Inside Pulse 12

Review: Heathcliff: The Fast and the Furriest (Nintendo Wii)

Heathcliff: The Fast & The Furriest
Genre: Racing
Developer: EC-i
Publisher: Storm City Games
Release Date: 11/05/2010

In college, a philosophy teacher once asked my class to write two pages on the following question: “What is Hell?” I am sure that he would be proud of what I have become, because I am just about to answer that same question, and it’s going to be much longer than that. Now, I know that Hell is a racing game that stars cats and aliens.

I am not even going to pretend that Heathcliff: The Fast & The Furriest is a good game. I will spoil it to all of you right now: this game is abysmal. The biggest praise I can give to this game is that it is cute. It is not even cute in the sense that the graphics are good, or that the story makes your heart melt; it’s just cute because it’s cats in go-karts, a concept which to my surprise, didn’t bring up any result in Google Images. After all, there are pictures of cats doing just about anything on the net these days, so why not go-karts?

So you already know that this game is bad, but please, stick around. I know that some of you enjoy reading reviews of bad games. After all, our very own Mark B. built a career out of reviewing bad games, so if you are still reading this, you may want to check his archives you are done.

On to the proper review.

STORY/MODES

This game is based on the famous Heathcliff comic strip and cartoon, and features the same characters. So far so good, since the characters all have defined personalities and could be the basis for a fun little game. After all, when you look at most karting games, they usually take advantage of the fact that the characters are established, and thus they jump straight to the racing without even mentioning a back-story. Not this time.

Heathcliff: The Fast and the Furriest makes the effort of telling you a story. It is about cat-shaped aliens called Alikats coming to Earth and kidnapping Heathcliff’s girlfriend for studies. When Heathcliff takes exception to that, they challenge him to a kart race, which is their custom when fighting over something. That’s very convenient, since this is a racing game after all.

The story is very silly, and rarely mentioned at all outside of the boss fights reminding you that yes, you are racing for a cause. Yes, the story sucks, but it doesn’t really affect the gameplay or the player’s motivation, After all, if you wanted something a gripping drama, you wouldn’t be playing a kart racing game starring cats. Therefore, I cannot really deduct points no matter how bad it is. It’s still more of a story than most games of the genre bother to explain.

However, I will deduct points for the lackluster modes, which include only the basics: story mode, tournament and single race. Tournament is only story mode without the cut scenes, and single race can either put you up against a friend or against the computer in a time trial run. That’s it. Multiplayer is restricted to two players, because I guess it was too much to just split the screen right down the middle again.

No battle mode, no mini-games, no online. I can understand why they wouldn’t bother with online, but the other modes have pretty much become standard in this type of games, so it feels like something is lacking.

Story/Modes Rating: Poor

GRAPHICS

The game is very colourful. On the graphical side, that’s about the only thing Heathcliff has going for it. The visuals are a bit blurry, the characters are polygonal in a way I hadn’t witnessed since the PSX/N64 era, and the textures are nearly absent. Most of the buildings and backgrounds are filled with flat colours, with no texture whatsoever. I get that they were going for a cartoonish look, but instead, we get something that feels dull and lifeless.

The sense of speed is also missing badly. The on-screen speedometer indicates that I am doing 180 miles per hour on average, sometimes up to 250, but it still feels like I am riding a lawnmower. Even though the game boasts 16 courses, it only has 4 different backgrounds, with only the track’s design changing. The visuals are repetitive and boring. The only positive I can say about them is that at least you won’t have any trouble keeping your eyes on the road. The graphics department does not have much going for it.

Graphics Rating: Bad

SOUND

I hate to reuse the same adjectives in two consecutive sections, but the music has this in common with the graphics: it’s repetitive and boring. If there is more than one track playing during the races, I couldn’t differentiate them. It all feels like the same standard, non-descript happy song that feels at home in such a game, but which gets grating quickly when there’s no variety. I felt stuck in an endless loop of bad synth-pop. The sound effects are just as bad, with some of the sound clips used when firing a weapon sounding like direct rip-offs of Mario Kart. I endured the sound on my first day of testing, but I have been keeping it all the way down ever since. It’s bad enough when soundtracks are forgettable, but this time, it’s just irritating.

Sound Rating: Bad

CONTROL AND GAMEPLAY

The game has two different control settings: use the remote as a steering wheel, or plug in the nunchuk and steer using the joystick. The controls themselves are simple enough, since you only need to remember three buttons in order to be successful here: A makes your vehicle go forward, Z makes its go backward and C uses the item you have acquired. You can also slide with B, but you don’t need to remember this one. Every time you will try to use it, you will inevitably go out of control and crash into a wall, so let’s just pretend I never even mentioned it existed.

The steering is loose and your car seems to float around corners, no matter which configuration you decide to use. Smashing into walls is frequent, and you’ll have to get used to it, but don’t sweat it. Unless you are a really, really bad driver, you will most probably keep the lead. That’s how bad the A.I. is. As your adversaries get closer to your car, you can hear their voice getting louder and louder but somehow, even if you crash into something or even deliberately stop, they never seem to be able to pass you by. You have to stop and stay still for a couple of seconds before they can actually take over, even if the on-screen map indicates that it is merely a couple of feet behind.

The weapons in this game are useless. The only item that seems to hit is the set of speakers, which logically gives you the ability to stop another driver dead in its track. The homing missile never hits, the machine gun (yes, a machine gun) never does any damage no matter how close you are, and the speed boost is useless since the tracks are already littered with more speed boosts than necessary to complete an entire lap without ever slowing down. There are two or three other items available, but I had to look into the instruction booklet to see what they were supposed to do.

The last race on the circuit is actually a boss fight, where you must finish in the top two and defeat the boss in order to advance. This is fine in theory, and it has been proven to be a good concept by games such as Diddy Kong Racing. The problem here is that Heathcliff never gives you any indication as to how to achieve that goal. My first instinct was “shoot the bastard”, a strategy which failed horribly, no matter what weapon I used. My second instinct was “crash into the bastard”, which also failed miserably, since the boss keeps shooting at you before simply vanishing. In the end, I managed to get a lucky shot somehow, by both shooting and crashing into it at the same time, but the same strategy did not apply when I tried it again a second time. So how exactly can you defeat this boss? I still don’t know, and I’ve been playing this game for over a week.

In short, this is a game which is nearly impossible to control, but which still allows you to win races and kill bosses if you have a seizure with the remote in your hands. If this was a fighting game, this would be a button-masher, but I didn’t know such a thing existed in the racing genre. This game is frustrating beyond belief.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Dreadful

REPLAYABILITY

Did I mention that when you start the game, the only racer available to you is Heathcliff? That only one track is available to you in the single race mode? That’s all. You have to win tournaments in order to unlock more racers and more tracks, and both tasks are about as entertaining as clipping toe nails with a chainsaw. It sounds fun in theory, but it will only bring pain and suffering for those involved. Once you are done unlocking the 16 tracks, which were already the very definition of “tedious”, all you can do is race on them again. If you think your children spend too much time playing video games, Heathcliff makes a great case for playing outside.

Replayability Rating: Dreadful

BALANCE

As I have mentioned before, the races are so easy that it is almost impossible to lose. I deliberately avoided every item and speed boost on the track for an entire race, and I still finished in second place. This game just might be the easiest game in history until you get to the boss fight, which is frustrating to the point of going crazy. It’s not even challenging by design, it’s just frustrating because there is no hint or indication to tell you what’s going on, and only when you cross the finish line for the first time does it bother to tell you that you have to get rid of the boss. Even once you know what to do, it’s so cheap that you lose the last fragment of sanity that made you keep playing.

Balance Rating: Bad

ORIGINALITY

It’s the first time I have ever heard of a Heathcliff video game, I will give them that. However, the concept of the game is to basically rip off every successful kart racing game ever, and then get rid of what was actually fun in the first place: the speed, the variety of tracks and characters, and the action. So I guess it’s almost an anti-kart racing game, which I guess is a first in a way, but it really offers nothing new. In the end, it’s still a mediocre take on a genre that has been around for a while.

Originality Rating: Dreadful

ADDICTIVENESS

It’s hard to get addicted to a game when playing it feels like a chore. While a normal racing game would get you addicted to its exhilarating sense of speed, or to the act of seeing what happens in the next race, this game does none of that. You already know what’s happening in the next race, and it’s very similar to the previous one. I can’t think of a word that would clearly represent anti-addiction right now, so this will have to do.

Addictiveness Rating: Worthless

APPEAL FACTOR

Does Heathcliff still have that many fans? If he does, how many of these fans play video games? Out of these people, how many actually want to see Heathcliff in a racing game? This could appeal to children who like kart racing games and nice colors, but if the parents who consider buying this read a little bit about the product before purchasing, then this does not leave a lot of chances to Heathcliff: The Fast and the Furriest. In the absolute though, it’s still kart racing, a very popular genre, mixed with Heathcliff, a reasonably known mascot. Yeah, I guess it could interest some people.

Appeal Factor Rating: Poor

MISCELLANEOUS

Some of the design decisions in this game leave many questions unanswered. First of all, why did they limit the multiplayer to two players? Most if not all games in this genre allow four players to compete at the same time, so this limits the game’s potential as a family game.

Another questionable decision is the small number of tracks and racers available. Starting the game with only one character available would be weird in any game, but in a game that desperately needs variety to spice things up, it’s a real let-down. The game does boast sixteen tracks, but of these tracks, you are only given four different settings, and most of the tracks lack originality in terms of design or obstacles. It feels like the movie Groundhog Day, if Bill Murray was stuck racing around the dullest circuit in the country.

I want to end this review on a positive note, so like I said before, it’s cats in go karts. That has to count for something, right?

Miscellaneous Rating: Bad

THE RATINGS

Story/Modes: Poor
Graphics: Bad
Sound: Bad
Control/Gameplay: Dreadful
Replayability: Dreadful
Balance: Bad
Originality: Dreadful
Addictiveness: Worthless
Appeal: Poor
Miscellaneous: Bad

Final Score: Very Bad Game!

Short Attention Span Summary
Being reviewed in the last month of 2010, Heathcliff: The Fast and the Furriest is a late entry, but it is the worst game I have played this year. Nothing even comes close. This game represents everything that can be irritating about video games: repetitiveness, bad gameplay, unresponsive controls, annoying music and frustrating objectives. I you didn’t read the review all the way through and skipped straight to this paragraph, the whole point I am trying to make here is “Stay away from this game”.