Based on a collectible card game, the Yu-Gi-Oh! video games have proven to be nearly as popular as Nintendo's venerable Pokémon series over the years. Updated regularly and often packed with a set of limited edition cards, the games allowed players to hone their playing skills in the virtual realm as well as buffing their real-world decks with a few new cards. Alas, even in the gaming world, things must evolve, and to that end, Konami decided to tap into the Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D animated series for inspiration.
One of the key events in the animated show is the concept of Duel Runner racing duels. In the duels, Yu-Gi-Oh! competitors race each other on high-speed motorcycles while battling it out using their custom decks. Winning requires a savvy combination of driving skill and proper deck usage. Sure, you might be able to take an early lead if you burn off all your cards, but doing so leaves the duelist vulnerable to counter attack.
On paper, the game sounds great, almost an inspired version of Mario Kart with a custom Yu-Gi-Oh! twist, but after getting in some time with an early preview build of the game, we're somewhat uncertain about its ability to hold the line.
The first thing you notice when playing Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's Wheelie Breakers is the complete and utter lack of motion support. The game makes absolutely zero use of the Wiimote's pointer or the accelerometers in either the Wiimote or Nunchuk. This means no pointing, twisting or turning to navigate. Every single action is controlled with the buttons, d-pad and analog stick, even in the menus. To a certain degree, it's a bit disconcerting, especially on the Wii, where gamers have gotten used to the motion controls. It actually took us a minute or two of waving our Wiimote wildly at the main menu to realize that we needed to use the d-pad to navigate. Intuitive it's not.
In-game, you have the option of jumping into a race or adventuring through the story mode in order to build up your collection of cards and improve the performance of your ride. You play as a youth from a small town, enthralled by the possibility of finding fame and fortune in the Duel Runner circuit. In order to get there, you'll first have to prove yourself by winning duels locally and moving up the ranks.
Duels consist of a race with the added twist of a Yu-Gi-Oh! card deck. Cards are split into three types: monster, spell and trap. Monster cards are used to summon creatures to battle by your side during a duel, while spell cards are used for enhancing your performance (such as a turbo boost) or impacting an opponent (such as blinding them or slowing them down). The trap cards are generally defensive in nature and can only be used when responding to an opponent's action. Initially your deck is a mere 15 cards, but this can be increased by purchasing cards from the in-game shop.
During a race, you can have six cards from the deck in your hand at any given time. Cards can be played immediately, but you cannot pull new cards from the deck unless you grab a card pickup or an existing card specifies that you draw a new card after it is played. Alongside the cards are your action points. Like new card draws, these can be picked up during the race, or they will slowly recharge over time. Action points are used to summon monsters as well as attack with your summoned beastie. If you're out of action points, your options can be somewhat limited.
Cards are also used to tune up your Duel Runner via a creative "scan" system. Each card has individual attributes, and the scan system allows you to apply these attributes to your bike. For example, the Junk Warrior increases the top speed of your bike when scanned. Although the base stats of your Duel Runner will increase over time, the scan system allows for a limited amount of further customization.
All in all, Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's Wheelie Breakers looks to have made a decent attempt at bringing the traditional cards into a racing framework. Where we have the most concern, however, is with the racing itself.
Despite the fact that racing is a core component of gameplay, the actual racing controls appear to be somewhat limited. You can accelerate, brake and lean left to right. There don't appear to be any special maneuvers such as powersliding or independent braking. It's simply stop and go. On the one hand, we can understand that the developers would want to keep the racing mechanic simple in order to emphasize the dueling aspect with the cards, but on other hand, making it too simple can also be a detriment. Nintendo was able to strike a solid balance in the aforementioned Mario Kart, and we're hoping that Konami has been able to make similar strides, or else the racing could end up being a bit underwhelming.
Identifying the cards in your hand could also be a potential issue, as they didn't appear very large in our preview build. This meant a lot of flipping through the cards on-screen in order to see exactly what we had in our hand. If the card icons had been a bit bigger or more distinctive, then recognizing them by sight would have been an easier task. An auto-sort would have helped as well. The default behavior has cards landing in your hand exactly as they are pulled from the deck, rather than grouping like cards together.
Bringing innovation to an existing brand can be difficult at the best of times, and Konami is to be commended for trying something new in the Yu-Gi-Oh! universe, no matter how it ultimately turns out. We'll have someone out there kicking the tires and checking out the final version of Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's Wheelie Breakers when it ships at the end of May. Be sure to check back to find out if the game takes off from the starting line or if it ends up having a flat tire right out of the gate.
More articles about Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's Wheelie Breakers