Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Release Date: June 17, 2008
Wacky Races: Crash & Dash is a game searching for an audience. As a casual racer on the Wii based on a 40-year-old cartoon, it is both unlikely to appeal to fans of the show (as they don't likely play video games), and it likely won't resonate with younger gamers, who have no idea who these characters are and why they're dressed that way. It really doesn't matter, though, as Wacky Races is little more than a mild distraction, the fun ending long before the checkered flag ever drops.
Those familiar with the cartoon series will be happy to see all their old favorites here, as 10 different racers from Peter Perfect to the Ant Hill Mob make an appearance. Each character gets his own specific vehicle, and given the fact that the game features a license from Hanna-Barbera, the entire cast is spot-on, just like they walked out of the cartoon and into your Wii.
The game features three modes (Crazy Circuit, Wacky Race and Trap Challenge), with the main focus of the game lying in the Crazy Circuit. In this mode, you may choose one of six races, each of which features four tracks. Like most racing games, you compete on a series of tracks, earning points based on finishing order. Highest points at the end wins, and everyone else is left to cry all the way back home.
That's where the similarities to other racers end, though, as the game wouldn't be called Wacky Races if it didn't feature some weird mechanics. The main draw in the title is the power-ups scattered around the track that are meant to aid your racers to victory. Each racer has his own unique pickups, but really, everyone is granted an item for speed boosting, one for attacking other racers, and one that allows them to fly above the fray and float to the front of the pack. The differences between characters are more or less cosmetic, and the power-ups are essentially useless.
The reason for this is because all of the racers — regardless of size of vehicle, aerodynamics, or weight — run at the exact same speed and feature completely identical handling. There is absolutely no strategy involved in choosing a racer, as getting into first place isn't reliant on your speed or racing prowess, but rather simply steering clear of other racers' attacks and slowly working your way through the pack.
Of course your time in first won't last long, nor will it matter, due to yet another mechanic, this one utterly game-wrecking. As you race around the track, staying on the screen, leading the pack, or using power-ups will fill your Mad Dash meter and net you Mad Dash cogs. These are important because at the end of the race, all of the cars will come together for a wild sprint to the finish, where the winner is determined by the number of cogs in his possession. If you gained the pre-determined number of cogs necessary (they appear at the top of the screen, letting you know how many you need), then you will win easily; if you fell short of the quota, then you'll either win by just a hair or lose to the other racers. Basically, the entire race is rendered moot by this five-second free-for-all at the end, making the whole experience feel cheap and pointless.
To further aggravate and annoy, twice during each race you'll be attacked by a "trap" set by Dick Dastardly and his sidekick, Muttley. These events consist of quick minigames that run the gamut from inane and simple to complicated and impossible. Winning one of these events grants you a full Mad Dash cog, while losing takes one away. These challenges completely ruin the flow of the game, interrupting you in the middle of the race to make you tackle a boring and dumb task, and due to the fact there are only eight challenges in total, you'll be repeating the same minigames over and over and over again.
There really isn't a single mechanic in Wacky Races that works well. The gameplay is exceptionally flawed (you don't even have gas or brake, you just point the control stick in the direction you want to go), and the visuals don't fare much better. While the world the game inhabits is very colorful and vibrant, the camera system is awful, and the racers and environments feature almost no detail. Somehow, the camera manages to be both detached and claustrophobic, pulling out far enough that all 10 racers are on the screen at once and yet staying tight enough that you can almost never see the road ahead nor pick out your vehicle when in a crowd. Also, rather than penalizing you for falling behind by making you catch up on your own merits, if you manage to fall off the screen, the game simply takes away one of your cogs and then puts you right back into the thick of things. While you're never more than a few car lengths behind the leader, you also have no real incentive to try hard when racing, as you know that no matter how badly you do, you'll still be right there in the hunt at the end.
The controls continue this theme of awfulness, as they do their best to trip you up every step of the way. As mentioned above, there is no gas or brake, so making a corner consists of turning your analog stick from one direction to another. Unfortunately, if you happen to take a turn too loose or too tight, there's no way to correct it; you just have to hit the cliff or fall into the canyon and deal with the consequences. Also, a lot of the power-ups require you to shake the Wiimote relentlessly (as do the Mad Dashes to the finish line), giving you a sore wrist in record time. Even worse than all that, though, are a few of the "Way Out Wacky Powers," which actually are unique to each character and require you to shake the Wiimote, aim a pointer on the screen and press A, all while trying to keep your vehicle on the road using the aforementioned terrible analog stick controls. The whole experience is ultimately an exercise in futility, and if you haven't quit the game yet, this will likely be the thing to push you over the edge.
I suppose I was lying when I said there was nothing good about Wacky Races, as the music and sound manage to do a fair job. The soundtrack is appropriately peppy and retro, and the announcer does a great job of making you feel like you're watching a '60s cartoon. He calls the action with appropriately cheesy puns and genuinely makes you feel like you're back in a simpler time. Yes, he can get a bit repetitive, and it's unlikely kids will find his antics very amusing, but I still believe that the game is better with him than without.
Wacky Races: Crash & Dash feels like one of those games where no one on the development team really knew what the overall objective was. Is this supposed to be a title for nostalgia gamers, or something for kids to enjoy? If it's the former, then why rely on such stripped-down gameplay mechanics for people who surely have the brain power to figure out a gas and brake button? If it's the latter, why base the whole experience on a 40-year-old cartoon featuring characters these kids have never heard of? Everything about the game just feels halfhearted, and it's nearly impossible to think of a single audience for which I should recommend this title. It's good for about a 10-minute trip down memory lane, and that's it. Everything else stinks.
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