Genre: Kart Racing
Developer: Webfoot Tech
Release Date: March 5, 2008
If you've ever been to any kind of supermarket or retail chain, I'm sure you've seen the various 50-cent machines that usually hang around near the entrance or exit, generally in that space between the doors as you come in. If you've paid even closer attention, chances are you've seen the Homie toys, after which this DS game, Homie Rollerz, is licensed. They're basically little pieces of plastic done up in caricatures that are meant to represent Chicano culture. I know some people find them to be a little offensive, but they're obviously pretty popular, since they've been around since 1998 and have spread out to include Filipino, Japanese and Puerto Rican portrayals. The whole line was designed by David Gonzales, and even garnered a bit of negative attention from the LAPD shortly after release, prompting Gonzales to create a backstory for most of the characters, and some of the lore is featured in this title.
While the licensed property might be pretty popular, the Homie Rollerz game is honestly quite bad. It's a kart racer, created in that popular vein of racing games that imitates the Mario Kart series. The various characters from the toy line are each given a matching vehicle and placed in locales that are meant to match the license. They must then battle it out in a series of events that are held by the mysterious Wizard character, who has decided to grant a wish to the race winners.
The actual design work of the characters carries over fairly well, even if it is in a 3-D space on the DS, and while the visuals are a far cry from the best we've seen on the system, fans of the toy line will have no problem recognizing the characters represented here. The music, however, is bad, and just sounds low-quality coming out of the DS speakers. A lot of it seems to want to mimic a few popular tunes, but none of it's licensed work from what I can tell, and you'll probably want to mute the game fairly quickly.
The controls in Homie Rollerz are also clunky, feeling far too touchy to give you any accurate racing sensation. You can control everything with the d-pad and buttons; there's no real use for touch-screen controls here. Turning feels like it can be done on a dime with every single racer in the game, making it hard to differentiate between any characters. They all feel and control the same on the track, with minor variances in how they look. There are no in-game stats that I could really find that detailed the differences from one racer to the next.
Racing isn't the only focal point on the track either, as you're given a very limited move set to perform certain "tricks" to gain respect points as you race, which you'll find are more important than actually winning races early on. These respect points can then be spent for some parts and color changes to your vehicle, which will end up giving you a definite advantage on the track. The part upgrades are limited, mostly tire and engine upgrades, but you'll absolutely need them to win, since the opponent AI will stick to you like glue in every single race. Early on, it can be frustrating to try and eke out a win, simply because you'll never really get ahead of the pack, and there will almost always be someone who's just one step behind you and waiting for you to accidentally bump a wall due to the touchy controls.
Once the pack gets ahead of you, well, good luck. You'll spend the entire race trying to keep up with them, and with the controls being as bad as they are, it's a chore in itself to even place in the top three without a few of the upgrades in place. As I said before, it doesn't really matter which racer you choose, as they all seem to play and control in the exact same way.
There are eight racers to choose from at the beginning of Homie Rollerz, with a couple unlockables along the way. Each of these racers has a unique track that's specific to his or her story, so the game has a decent variety of races to participate in. Among the selectable characters, you have Big Loco, Big Red, El Chilote, Gata, Jokawild, Mac Daddy, Willie G and Zombie. From what I could tell, each character's story is probably more fleshed-out in the instruction book than it is in the game.
Along with using the tricks to gain respect points, you can also fill up a boost meter to propel your Homie forward. It's a really short boost, though, and can only be used when it's full, which severely limits the appeal of using it in the first place. There are also various power-ups scattered around the map, as with most kart-style racers, and they provide a few different benefits. One allows you to swap places with the racer in front of you, while another will create a thing that flies forward on the track and drops more power-ups along the way. Another is a basketball that works like a green shell in the Mario Kart games, while another object is simply a brick wall that will bring anyone to a grinding stop. The tracks don't offer much in the way of shortcuts, but there are ramps that you can use to gain some air, which allows you to pull off rolls for tricks. There are also patches of track that you can run over to gain some extra speed.
There is a local multiplayer mode for up to seven other racers, which I didn't get to check out, but it does allow for single-cartridge play. The only stipulation is that everyone but the host is given a random character, and the host can only select from three of the available tracks. Still, it's a pretty big group for a low-budget kart racer, and I was surprised to see single-cartridge support in there.
Homie Rollerz for the DS isn't a game that I could recommend to anyone, not even fans of the toy line or kart racers in general. The controls are far too sensitive to allow you to race without some frustration involved. Every racer feels the same on the track, not giving you much of a reason to check out all of the game's playable characters, and while there is a story in place, it's pretty limited compared to the backstory that's been crafted for these characters by the toy line. The visuals are bland and the music is awful, so while there is a pretty solid multiplayer support in place, you won't have much luck in getting enough people together who'd actually want to play it. I sincerely hope that somewhere down the road, another developer will have better luck with the Homie Rollerz license.