Review: Sideswiped (Nintendo DS)

Sideswiped
Developer: Recom
Publisher: Majesco
Genre: Racing
Release Date: 10/20/09

As the fella says, people watch racing for the crashes. With that cliché in mind, perhaps it make sense to make a crash-based racing game. Problems arise, however, when one realizes that races are all about going fast whereas crashes tend to slow cars down.

Let’s see how the fine game developers at Recom addressed this potential paradox, with their crash-based racing game, Sideswiped

1. Story
You play the game as Schoonie “U-Turn” Singleton, a hotheaded ex-ballerina barred from cage-fighting because of his propensity to bite the tips off of his opponents’ ring fingers. U-Turn is a brash and sassy aristocrat who joins an underground racing ring to prove to his alcoholic mother that he really can drive a stick shift. Aiding him on his quest is a Thai ladyboy who suffers from acute narcolepsy, and who is known only as “Wingtips”. Wingtips and U-Turn have grown so jaded with day-to-day life that each needs to get into car accidents in order to achieve arousal, you know, like James Spader and Holly Hunter. So, they end up cheating death in order to achieve an ultimate high, knowing full well that each crash could be their last.

This is my way of telling you that the game has no story. Not even a little. Not even a line on the box about these crashes/races. Nothing.

Not even a single character.

They don’t even show a driver.

Hot dog stands and bus stops are abandoned. Streets are devoid of people. It’s like I Am Legend with cars. The closest thing we have to a character in this game is the disembodied and heavily accented voice that asks if you to get ready before a race.

So, we must judge this thing like a sports title and evaluate its modes, not its story. The first option in the main menu, generally a sign of the main or most important mode, is INSTANT MODE. In instant mode, the game randomly assigns you a mission and a vehicle. It could be anything from bounding a sports car off of giant trampolines to trying to win a street race with a bulldozer. It really is a random assignment.

That makes the main mode here the second thing in the menu, MISSION MODE. With mission mode, you must complete missions to unlock more missions and to earn money to buy cars and upgrades to cars. We’ll talk about this thing more in the Gameplay section.

There is also a VS MODE. You can play wirelessly with up to four players, provided you can find anybody else playing this thing on the Wi-Fi network.

I could not.

There is a non-wi-fi, “let’s swap the DS back and forth”, Vs. mode. This mode, however, is limited to 2 players and only offers those two players the choice of a poorly designed bouncing off of trampoline game and a poorly designed car bowling game.

2. Graphics
To play the game for a little while, the graphics of Sideswiped are fine. The different areas are distinct, with the New York and Las Vegas being reminiscent enough of their real world counterparts. It’s easy to tell cars from SUVs and buses from bulldozers.

I don’t ask for much more than that in a DS game.

Unfortunately, things can get a little hairy if too much action is on-screen. If there are a lot of cars flipping over and a few explosions going off, horizontal black bars and general ugliness start appearing on the screen. Basically, in order for the player to beat some missions in this game requires the player to break the game’s graphical output. The ugliness goes away quickly enough, but one wonders how such a thing got through beta-testing. It looks like the VCR is eating the tape.

(I feel old now.)

3. Sound/ Music
There is no voice acting in Sideswiped, unless you count that disembodied voice that asks if you are ready.

I don’t.

The music here is the most generic “racing game music” I’ve heard in some time. You guys know what I’m talking about right? It’s like you make a midi version of a famous rock song’s intro, and loop it incessantly.

Sometimes there is engine noise in the background music, which makes for a confounding aural experience.

As for the sound effects, well, they are there. We get the engines roaring, the tires screeching and the noise a road cone makes when one runs it over. The noise of actually crashing into another car is surprisingly quiet. A 150 MPH head on collision seems to make less noise than running over those traffic cones.

Sadly DHGF does not have a “huh?” rating to offer Sideswiped in the Sound/Music category, for that is the rating it deserves.

4. Control / Gameplay
It’s a racing game, so, say it with me, “A accelerates and B brakes.” The X button is used to boost, while Y is used for the handbrake. The B brake is basically useless. Even considering this vestigial button, it is pretty crowded to have three important functions assigned to the dang thumb. This is especially true considering that the L button is used for a horn and R is used for a rear view mirror.

Really guys?

Sideswiped does give you the option of reassigning the buttons to correspond to whatever function you want. (Screw that, though. That’s the developer’s job!)

We are also given the option of using the stylus. If controlling a car using a stylus sounds like a good system to you, go for it. Me? I used it a few times for normal races, and everything on screen ended up on fire.

No, really.

On fire.

The controls are responsive, but generally bad. The problem is that the game itself is just freaking wonky. It generally feels like you are driving on ice, things on screen often explode indiscriminately, street cones will fly up into the air for no apparent reason. The physics of Sideswiped are perplexing. If I am driving a truck at full speed and get into a head on collision with a tiny sports car, the tiny sports car will be sent flying forty feet into the air. Wouldn’t it make more sense for the car to just go backwards? Or for the truck to run over the short sports car? The whole game is like that, though. Cars are constantly flipping around and flying through the air.

The weirdest thing is that you can basically still boost and turn in the air.

The more I think about this game, the less sense any of it makes.

Basically, Sideswiped works like this: You have a Mission Mode. With mission mode you select an area, a mission and a car. The areas consist of New York, Las Vegas, Seaside, Arena, and Mountain. The main types of missions are Normal Race, Crash Race, and Destruction.

Normal races shouldn’t need much more description. Generally these things are two to three laps long and last about two to three minutes. To pass them, you usually need to finish in the top three.

Crash Races are set up on the same tracks as the normal races, but the goal isn’t to win. The goal is to crash into other cars. Doing so awards you with a seemingly random amount of points. There are a bunch of other cars on the track all going in the same direction, but it really isn’t a race. There is really no point in going down the track except that it is what all the other cars are doing. You have to achieve an arbitrary amount of randomly assigned points to pass these missions.

Destruction missions are just like Crash races except without the other cars thinking that they are in a race. You are just supposed to crash into road cones, street signs, and unsuspecting drivers. The only thing you aren’t supposed to hit are the buses. The game tells us we will lose time if we hit buses, but we don’t seem to really. Again, these missions are won by achieving a completely arbitrary score.

There are other mission types, but those three are the most common. The other missions include such things as Car Bowling, Medal Collection, Capture the Flag, and a Boss battle. Though, I should say that a “boss battle” doesn’t really indicate a story. Especially when it occurs in the middle of the game, and consists of a mission whose goal is to tap into a specific car.

5. Replayabilty
The game only starts you off with two cars, one area and a couple of missions. You have to beat the missions to unlock more missions, and beat more missions to unlock the next area. Stupidly, the Arena where one should be having a demolition derby is the second to last area to be unlocked. C’mon guys,! If you make a demolition derby game, let us have the demolition derby right away.

Beating missions will also give you money. The money can be used to upgrade the body strength, power and boost of each car. Or it can be pissed away on new colors. Missions generally pay out one to four thousand dollars. It is pretty cheap to upgrade the preliminary cars, but it costs a couple of grand to paint them. You can buy some fairly fast cars for under fifty grand. These will eliminate any sort of challenge for the normal races. The bigger cars make the demolition levels easier, but cost between eighty grand and a million dollars.

So, if you are really good at a particular mission, you can win it every time. Say it pays out two grand. That means you will have to play that mission five hundred times to unlock the most expensive car (sans upgrades and paint). Sounds like fun, eh?

The game actually has too many unlockables. There aren’t enough options at the start of the game. As such, by the time you have played the game enough to start unlocking interesting things, you are likely to be sick to death of it.

“What am I unlocking these things for, if the game hasn’t afforded me any fun?”

On the other side of things, though, is the Instant mode. Instant mode allows you to play missions and areas you haven’t unlocked with cars you have yet to buy. The problem here, though, is that it assigns these things randomly. If you want to try the bulldozer in a crash race in the arena, you can try the instant mode where this combination is less than one percent likely.

Also, instant mode doesn’t keep score or reward the player with any unlockables or cash to buy new vehicles.

So my choices here are:
1) everything is locked and I can’t really be bothered to unlock them or
2) everything is unlocked and but I can”Ëœt do what I want.

Cool game, bro!

6. Balance
The racing portions of Sideswiped are pathetically easy. If you have played a racing game before, you should be able to beat these things without any trouble. The bad controls are your biggest opponent here, even with those I have one plenty of races while flipping backwards through the air on fire. (That sounds like a lot more fun than it really is.)

Part of what makes the racing so easy is that you are rewarded for bad driving. You are given extra boost to your boost meter by crashing, rubbing walls, or flipping your car into the air. So, if you make the turn perfectly, you are leading the race. If you screw up the turn, you are given a boost which can be used to take the lead.

The crash races can generally be won just by slowing down, sticking with the pack of cars, and rubbing up against them as much as possible. It never feels like an accomplishment to win these things, just happen-stance.

The destruction levels are the most random of all. The game awards points for “combos” but achieving these things is hit and miss. I find it best to use a big vehicle and to drive slowly into traffic. For some reason doing this makes a large number of things on the screen start to explode, and buses start to flip over.

I don’t know why.

In general, the difficulty of mission mode is stupidly easy, hampered by occasional bouts of completely arbitrary scoring.

Instant Mode, on the other hand, is entirely chaotic. Instant mode will give you the fastest car in the easiest race in the game. Then, instant mode will put you in a completely unwinable situation. Instant mode will, say, give you a bulldozer and tell you to try to win a street race against Porsche pastiches.

Good luck with that.

7. Originality
There are probably one hundred driving games for the DS, not counting all the compatible Gameboy Advance titles. Granted, most of those games don’t reward you for crashing, but the concept is far from novel.

And it is not executed well here.

8. Addictiveness
Do you ever spill boiling water on your hand and kind of enjoy it? Did your ever want to do it again immediately afterwards?

9. Appeal Factor
The game is about crashing. Stuff is blowing up on the box. Who doesn’t love crashing and “Ëœsploding stuff?

Filthy hippies, hooples and communists, that’s who!

(And people who have played this game.)

10. Miscellaneous
Early on, I noticed that sometimes when I smashed into cars an R appeared on the screen and the game showed a replay of the crash. I thought, “is this some sort of pinball-ish aspect of the game I don’t understand? Do I have to spell out some sort of word starting with R?”

Then, I realized that the R was for replay and that the game just made me feel stupid.

Soon I grew to hate that R. Especially during the crash missions of the Arena, when seemingly every hit necessitated a replay. Knock it off with the replays already and just let me play this game that I don’t like!

Guys, I hate that R so much.

The Scores:

Story: Poor
Graphics: Poor
Sound: Poor
Control/Gameplay: Poor
Replayability: Above Average
Balance: Poor
Originality: Poor
Addictiveness: Poor
Appeal: Above Average
Miscellaneous: Worthless
Final Score: Poor Game

Short Attention Span Summary
Sideswiped is a half-hearted attempt at a game featuring some of the worst physics this side of the Star Wars trilogy. It does features a wide array of missions; unfortunately, none of them are well-executed. It manages to diminish the fun of mindless crashing. You’d be better off getting Chinatown Wars and driving aimlessly through Liberty City.

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