Developer: Mobius Entertainment
Release Date: June 19, 2003
Drome Racers is a fast-paced, do-or-die racing game for the GameBoy Advance based on LEGO’s fine line of radio-controlled, customizable toy racers. Gone, apparently, are the golden days of simple construction LEGO sets, and in their place are high-tech adaptable interactive electronics, the likes of which I would have killed for as a kid. Luckily, young and old kids alike can appreciate Drome Racers on the GBA - its arcade combat-enhanced racing action, Virtua Racing-like 3D environments and vehicles, Mario Kart-esque weapon system, and overall ability to provide the player with a few hours of intense excitement, will surely garner the attention of fans of the LEGO brand and racing games alike.
If you’ve already acclimated yourself with LEGO’s series of Drome Racer toys, you’ll be glad to know that the racing leagues that have helped to make the product so popular are accounted for in the game, you’ll be able to choose your own team and compete against the other factions. Sadly, the rivalry between you and the opposing teams is kept to a minimum and hardly even mentioned, but those that already know what Drome Racers is all about should be content playing make-believe. The story for the game couldn’t be simpler: the year is 2015 and the world demands ever increasing forms of exciting entertainment, being a Drome Racer means sating that insatiable appetite for high-octane action as you compete to win the legendary Dromulus Cup.
Unfortunately, Drome Racers doesn’t offer nearly enough bang for your gaming buck. The various modes of play are pretty much your standard racing been-there-done-that fare, with the exception of the championship mode. Championship mode allows you to join a team and compete in a few different leagues starting with the Pro Racer circuit and ending in the Dromulus Cup. As you win individual races or place in the top three you’ll be given credits with which you can upgrade your ride’s statistics, like top speed, acceleration, handling, and grip. Before every race in championship mode you’ll be given the opportunity to qualify on the starting grid by claiming the top time in a drag race. The drag racing takes place from a first-person perspective (as opposed to the third-person perspective used in the game’s main racing) and the gameplay revolves entirely around switching gears at precisely the right time. Drag racing is definitely a nice diversion from the game’s standard racing but some may find it a little too simplistic to be much fun after a couple hours or so.
Other racing modes consist of the same predictable stuff racing fans have come to expect from any number of racing games on the GBA. These include quick race, which randomly generates a car and track on every play; time attack, where you race against the clock; dragsters mode allows you to focus exclusively on the game’s drag racing aspect; and arcade mode is where you’ll go to play any full race, drag race, or time attack events that you’ve already unlocked in the championship mode.
Only 10 unique tracks are included in Drome Racers (not including obligatory reversed tracks), and experiencing them all is a matter of investing a paltry hour or two into the championship mode. Locales include desert tracks, city streets, and icy roads, nothing out of the ordinary to be sure. On these tracks you’ll pick up various weapons such as rockets, triple rockets, homing rockets, mines, forcefield disrupters, shields, and blinding flares. Not a lot to choose from when you consider that three of the seven pick-ups are different types of rockets. Nitro power-ups are also scattered around every track, as well as automatic nitro boosters inlaid on each track. While the assortment of weapons may be sparse, the combat element of Drome Racers is what helps to set it apart from other racers on the handheld and keeps the player guessing if that racer directly behind you has a missile in his inventory with your name on it.
The on-screen action is fast and intense, purporting a real sense of speed and a newfound appreciation for power-slides. Just barely rounding out a sharp corner at full-bore and being launched into the air from a sudden incline is something that I wasn’t expecting to experience. There is a small track map with racer representations in the upper right corner of the screen, but you’ll quickly learn that the only way to beat your old records is to feel the road instead of glancing at the radar only to smash into the side of a barrier.
The most impressive aspect of Drome Racers is the fact that the entire game is rendered using shaded polygons. That means everything from your semi-detailed automobile to the mountains, grandstands, and trees are all true 3D models, something that, to my knowledge, has never been done on a GBA game to such an extent. We all knew it was possible, and there were some rumblings that a small development company was working on a way to release the handheld’s true 3D potential, but to witness real 3D graphics on the system in playable form is truly a sight of profound beauty. What is surprising though, is that despite the apparent taxing on the tiny handheld system, there is virtually no slowdown whatsoever. The sound isn’t nearly as impressive as the visual presentation but the roars of the crowd and whine of the engines do a sufficient job in purporting a believable setting. I could do without the half-hearted music and occasionally muddled sound effects, however.
Overall, Drome Racers is an exceptional little racer that conveys a rare sense of speed and visual flair, if only its modes of play were more fully-featured it would have been a contender for best GBA racing game of the year. But even so, plenty of enjoyment will surely be found in trying to beat your fastest time, obtain the Dromulus Cup with every vehicle, or the included multiplayer races. If you’re a huge Drome Racer fan than this is the game to get (forget the disastrous console games), but if you’re simply a racing fan then try before you buy.