since the first car combat titles. We're curious to see how gamers react to such a blatantly old-school racer that looks, sounds and plays like a game halfway between N64 and GameCube.

Guess we'll find out for sure when it shows up on WiiWare near the May 12 launch window (and PSP/PC further down the road).

Apr 24, 2008