Review: Cocoto Racer (Nintendo DS)

cocoto-racers-ds.jpgCocoto Racers
Genre: Driving
Developer: Neko
Publisher: Midway
Release Date: October 19th 2007

Stepping from the ranks, another challenger to the Mario Kart crown. Can cute little demons succeed where other have failed? Well, consider that the Box Art and the Title Screen disagree on what the game’s title is (either the box has an extra S, or the title screen is missing one; I tend to plump for the former) what do *you* think?

So… Here’s the game. There’s some little demons in a contest for… Something. Some of them are “good”, some are “bad”… If this is sounding contrived, don’t let it. It’s too flimsy to be contrived. Seriously, I checked the instruction book, and that has all of 30 words as an intro. I know what you’re thinking – Why do racing games need a story? Truth is, they don’t, really (though a half-arsed attempt at one *does* looks horrible) Nope, what Driving Games really need is good controls, well-designed tracks, and a shedload of modes. Cotoco Racer has… Ummm… Well… There’s Grand Prix and Time Trial modes… And there’s a multi-player mode which requires you have friends who own the game (rest assured, we’ll be seeing why that’s a problem later on in the review)

One saving grace, however, is that the game’s not ugly. The character sprites are a bit rough around the edges, and the backgrounds are a bit blocky, but when the game’s going full-tilt, you don’t really notice. The artists have clearly done their level best to inject a bit of character into the game, and it shows. My big graphical complaint is the fact that most of the on-track hazards are two-dimensional. Yep, those hanging vines and cobwebs are only one pixel thick, and it grates on me. Suspension of disbelief is one thing, and is necessary in video games, but this is a Golden Gate Bridge of suspension. And it makes the hazards really odd to navigate around, too.

The sound is perfectly adequate. An inoffensive selection of bleeps and whistles, some jaunty tunes to keep the atmosphere up. Each of the characters has their own collection of comments they make when overtaking, winning, or whatever; while that’s not exactly an innovation, it does make the characters feel a bit more individual.

racers1.jpgThe more observant among you will have already spotted the big upcoming BUT. Well here’s a hint – There are several. And here’s the first one. If you’re going to do a driving game, you want pixel-perfect controls. You want the physics to feel right – They don’t have to match the real world, they just have to work in your one. So when someone’s playing a driving game, deliberately pick the character which the instructions say has the best traction in the game, and she STILL slips around everywhere like it’s some kind of ice world, you know there’s something wrong. And the power-slides? PAINFULLY bad. This is a kart racer, not the video game of The Fast & The Furious: Tokyo Drift – a handbrake turn should NOT leave you facing in reverse (side-note: As bad as that film was, watching it is still infinitely preferable to playing this game. Just so you know). The tracks? Don’t talk to me about the tracks. All hairpins, strange obstacles, and assorted critters dropping hard-to-see obstacles right on top of you. Every single mile of those tracks feels like a chore to play, thanks to some truly idiotic design.

So here’s some other BIG buts. Seriously. These buts are so big, Sir Mix-A-Lot would have an aneurysm as his brain overloaded with pleasure at their enormity.

Replayability – You’re joking, right? Seriously, there is no reason you would ever want to replay this game. You could, potentially, go for a time trial record, but there are far more fulfilling things to do with your time. Like pulling your toenails out with red-hot pliers and no anesthetic.

Balance – I guess there is some in there, somewhere. But all the little things; the shoddiness of the controls, the way hazards stack up (get hit once, spin forwards a bit, and hit another one. Then get shot by the character behind you), how the vague attempts at giving better weaponry to the drivers at the back doesn’t really work, the fact that the tracks are so badly put-together, and the eerily perfect driving style of the computer AI; they all stack up. And conspire to udo bad things to the overall balance.

racers2.jpgOriginality – OK, now you’re REALLY joking. The game basically IS Mario Kart, but worse in every way. The weapons are the same, you collect on-track pickups to boost your top speed (apples here, not coins), and the overall look/feel of the game SCREAMS “I wish I was Mario Kart” A few minor tweaks do not, in any way, count as a new game, especially if you bring nothing new to the table. It’s a shame we have to use words for a description, because the level my disgust for this game’s rampant originality is as unspeakable as Lewis Carrol’s Snark is indescribable.

Addictiveness – If you want to keep people playing, you need SOMETHING. I’m a hard man to hook into a game at the best of times, but this? It actively repulsed me. The controls, the balance, the sheer crushing pain of having to play something so horrible… I felt so sorry for my DS, I had to get onto eBay and buy a copy of a good game in to make up for the mental anguish I caused it.

So, is there anything else redeeming about it? Something that might make people care? Well… I suppose it might appeal to some people… Maybe there are some rabid Cocoto fans out there? Anyone? Bueller?

Nope. I didn’t think so, either.

The only miscellaneous or unusual thing here is the clearly random nature of the Quality Assurance process that meant this game didn’t get thrown into the pit of fire and sulphur where it deserves to be.

racers3.jpg Breakdown

Story / Modes – AWFUL
Graphics – MEDIOCRE
Sound – MEDIOCRE
Control / Gameplay – VERY BAD
Replayability – WORTHLESS
Balance – POOR
Originality – WORTHLESS
Addictiveness – AWFUL
Appeal Factor – AWFUL
Miscellaneous – WORTHLESS1
AGGREGATE: VERY BAD

Short Attention Span Summary

No. Just… No. For the love of all that is holy/unholy (delete according to alignment preference), don’t buy this game. Don’t even rent it. If you own it, take it to your local game store and hope they can give you enough trade-in value for it that you can get yourself a copy of Mario Kart DS. And if they won’t, then force them to play it; After ten minutes, they’ll give you a replacement game (any game!) on condition you take Cocoto Racers away… Far, far away.

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