Thursday, August 27, 2009

Review: Speed Zone

Talk about not judging a game by its cover. I was all set to hate Speed Zone from the get-go. Just looking at the box art, the first impression I got was that this was Hot Wheels Leading the Way in outer space. But let me tell you, Speed Zone is freaking awesome, as it has enough addictive gameplay to make you come back for more even after you’ve missed your objective for the fifteenth time in a row and just want to beat it already so you can go to bed.

The beauty of this game doesn’t lie in the graphics, though (Really, they’re just okay). Nor do they lie in the subpar techno music that thumps throughout the game like a grating buzzsaw. No, the beauty of Speed Zone lies in the “In the Zone,” meter that builds up whenever you drive over the speed limit, which is like, 200 mph, or some other ludicrous number like that. Cruising around in the solo mode, you race to beat the target time designated to you at the beginning of each level. When you do this, the only way you can beat your time is pretty much to hit every single speed boost and not crash into anything. This can be quite nerve racking as even the slightest miscalculation can send you hurdling into the great blue yonder. But staying perfectly on track and hitting all of the speed boosts is easier said than done, especially if you’re using anything other than a Classic or a GameCube controller.

That’s right, this being a Wii racing game, of course they give you more than a million (Or, you know, just six) different ways to play the game, including tilting the Wii mote to its side and steering with it, playing with the wheel that came with Mario Kart Wii, playing with the nunchuk, or just using a regular controller. Personally, I’d pick the final method, because the other ones just don’t cut it, as using the controller as a steering wheel is always too sensitive. It was with Mario Kart Wii, and it is with this game, too.

But once you get the hang of using the controller, you’ll find yourself staying on the track more and not flying into objects. In fact, play it long enough (Which I certainly did) and you begin to memorize the tracks out of necessity, remembering where all of the speed boosts are so you can beat your best time and move up the pyramid, which is how you advance in this game—moving up a pyramid. All of this is in Solo mode, though, which is fun enough on its own. But there’s also a split screen racing mode (With up to 8 players) or a battle mode, where you pick up power-ups and blast away at other racers. Really, you’re getting three games in one with this title here, as all three modes are so wildly different.

If I have a few complaints with this game though, it lies in the fact that it’s really not all that futuristic. Sure, it takes place in outer space, as the tracks have red moons on them and holes in the floor, but even with all of that, it just doesn’t FEEL futuristic. Maybe it’s the fact that you’re driving cars instead of hover crafts. F-Zero felt futuristic on the Super Nintendo, as the hovercrafts made you really feel like you were zooming over and around spacey terrain. And so did Wipeout, with its claustrophobic tunnels and pulse pounding soundtrack. But Speed Zone just feels like you’re driving around in space with zero-gravity tires or something. I mean, I shouldn’t have to make up a story in my head about why you’re able to drive cars in outer space (And so fast), but I did. And I think none of this would have really been a problem if they just made the vehicles hover crafts instead of cars. It might be cliché, but it works.

Also, once you crash your car, you’re pretty much toast, because you lose soooo much momentum in the process. Sure, Speed Zone gives you a lot more legroom than a lot of other racers to crash. But there’s nothing worse than flying down the speedway at 500 mph and then bumping into a wall or a ceiling and going back down to 100. That really sucks hard. Plus, other than the gimmicky usages of the Wiimote and the steering wheel, Speed Zone could probably be on any other console and doesn’t really have anything going for it that distinguishes it from being a 360 game, other than the slightly last-gen visuals, I guess.

Other than that though, Speed Zone is an overall enjoyable thrill ride with a great, split screen multiplayer mode, smooth gameplay, and an addictive feel that just can’t be beat. Don’t let the box art fool you, people. Speed Zone shouldn’t be missed.

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