Wacky Races presents you with the chance to take some of the lesser-known Hanna-Barberra creations out for a spin. Naturally the racers who are gunning for the title of "World's Wackiest Racer" are going to be driving strange vehicles and wielding even stranger weapons to keep themselves ahead of the pack. You will have to decide if you're going to win by hook or by crook. Both of which are quite literally possible in this game.
Players are able to choose from 11 wacky characters like Penelope Pitstop and the infamous Dick Dastardly. Some are hidden as first, so players will have the chance to earn hidden characters and unearth other special codes the further into the game they progress.
The racing action is set up much like the action in games like Mario Kart. Large racetracks with a variety of different track effects are available along with multi-player modes. Line up attacks, collect power-up tokens, and race for your golden star. These races are wacky after all.
Infogrames and Sheffield House teamed up to bring the classic 1960's Saturday morning cartoon series Wacky Races to the Dreamcast. Since I don't own a Dreamcast, I decided to do a little research to find out how Wacky Races was received by gamers and industry insiders. My findings showed outstanding grades for Wacky Races, often described as a zany arcade racer in the mold of Diddy Kong Racing or Mario Kart. With those comments in mind, I installed Wacky Racers with anticipation despite my previous experiences with console ports, particularly PlayStation games such as Resident Evil, Mega Man, Dino Crisis, etc. I suppose I was slightly skeptical, but this was a Dreamcast port, so it had to be better, right? Wrong. Although not as drastic as those aforementioned PlayStation titles, something was obviously lost in the Wacky Races porting process.
Wacky Races is an arcade racer much like the recent South Park Rally. It's based on the 1960's Hanna-Barbera cartoon series of the same name. To its credit, Wacky Races features many of the crazy cast of cartoon characters such as Dick Dastardly, Muttley, Penelope Pitstop, Sergeant Blast, Private Meekly and a whole host of others. In the single player mode, there are two types of events: Single Race and Championship. A Single Race allows you to select your favorite character and race around any of the available courses. The tracks are broken down into five distinct environments, although the fifth and final environment must be unlocked via the Championship mode. The themed-environments include a Desert, Forest, City and Winter Wonderland. To begin with, only the first track in each of the four environments is made available.
The Championship mode is where the core of the game lies. In this mode, you'll again select one of the six starting characters and begin a series of rally-style races with the objective of finishing in first place. The Championship mode consists of one race from each of the themed-environments. If you finish in first overall after the set of four tracks, you'll unlock the next set of tracks within each of the levels. There are four tracks within each environment. Once you've won four straight Championships, you'll unlock a special set of courses termed Dick's Revenge.
When I read up about Wacky Races for the Dreamcast, it mentioned all sorts of mystery levels, characters and vehicles. When I ran through the Championship mode in the PC version, I didn't witness many of those secrets. The only vehicle I was able to unlock was Dastardly Dick and Muttley's diabolical machine. In fact, while you race in the Dreamcast version, you have to pick up stars in order to unlock the mysteries of the game. In the PC version, the only thing I ever picked up were power-ups for my vehicle. Why Infogrames decided to take these Easter Eggs, of sorts, out of the PC version is beyond me. It would have certainly added more to the whole gaming experience, instead we're left with nothing more than a strict arcade racer with very few surprises and little reason to continue racing other than to unlock undiscovered courses.
Visually, Wacky Races is definitely a port. The entire game has a cartoon style about it that matches the 1960's series to a tee, but the level of detail is rather low. The environments are often bland and void of interaction, while the weapon and weather effects are flimsy. While I was racing around many of the tracks, I noticed the visuals were prone to clipping, particularly when your vehicle gets too close to a wall or an obstacle on the course. On the other hand, there are 20 tracks in Wacky Races once they've all been unlocked, and while most of them are relatively short, the entire mix is a welcome sight when compared to some of the other developers who settle for racing tracks backwards rather than using their imagination to create new ones. All of the tracks feature the usual short cuts and secret areas that help make racing that much more fun.
The audio in Wacky Races is probably one the high points of the entire game. The musical score is appropriate and the little quips that each of the characters shout out during the races are sure to bring back memories for those who remember the cartoon series, such as when Penelope proclaims 'I'm late for a hair appointment' as she motors past you in the race. Unfortunately, each character only has one or two things to say, so expect a lot of repetition.
The vehicle selection is another high point in the game. Each of the characters rides a unique vehicle with wacky designs and varying characteristics. Each character also boasts a healthy selection of gadgets to slow down, disable, and divert competitors and get past racetrack hazards. Although the variety of weapons is nice, such as dynamite sticks, brick walls, scoops and much more, the overall effect of the weapons are extremely limited. Some of the weapons only seem to halt an opponent for a split second. There were many times when I thought I nailed an opposing racer pretty good, only to have him speed right past me again a few seconds later. Which brings us to the artificial intelligence. Infogrames has done a great job of making sure that it's much easier to catch up to the pack than it is to leave them in the dust. The entire block of characters are often tightly packed throughout the race, so don't expect finishing in first will be a breeze. Opposing characters aren't afraid to use power-ups either, they'll fire at anybody riding between them and the finish line.
Wacky Races also sports multiplayer via a hot seat mode. Supporting up to two players, gamers can compete against each other in a split-screen race or the battle mode. The battle mode is basically a deathmatch game where the object is to blast your opponent with various weapons scattered throughout any one of a handful of courses. Both of these modes are certainly fun, but the limitation of hot seat only is less than appealing.
I'm not positive whether Wacky Races is the first Dreamcast port or not, but I believe it is. I had high expectations, or perhaps I was just hoping the Dreamcast console would port better than the PlayStation has thus far. Unfortunately, as I found out with Wacky Races, that's not the case. The graphics are still slightly below average, although the audio is solid. The number of tracks available, coupled with the variety of characters and vehicles, makes for a good start in terms of gameplay, but the lack of secret levels and secret characters gives little reason to keep racing. In comparison to South Park Rally, probably the most recent PC arcade racer, Wacky Racer isn't all that bad, but that's not saying much. Wacky Races could and should have been better on the PC.
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