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Speed Kings

Review By:  Jared Black

Developer:  Climax
Publisher:  Acclaim
# of Players:  1-4
Genre:  Racing
ESRB:  Everyone
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Unit, In-game Dolby Digital
Date Posted: 

8-7-03

After the success of Acclaim’s Burnout series, other similar racing games by Acclaim were virtually pre-destined.  Here Acclaim attempts to take the formula to the world of street bike racing in the form of Speed Kings, a two-wheeled crash-fest that fails to match the excitement or innovation of its predecessor.

As you’ve probably guessed by now, Speed Kings is a straight-up arcade-like racing game through a variety of traffic-infested international streets such as Detroit and London.  Single player modes include Single Race, Meets, Time Attack, Trick Attack, Head to Head (vs. the CPU), and Grand Prix.  The Meets are the most important gameplay mode, as it allows the player to unlock additional meets and bikes by earning enough points in each three-race meet to advance to the next.  Completing all six meets opens up the traffic option (either on or off), as well as mirrored versions of the original tracks.  Multiplayer modes include Single Race, Meets, Trick Attack, Head to Head, Tag, and Grand Prix.  In both instances, Grand Prix allows for one of several different length races sans the traffic and with extra racers.

The game also offers the opportunity to meet various Respect Challenges, which can be completed in both Meets and Single Race modes.  These are accomplished generally through the use of tricks.  These tricks include everything from wheelies to endos to powerdowns (laying the bike on the ground to slide under an obstacle).  Completing these challenges unlocks additional bikes that are much better than the starting ones.  Attempting to pull off these challenges will generally make the player run a much slower race, so it’s advisable to only attempt these in Single Race mode.  This is also what makes the Respect Challenges feel more like a chore than anything, since the player generally needs to specifically aim for these goals instead of actually trying to win the race they’re in.  Very few challenges are accomplished just by riding well, and as a result earning all 54 is more trouble than it’s worth.  It’s the racing genre’s equivalent of collecting 1 billion tokens in a platformer simply to extend the replay value of the game.

Other than the Respect Challenges, the other main motivation for pulling off a lot of tricks is the Powerband meter.  It’s here that the game really begins to falter.  Once it’s full, starting a Powerband only provides for a simple temporary speed boost.  Not only is it too simplistic, but also for the most part they aren’t even worth pursuing. Pulling off tricks will generally cost the player more time then they’ll make up with the temporary speed boost.

There are also two other ways to build up the Powerband meter, and these are through the use of Dings and combat.  Dings are where the bike taps the side of a vehicle without wrecking the bike.  These are pretty lame, because most of the time Dings will only be performed by accident and not as the result of any skill on the player’s part.  Attempting to pull of Dings will result in the player wrecking most of the time, since collision between bike and traffic is very sensitive and aiming at the side of a vehicle (without hitting the front or back of it) is extremely hard when traveling so fast.  Acclaim tried to spice things up a bit by throwing in some combat, but what’s here is pretty lame and probably should’ve been left out of the game altogether.  There are only two basic attacks: punching/kicking and powerdown attacking.  Punch/kick are assigned to the same button, and the rider will automatically perform one or the other in the direction of the nearest competitor.  Powerdown attacks work on competition in front of the player.

The racing itself is simply too flawed to compete with most arcade racers.  The AI seems intent on making sure the player wins, as all too often I magically came back from 6th to 1st to win a race I ran far too poorly to really win.  There are also way too many scripted events that require powerdowns, including trucks crossing the road and various environmental obstacles just happening to fall in front of the player’s path and just happening to leave enough space to slide under.

Graphically, Speed Kings isn’t anything special.  Traffic looks like it belongs in a Dreamcast game, and the same vehicles repeat over and over again.  The environments in general are a mix of generic buildings and blurry texturing, with very little in the way of landmarks or other interesting sites.  The majestic trees of the Swiss Alps have been turned into flat and pixilated monsters, and the mountains themselves are completely devoid of any foliage.  Rider models look decent though, and crashing looks OK thanks to the myriad of flying bike parts.  Unfortunately, sparks or other effects don’t accompany these wrecks and all evidence of said wreck disappears shortly after it’s over.  On the whole, it’s basically a solid looking Dreamcast game with virtually no of the perks you’d expect on Xbox.

The music sucks.  It’s the same basic lame techno crap you’ll find in many other low budget racing games, and it gets tiring fast.  The box mentions that the game supports custom soundtracks, but I couldn’t find this option anywhere and the manual doesn’t go into detail about it either.  My guess is that they originally planned on it, but cut it for some reason.  Judging by the music that is available, custom soundtrack support would’ve been greatly appreciated here.  The sound effects are even worse, with very generic bike/traffic sounds and the same sound effect for each and every crash regardless of what the bike hits.  There’s also little environmental stuff to speak of either, and what is there (like the bike sliding on a wet surface) sounds unrealistic.

Highs:

  • The game controls easily enough, and the controls are responsive.
  • It runs fast enough for an arcade racer, although there is a bit of slowdown here and there.
  • Most of the courses are designed well.

Lows:

  • A very lackluster effort sound wise, with a generic soundtrack and stock sound effects.
  • Looks great...oh wait, this isn't a Dreamcast game.
  • Weak combat thrown in for variety’s sake.
  • Dings suck.
  • The camera is occasionally out of position to see oncoming traffic clearly, and there’s no first-person view to compensate.

Final Verdict: 

Occasionally Speed Kings can be a lot of fun, but for the most part it’s a chore of completing lame challenges, enduring too many “extreme” crashes set up by scripted traffic, and pulling off tired tricks.  Worth a rental for arcade racing fans, but motorcycle fans will be better off sticking with MotoGP 2

Overall Score: 5.6

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