Jimmie Johnson’s Anything With an Engine
Genre: Kart Racing
Developer: Autumn Games
Release Date: 12/01/2011
When I tried Jimmie Johnson’s Anything With An Engine (which I will just refer to as JJAWAE from now on in this review) at E3, I was pleasantly surprised. I had not heard of it and what I had played looked like a decent kart game, a genre I’m a fan of. For those who are not aware, there is a NASCAR driver named Jimmie Johnson, who is one of the biggest personalities of NASCAR racing, having won five consecutive championships. From what I understood from the PR rep at E3, this game came about as an idea that Jimmie Johnson had so that he could play a game with his children.
However, not knowing who Jimmie Johnson or anything about NASCAR is required to play or enjoy the game.
When I first played the game the production values made me feel like JJAWAE was going to stall at the starting line. The game has a really odd art design going for it – everything in the menus looks like it is cut out of cardboard. I really don’t know what the idea behind this was, but since it is the first thing you see, it kind of gave me the impression that the game was made cheaply. Another thing about the presentation is the voice acting going on in the menus and race selection. There are two announcers, both just 2D cut outs without any sort of animation, which have really stereotypical southern accents. In fact, if you are someone who thinks that NASCAR is something only rednecks enjoy, JJAWAE embraces this stereotype for some reason with the over-the-top southern accents and some of the characters.
Usually if a game looks like they didn’t have much money to spend on having decent production values for the menu, it raises a red flag that the game itself might not be good.
Thankfully that is not the case with this game.
There are multiple modes to choose from: a Career mode, a Single Event Mode, and a couple of different flavors of multiplayer. Career Mode is where the majority of the single player portion of the game takes place, with several different cups to race through. Each cup is a mixture of the seven different race types within the game. Completing these races gives you a score, and over the course of the seven races the score determines your place in the standings. Placing first means that you get a chance at the end to have a duel for the cup with Jimmie Johnson.
The Single Event mode is self-explanatory. You can choose a course and a race and do just a single event. Here you can alter some of the rules to change the amount of laps and so on, and this is the mode you want to play if you are just looking to do a quick round.
Multiplayer has both split-screen and system link as local multiplayer options, and an online mode with both ranked and casual racing. As of this writing, on the PS3 I was unable to join or start any online matches. This isn’t a fault of their net code as it appears that no one is just playing this online yet, so I am unable to say how well the experience holds up online. Last I had checked there was actually no one on the online multiplayer leaderboards.
The game is a kart racing game, with some slight variations on the genre. Unlike some kart racing games, you do not just drive over a weapon to pick it up. Instead, all of the karts have specific upgrades, such as mines, missiles, the ability to ram opponents, and nitro. The ability to use these items and upgrade them is in the form of fan votes. Some fan votes can be driven over in the form of highlighted portions of the track, or can be had through powersliding, using the ram ability on other karts, and other forms of driving. The way the game slowly doles out these abilities and upgrades them keeps a tight balance on how much they affect the actual racing. There are no items that give too much of an advantage to one racer or another.
There is a health meter to keep track of, and receiving damage will run the risk of the kart blowing up. When that has happened to me, I’ve respawned in last place. There is a Pit Stop area of every track where you can refill the health bar as well as restock the weapon ammunition. This will slow you down, but usually doesn’t cause you to sacrifice your position very much. Each race takes long enough where you have to decide if you want to try and push it another lap without hitting the Pit Stop and risk blowing up, or take the opportunity to heal the damage and try to regain your position.
Reading that you might worry that if you aren’t very good at the game it might be hard to try and recover from last place, but the game balances this another way. Shortcut paths will open up for the last place drivers, not enough to overtake first place but enough to put them in the pack with the other drivers. Then there are buttons on the ground that when driven over will cause traps in the track to activate. When in first these serve very little purpose, but when in last these can help even things out. Of course, these tracks can also usually be negated by just good driving as well, so none of them will screw a racer over.
The different cups give the player a chance to experience all of the different race types within the game. They’ve drawn some interesting styles of races from regular kart style racing, to real car racing, to demolition derby races. There’s the standard race, then there is a time trial race that expects you to follow a racing line. There are also race types like an endurance race that scores you based on what position you finished a lap in, a forward/backwards race where half of the racers are driving the opposite direction, and an elimination race where the person in last place after a set amount of time gets eliminated. The last two might exist outside of demolition derbies, but that’s the only place where I’ve seen such races done.
The way they’ve mixed these together, along with the Pit Stop feature, makes the game a really interesting blend in styles that works no matter what type of race you choose to play. Considering Jimmie Johnson’s name is on the title, I thought they would work some real racing mechanics into the game, and what they’ve accomplished is really well done. As someone who has played a bunch of kart racing games, including a lot of really bad ones, I was impressed by what they’ve managed to accomplish here. There’s not a lot of originality when it comes to kart racing games usually, but the way they’ve managed to really capture multiple styles into their game sets it apart from the Mario Kart clones.
The game controls like you would expect – R2 is gas, L2 powerslides, L1 brakes. The different face buttons control different items: square for mines, circle for missiles, and X for ramming. At the Pit Stop you mash on the triangle button for repairs. To activate nitro you double-tap the gas, which is the only complaint I have about the controls. It feels really weird to have to double-tap the gas and the game either doesn’t always recognize it or I’m tapping the gas wrong, but occasionally it doesn’t seem responsive. The R1 button is just sitting there with nothing to do, why not use that as a nitro button?
Graphically the game is pretty good. The karts and riders all have unique looks that match their over the top personalities. The Anything With An Engine part of the title shows in the kart selection since the karts can range from literal bombs with engines in them, to golf carts, lawn mowers, and so on. The tracks are like the karts in that they’re all varied with different over the top themes, and they all look good and have interesting layouts. While the graphics aren’t exactly on par with some of the other major racing titles, the graphics in this game work with the art style, there is never any slowdown no matter how many effects are happening on-screen. For a budget game, aside from some of the low rent production values in the main menus, they look good in the actual driving part of the game. The game also supports 3D TVs and the old style of 3D glasses.
Aside from the weird 2D cardboard cutout presentation, another strange thing is the fact that while the game is filled with over the top cartoon character models, Jimmie Johnson looks like his real life counterpart and it looks really out of place with the rest of the game.
The audio is odd. The background music and weapon effects are well done, and the different voice clips for each driver add to their character (though they get repetitive quickly). For an E10+ rated game, however, there are some curious things. For example, if you check out the bio for the golf kart racer he will say “ËœAbout time you chose a driver with some balls’, and the crocodile hunter racer yells out “ËœBuggerall’ if he loses, which led to a young nephew of mine to ask me what that meant.
With several different cups, different race types, and the game supporting every kind of multiplayer (splitscreen/system link/online) that you can think of, there is a lot of replayability to the game.
I am amazed they decided to release the game during one of the busiest seasons for video games. However, the fact that this game can be played and enjoyed by both kids and adults I think really fills a niche in this holiday season. This is something that you can play with or around your kids, which you can’t really say about some of the other major releases, plus it retails for $30.
Modes: Very Good
Audio: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Good
Final Score: Good Game
Short Attention Span Summary:
At $30, Jimmie Johnson’s Anything With An Engine is a budget kart racing game. However, with so many $60 M-Rated games out, this is a perfect game to play with the family and though the presentation could use some work with some strange art design ideas, the actual game is a fun experience that anyone who likes kart racing games should be able to enjoy. If Jimmie Johnson was looking for a game to play with his kids, then Autumn Games have done a fine job making one for him.
Tags: Jimmie Johnson, mario kart, NASCAR