Track construction is something that has rarely been done on console racing games in the past. For the longest time, the only console racing game that ever featured a track editor was Excitebike on the original NES. For several console generations, the thought of making a racetrack for a game was relegated strictly to PC gamers who knew how to use fan-made tools to hack creations into their favorite racing titles. Recently, though, user-created racing levels have started to spring up in console games. From the expected choices like TrackMania DS and Trials HD to the more unusual selections like LittleBigPlanet and Halo 3, players want to exhibit their need for speed on levels created by someone other than the original developer. Not ones to let Wii owners feel left out, Zoo Games and Icon Games Entertainment have brought racetrack creation to these gamers with Build 'n Race, a title whose major draw is racetrack creation. The idea is commendable, but it would have been a better appreciated gesture if the racing were enjoyable.
The game sports a few modes that racing fans have come to expect, such as Quick Race and Time Trials. The main mode for the single-player segment is the Race Championship, where players get to compete for four of the available championship cups. Each cup features 20 races across three environments, and the races are judged by a point system where higher placement in races means higher point totals overall. Finishing the first cup unlocks the next, and finishing each track in the given cup unlocks the track for play in the other game modes, including multiplayer.
Going through Race Championship highlights several flaws in all of the available racing modes. For starters, the enemy AI is too set on making their lines no matter what, which results in many instances when they'll crash into you and completely mess up your line. The bad AI driving also points out the poor physics, such as the need to always make your car land upright no matter how bad the crash may be. The game tries to go for a sense of speed that will remind gamers of the old Cruis'n or San Francisco Rush arcade games. It also tries to take that same physics system, where small ramps cause large and long jumps when taken at just about any speed. This wouldn't be so bad if there were long stretches of road with said jump, but that isn't the case.
Instead, bad track design comes forward with these same ramps, forcing cars to float in the air for a while and land a split second before they have to make a sharp turn. Arcade racers should reward gamers for wanting to go fast, not punish them for taking the ramp in front of them. At least the number of pre-made tracks is pretty high, even if only three environments are ever seen. Finally, there still seem to be a few bugs that severely impact gameplay. One such bug has to do with certain bridged walkway checkpoints. Taking the area underneath the walkway counts as you passing the checkpoint. Taking the side to go up the stairs and using it as an impromptu ramp looks cool, but it won't count as you having passed that checkpoint. The result is the player has to make another lap through the track just to make the missed checkpoint count the second time around. This is made even more annoying by the fact that there is no other indicator to let you know that you missed a checkpoint and that you need to go back and go through it properly before advancing.
The real highlight of the game comes with the track editor. You can choose from any of the three available environments for your theme and then choose track parts from there. You're not limited to actual racing pieces, as you can also choose which environmental pieces you want to set up near the track. You can place up to 255 individual pieces in a track as well as the checkpoints and finish lines for each one. That much breathing room in track creation gives you a chance to build massive and long race tracks, and since you are given every single piece that the developers had when they created their tracks, your imagination can go wild. One knock against the creation system is the inability to share it with friends online. It would have been great to show off what you've created and see what others have done, thus generating an infinite amount of tracks to play with. With this feature unavailable, you'll have to resort to inviting friends over to your place if you want to show off your design skills.
Surprisingly, the controls aren't as good as one would expect. For racing, there are three control schemes present. The best is the first option where you hold the Wii Remote NES style and control everything with the numbered buttons and the d-pad. It works well, but seeing the car take the turns in the game gives you the feeling that it isn't as smooth and responsive as you would think. Option 2 would be to use the Nunchuk in concert with the Wii Remote. Unless you're used to this method with other racing games, it becomes a bit unnecessary since the game only has an automatic driving mode. Finally, you have the option to hold the Wii Remote normally and twist it for steering. This feels the most awkward and unresponsive, a reason why no other racing game has flirted with this method of control before. Track building requires a Nunchuk to be plugged in due to the additional necessary buttons, and while it works well, it would have been nice to see IR pointing be used as well, especially since it would have made track piece placement and rotation just a little easier.
The graphics are mediocre, though it would be hard to come to that conclusion if you're only looking at the screenshots. Presented in 480i on a 4:3 screen, the textures on the cars and the tracks don't look too bad, and the same goes for the environments and objects, like billboards and signs. Even the particle effects from hard landings on the road and nitro are decent by today's standards. Once things move, the story becomes a bit different. The road textures all start sporting seams and repetitive patterns, making you believe that they really did use the in-game track building tool to build all 60 of their own tracks. It's awkward when you take any landing from a jump. Seeing a car land on the side and continue riding on two wheels dipped halfway into the ground is a normal occurrence. Turning, however, is presented poorly. Instead of seeing the car turn smoothly, you'll see it struggle through the turn. Anything that isn't straight driving will result in the car stuttering on the road instead of sliding or making a smooth turn. The only good thing that can be said about the game in motion is that the sense of speed is there, as every car feels like it's going pretty fast down the road.
The sound is fairly generic on all fronts. Engine sounds come off rather nicely, though you'll be hard-pressed to tell the difference between the cars by engine alone. The music is your standard rock material. Nothing is licensed, and the endless guitar riffs are decent enough that you won't turn them down but you won't remember them, either. As for the voices, you only have a female announcer, who does standard lines like telling you about checkpoints and that the game is over. The delivery of such lines ranges from bland to out of place. She doesn't seem all that excited when you execute a long drift, for example, and she seems all too happy that you placed anywhere below the top three in the race.
Build 'n Race could have been a sleeper of a racing game for Wii owners. The track builder is actually quite fun, and while it would have benefited from online sharing and multiplayer, it at least bolsters the already expansive track list for local multiplayer. However, nothing else in the game really gives players a compelling reason to keep playing. The sound is mediocre, the graphics are the same, and the controls aren't as tight as they should be. Top it off with gameplay that is both boring and challenging due to lack of AI balance and bugs, and you have a recipe for sub-par gaming. Despite whatever creative ideas you may come up with in this game, it's best to leave it alone and search for more engaging fare.
More articles about F1 2009