Review: Chrysler Classic Racing (Nintendo DS)

Chrysler Classic Racing
Developer: Zoo Games
Publisher: Zoo Games
Genre: Drag Racing
Release Date: 11/24/08

Video games contain at least an element of wish fulfillment. Considering they often serve as a form of escapism, that’s hardly surprising. And hey, who wouldn’t want nice shiny fancy cars to ogle at, tinker with, and drive? Being able to do so without flattening your wallet is part of the appeal of games like the Midnight Club and Need for Speed franchises. And a game about tuning up and driving vintage cars, particularly one you can play on the road, should be right up a car enthusiast’s alley.

Earlier this year, Zoo Games brought us the lovely gem known as Margot’s Word Brain. So imagine my unbridled joy when I found Chrysler Classic Racing sitting in my mailbox. Ever the intrepid reviewer, I put it in my DS and took it out for a test drive. With games like Calvin Tucker’s Redneck Jamboree among the developer’s library of games, it’s got to be good…right?

The first task the game presents to you upon starting it up is to create a profile and pick a virtual representation of yourself from four dorky looking dudes. After that, an opening cutscene depicts you and another dweeb (One of the dudes you did not pick) standing on a bridge watching the Kings, a gang that’s the epitome of cool (Think the T-Birds in Grease, only less…well, cool). You declare that you’ll be a part of them one day, your companion tells you that would not be possible and trying would be futile. You repeat your assertion, and you go on your merry way to prove him wrong. From there, you start off with only enough money for a basic car and some decidedly dowdy threads and work your way up from there.

The game takes place in various USA locations circa the 1950s and 1960s, and naturally the cars featured in the game reflect that time period. The ultimate goal is to earn enough dough and “cool points” to procure a more swanky set of wheels, impress chicks, and become the “King of Cool”. Clearly I am not in the game’s target demographic, but hey, I can work with that.

The story and characters are paper thin. You pretty much just race, tune up your wheels and save up enough for a new set, and try to get your game on with girls. For characters, you have Fat Sam the car vendor, a couple of generic guys, a couple of generic girls, and…that’s it. You certainly wouldn’t play this for story or character development. You’d think that a game that has picking up girls as one of the main goals would include something a little more than just, “Oh yay, you got me all these teddy bears, your car’s slick, let’s go out!” (Like maybe taking her out for a joyride or somesuch) but them’s the breaks.

The main mode you will be playing is the “King Of Cool”, which basically acts as the story mode where you race to increase your rank. You can race through tracks you’ve beaten in Re-Race mode either forwards or backwards and view any unlockables you’ve picked up under Extras. You can also change the language to French, Dutch, Italian, and Spanish under the options menu if you so wish. Other than that, there’s really not much else to the game. You can’t even pit your tricked out rig against anyone, even if you could actually find anyone who also owns this game.

Story/Modes: Poor

The graphics are reminiscent of early PSX games, which is…not exactly a good thing. The textures are muddy and pixelated. Often times objects on the horizon and the side of the road (and even the road itself) materialize as you approach them where they weren’t there before. It’s rather disconcerting seeing objects pop like the moles in one of those whack-a-mole games. Sometimes they don’t completely corporealize, and a building would be missing a wall or be completely transparent. There’s also random flickering cracks in the polygons comprising the tracks, which can be somewhat distracting. Pillow shading pervades everything in the game, and lighting never seems to be taken into account. The buildings are at least pertinent to the time period in the game, as there’s old fashioned diners and bowling alleys on the sidelines.

The supposedly “cool” outfits for your character look just as fashion challenged as the default outfits. The character models are simplistic and blocky, and they all look like they’re wearing gigantic flesh colored mittens and have toothpicks for limbs. They also gesticulate awkwardly while talking, and they have dots for eyes and no mouths. The lack of mouths in particular looks rather odd while the characters are talking.

In addition, some dialogues made me wonder if I missed a transition somewhere while watching them. At one point, a guy challenges you to meet him “after dark” for a race, but then while standing there goes, “OK, it’s dark now, let’s do this!” while it’s still bright out. At another point, a fellow Kings member tells you about someone talking smack about you, but then suddenly your character starts talking to the guy as though he’s the impudent upstart.

The cars themselves, the focus of the game and what you’ll be looking at the most, are rather unimpressive. While they do have enough distinguishing features that you can mostly tell them apart, they lack polish. You can customize them somewhat, but it’s limited compared to what you can do in other car-oriented games, as there’s only 12 cars and you can only have one at a time. Sometimes one side of the back of the car appears closer to the ground, even if there’s no damage and you’re driving on even ground. The only signs of visible damage are smoke emitting from your car and the diagram of your car on the bottom screen wherein damaged parts are shown in orange. That remains the case regardless of how much you abuse your car – whether you scrape it against a wall, collide headlong with a wall or other cars, or attempt to run said cars off the road (before anyone asks, I can quite assure you I do NOT drive like that in real life). Really, if you want to play with vintage cars and don’t have enough for the real deals, you’d be better off buying a set of Hot Wheels or something to that effect.

Graphics: Poor

The quantity of songs in the soundtrack resides firmly within the single digit range, which gets rather repetitive very quickly. The music leans on the upbeat side, but is rather bland and forgettable. There’s one track in the game that sounds somewhat like “Shake Your Bon-Bon” by Ricky Martin (Though whether that’s good or bad depends on your music taste). When the music is invoking thoughts of pop songs released in the 90s rather than anything in the 50s or 60s, you know something went wrong somewhere in the music direction. About the only good thing I can say about the audio aspect of the game is that the sound effects do sound like they’re supposed to – tires screech appropriately when turning sharply at high speeds, the crunching of metal when cars crash into something sounds true enough to what the real thing would sound like, and so on.

Sound: Pretty Poor

Control and Gameplay
The controls are pretty easy to get the hang of – A accelerates, X reverses, and Control Pad steers, and Y sounds the horn. The horn has no practical utility, but if you want to annoy your fellow drivers, then by all means. In addition, when you add the Nitro Pack upgrade to your car, you can also press Y for a speed boost once per race. During races, you can pick up various icons strewn throughout the tracks. A gas container gives you a brief speed boost. A dollar sign bestows you with a random amount of cash, and a C does the same, only with cool points. A badge gives you momentary invincibility, a wrench repairs all damage to your car, and a lockpad grants you an unlockable in the Extras menu.

On the whole, the controls are fairly responsive (Just remember when backing up to press the opposite direction you want to go, or you’ll lurch away from where you want to go). However, the car does feel as though it was hydroplaning in spite of the bone dry road at times, particularly while I’m trying to back up and away from an obstruction in order to to get back in the race. The good thing is that the game doesn’t force you to use stylus controls at any point. The only time the stylus even comes into play is picking menu options, and even then you can just use the buttons.

On the top screen, the current elapsed time of the race is displayed on the top left and the record time for that track is displayed on the top right. On the bottom screen is a speedometer, tachometer, how much money and Cool Points are currently in your possession, and a diagram of your car. It also shows the track layout, your current standing in relation to the other cars, and current lap and number of laps remaining.

Turns can be hard to navigate, and even if I slow down beforehand I would often find myself careening into and scraping against a barricade. This slows down the car and proves irksome, especially when watching other cars whiz by. Even the AI-controlled cars had the same problem, as I could see or hear them doing the same thing. I’d sometimes take advantage by scraping up against the cars, pinning them to the side momentarily as I sidled past them. Yes, I’m mean like that. Hey, it works. Granted, upgrading my tires did cut down on this, but it still happened at times. On the whole, though, the car physics are actually reasonably realistic.

After you finish a race, an NPC will either present you with a “Be My Baby” event or Gauntlet or Kings’ Challenge. In “Be My Baby” you switch to an overhead view on what looks like a fairground and you collect the amount of teddy bears requested before time runs out. In Gauntlet Challenge, a random amount of cash or Cool Points are at stake. Kings’ Challenge. If you fail any of these challenges, you can just try again, so there’s no consequence for failing. If you’ve risen high enough in the coolness hierarchy, Fat Sam will also give you a chance to collect flags for a discount (also in overhead view) when buying a new car. Naturally, the faster you accomplish this, the more cut on the price you get. However, if you mess this one up, you don’t get another chance to try again – you just pay full price.

Considering the era the game is set in, all the cars use manual transmission, and you can see the gear shift adjust itself depending on how fast you’re driving. The car model you have and the upgrades attached thereto do make a difference during races, so you can’t rely on your first car forever. You can upgrade your tires, engine, breaks, paint job, and so forth. Whenever I’ve gotten stuck on a race, I would simply save up, buy a new car or upgrade the current one, and voila, first place here I come.

Control and Gameplay: Mediocre

There is a total of 20 races in the “King of Cool” mode. Once you’ve completed those and become the new King of Kings…that’s it. The only thing left to do is either go through Re-Race to try and get better times or restart the game with a new profile. The only benefit to restarting is being able to pick up any unlockables (which are just vintage pictures of the cars featured in the game) you missed and try out different cars, since you can’t pick up anything on the tracks in Re-Race mode. That means no accumulating more money and Cool Points or unlockables unless you go through King of Cool mode again. There’s not much reason to go back to the game once you’ve finished it unless you just happen to really like beating your own score, giving every single car a spin, or unlocking every last picture.

Replayability: Bad

It goes without saying that the races requiring you to win 3rd place or higher are easier to clear than the ones that stipulate you place 1st or bust. While you lose Cool Points for any damage your car sustains by the end of the race, you can gather enough during the race to offset this deduction. Damage also doesn’t really hamper the car’s performance – I’ve won races comfortably even when the car’s smoking and the diagram is covered in orange. If you find yourself running low on funds, you can do the race over and over and grind for money and Cool Points. Note, however, that you can’t do this if it’s a challenge you’re stuck on, since you cannot pick up anything there. It can take a while to save up enough dough to drop on a fancier car, so you may have to resort to this if you’re losing a race over and over. But once you do obtain a better car and upgrade it, the game becomes a breeze.

Balance: Below Average

The whole, “Start off as a nerd and rise up the rank to become Mr. Popular” premise has been done many times before in various mediums, so the story in this game wasn’t especially original. But then, the game did set out to pay homage to 50s and 60s movies, so on that front it did kind of succeed. Still, the execution was neither particularly outstanding nor compelling.

Originality: Very Bad

The main thing driving me to finish the game was for the sake of this review. If you keep your car upgraded, the game won’t take you that long to finish. The only thing that really slows the process of completing the game is earning enough moolah for said upgrades. Admittedly, I did derive some pleasure in being able to drive like a maniac with no real consequence or having to worry about repair costs or increasing insurance rates afterward. In that sense, it was sort of enjoyable. But there are better games out there if you’re looking for a catharsis of road rage or just want to let the wind blow in your hair as you drive completely contrary to what the laws dictate.

Addictiveness: Pretty Poor

Appeal Factor
Aficionados of Chrysler, particularly their vintage models, who happen to play video games (and really, how many of those are there?) may give this game a second look at seeing the Chrysler logo on the cover. Upon seeing the puerile and cartoonish looking characters occupying the cars or even playing the game itself, however, they would likely put the game right back where it was and run away screaming. Ah, if only I had that option, but c’est la vie. About the only people who would enjoy this game are young children or people looking to increase their pain threshold, and even that’s questionable.

Appeal Factor: Poor

There were instances where I tried to go into a race, the screen turned black and…nothing happened. I ended up having to turn off and turn my DS back on. Thanks to the auto-saving feature, I never lost any progress. Although this did not occur often, it was still annoying and betrayed some bug or sloppy coding floating around in the cart. There was also a point where I bumped into a sign at such an angle that the back of the car was against a barricade, so I couldn’t go forward or back up to extricate my car from that spot, so I had restart the race. In addition, I also noted some typoes here and there throughout the game. All this indicates that the game was still in its crude stages of development when it was released.

Miscellaneous: Bad

The Scores
Story/Modes: Poor
Graphics: Poor
Sound: Pretty Poor
Control and Gameplay: Mediocre
Replayability: Bad
Balance: Below Average
Originality: Very Bad
Addictiveness: Pretty Poor
Appeal Factor: Poor
Miscellaneous: Bad

Short Attention Span Summary: This was a transparent cheap cash-in attempt on a well known car brand that simply crashed and burned. There was a decent variety of cars, but they were no rendered particularly well. There’s little incentive to keep you coming back after you’ve gone through the game. Overall, the whole game felt insipid and half-baked, and there’s far superior racing games out there if you’re in the market for one. Sadly, not even a government bailout can save this game.



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One response to “Review: Chrysler Classic Racing (Nintendo DS)”

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