Release Date: September 30, 2003
Many of us, as young boys, were probably fascinated with slot cars. The expansive tracks, slick cars, and the fact that the cars were moving by themselves on the track made quite a show for a youngster. I know I used to have a small track, and this game has brought many memories rushing back to me. Upon showing it to some friends, I got the same response from most: "Hey! I used to have one of these! I wonder where in the world it is..." Heck, I really felt like digging mine out, too.
When you start up the game, you'll be treated to some rather unintuitive menus. I say unintuitive in part because of some simply dumb menu problems: why do I have to pick the category of my car before I actually pick my car? There are only four cars in each category, anyway. It would have smoothed things over a bit by getting rid of the category menu and putting all of the cars together. Sure, it's not a huge problem, but it is a bit of an annoyance.
Anyway, there are several modes you can take part in. There's your basic Arcade mode, which allows you to play on any level you've unlocked just for fun. The Championship mode is probably where you'll spend most of your time, though. Here, you race four races in a row, trying to accumulate the most points (first place is five points, second place is three points, and so on) in order to unlock new tracks and new cars. Once you complete all of the race events for a certain engine class, you'll move onto the next engine class, with faster cars, tougher AI, and more stages than in the last tier of levels.
The game itself plays in a fairly simple fashion, but you will find yourself doing more than simply accelerating on a track. Now, I'm not sure if you can do this on most real-life slot-car tracks, but in Grooverider one can jump between lanes which always run alongside each other. There are usually about four lanes, and being in the proper lane at the proper time while maintaining a high speed is the key to winning the game. You'll find obstacles like road blocks, drop-offs, or even a mine dropped behind by an enemy. At some points on certain lanes, you'll see that they're colored - a nifty little touch, as these colors mean different things happen to your car when you step into these slots. Green gives your car a boost, red will slow it down considerably, blue will magnetically hold your car to the slot to ensure it doesn't go flying off on jumps or sharp turns, and yellow will "lock" your car in the lane, preventing you from sidestepping out of it until you are clear of the yellow coloring.
There are also some kart racer-esque weapons in the game, which can be accessed by hitting a mystery box that might be lying on the track. You'll get a random weapon, which seem to range in quality from handy to absolutely useless. Mines and missiles can generally be helpful in clearing out other races, shields give you protection against any obstacle on the track, boost items give you a quick spurt of speed. These are the helpful ones. There are some downright dumb "weapons" included. One will lock the track for all of the other racers for five seconds - which seems like a good idea, until you realise that they can simply slow down to avoid crashing into any barriers for a few seconds. There's also a ridiculous jump ability, which is probably intended for jumping over some obstruction that you just can't find the reflexes to avoid. The thing is, switching lanes is always easy and available to you, which does virtually the same thing; also, you tend to fly off of the track if you use a Jump anywhere near a turn.
Which leads me to my next nitpick: the game's physics. While it's reasonable to include some kind of physics limitations in a slot car game - having cars fly off the track on curves if they're going to fast, for example - the game often penalizes you for some very questionable activity. You might have flown off the track for a valid reason, only to get back on and tossed right off again because you pressed the accelerator a little too quickly. It doesn't seem to base crashes so much on actual speed as it does on how far you have the analog stick pressed forward on certain curves.
The AI is also troublesome. While it's entirely bearable on the lower engine class settings, it only gets worse as you progress through the game. Just because these cars have fast engines doesn't mean they have superhuman reflexes. Many more times than once, I've had a racer directly behind me, ready to eat my mine sandwich. Practically touching the back of my car. And when I drop the mine, it immediately snaps to the left or right. I've seen the same thing happen with these cars and hitting other obstacles. That's not good driving, that's cheating. Oftentimes the only way an opponent will crash is if they're absolutely trapped and can't go anywhere but off of the track. A bit disappointing.
The graphics are solid, but not very impressive. Each environment looks fine, and each of them are fairly large. The game also runs at a smooth rate most of the time (it does seem to drop on the occasional sharp turn, though). The only problem is that it simply looks bland throughout. Yes, you might be racing in a kitchen or a bedroom, but what distinguishes this kitchen or bedroom from any other? Not much. There's even a roof garden level, which sounds creative, but could stand to look a little better. So while nothing is terrible here, nothing is really all that stunning either.
The sound fares a bit worse than the graphics, I'm afraid. Sound effects could stand to be better - I can seem to distinctly remember the sound of my old slot cars as they rode along the track, and Grooverider hasn't quite captured that. The music is the worst offense, though. I rarely say this, but the music they selected for this game is simply awful. It's all a mix of generic techno beats with very obscure lyrics ("I keep thinkin' about your baby"?!), and they become quite grating after a few listens. The game offers custom soundtrack support, but there seems to be a glitch; every time I tried to use a custom soundtrack, the game's loading times became ridiculously long. It would have been nice if something was noted somewhere about being able to change the tracks, too. There's nothing on the pause menu about it, and it wasn't until I randomly pressed the white button that I found the track switched.
Grooverider does indeed suffer from quite a few flaws. It's sound is bad, it's graphics aren't great, and it's gameplay does have it's share of problems, too. It feels like it could have used a bit of extra time in the workshop. Everything, from the AI to the menus, feel like they could be better. That's not to say Grooverider is bad, though, it isn't. I found myself enjoying it, actually, and the simplistic gameplay can become quite addictive if you disregard the game's shortcomings. If you're a slot car enthusiast, or simply want to find some nostalgia, don't hesitate to give this one a rent. It may not be worth a purchase, but it will definitely provide a few good hours of fun before it's problems get on your nerves.
Score : 6.9/10