Next Level Gaming's Official Cartoon Network Speedway Video Game Review
12/23/2003 12:04:40 PM
"Sure, it's not for you, but is this a good gift for the young gamer on your list? "
Ah, the obligatory racing game, a staple of the gaming industry. Ever since the popularity of Mario Kart, there have been kart-racing games released for every children's show and children's movie, as well as any other popular video game franchises. Everyone from the Smurfs to Shrek to Crash Bandicoot have gotten their own racing game, and the sad truth is that most of them are just not any good. Enter the latest addition to this watered-down medium, Cartoon Network Speedway, featuring 12 of your "favorite" Cartoon Network stars in zany kart-racing "action." Now, clearly, this won't be a game that's meant to appeal to gamers of my age, or the age of anyone likely to be reading this site. But, at the same time, it doesn't seem like it would be geared towards younger players very well either. There are just too many things missing that a game aimed at that demographic should have. Some of them are little things, some are glaring omissions, but they all add up to one thing- this game really isn't good, regardless of your age.
Let's start with the basic framework of the game. You start with 6 of the 12 characters unlocked. Now, this already brings me to my first complaint- the characters. At the risk of sounding like a geek, I have to question why characters such as the Powerpuff Girls and Dexter were left out of this game. Last time I checked, PPG was one of Cartoon Network's biggest shows, I would think that any child playing the game would much rather race as them than one of the secondary characters from Ed, Edd, and Eddy. But, I could just have no idea what the kids are watching nowadays. Anyway, there are two main modes of play- Championsip and Challenge. In the Challenge Mode, you try to accumulate as many star points as you can by running over the star power-ups on the track, and by placing well in the race, and various other actions that earn you star points. If you earn the required number (or more), you will complete the challenge, unlocking items such as new tracks and new characters (you get a new track whenever you complete the one before it, and a new character for each two tracks that you complete). One downside to this mode, as a reslt of poor controls- there's no way to reverse, you can only stop. So, if you want to pick up a star that you missed, you have to either pick it up next time, or turn around and get it. And if you turn around, there will be a sign letting you know that you're going the wrong way. But, it reacts so slowly that usually, you won't see the sign until you're already going the right way again.
Championship Mode lets you race through 4 tracks in a row, and if you place in the top three overall, you will win the cup and unlock the next cup. It is a little odd that you can win the cup after consistently coming in third, but I can concede that, since the game is, after all, geared towards children. So, it stands to reason that the game should operate on a password system, rather than saving progress to the cartridge. You know, since kids are so good at hanging on to any passwords that they write down. In all seriousness, I complain about the password thing on GBA games a lot (it's been happening far too much recently), but in this case, it's even worse. By making the player write down and keep track of a password, you're basically guaranteeing that the younger gamers are going to have to start from the beginning virtually every time, which is going to make them get bored with the game really quickly.
Speaking of boredom, let's look into the gameplay a little bit closer. When selecting your racer, you'll see three stats- speed, weight, and grip. The implications of these stats are explained in detail in the instruction manual. Go ahead and read through them a few times, study them, write them down, and then completely forget them because it's all a lie. Every single kart in the game handles the exact same way, accelerate the same way, and they all have the exact same top speed- unbelievably freakin' slow. This is the only racing game I've ever seen where you have time to look at everything on the road, everything in the background, and check the time on your wall clock without having to worry about running into something, or missing a turn. Yeah, I know that it's supposed to be for younger kids, but this is a little extreme. In my opinion, if you need the karts to go this slow, then you're probably too young to be playing video games. Learn to ride a bike, you'll go faster anyway.
The graphics in this game are everything that you've probably come to expect... from an 8-bit system. But, seeing as the Game Boy Advance is a 32-bit system, these graphics are just plain lousy. There's some decent animation on the character icons that are on the upper-left part of the screen, but it doesn't look like any attention at all was paid to the tracks, or the backgrounds, or the racers themselves. The background music isn't too bad- it captures the essence of the Cartoon Network shows without getting too annoying or repetitive, which isn't all that easy to do. The main problem I have with the sound in Cartoon Network Speedway is the lack of fanfare. For example, when you complete a lap, there's no noise letting you know that you did anything. Sure, that seems trivial, but younger gamers are going to need some kind of signal, especially since the finish line itself isn't always so easy to see (thanks to the stunning graphics). Also, the music doesn't change when the race finishes, regardless of what place you finished in. So, whether you placed first, or 20 minutes after everyone else, you get to keep listening to the same background music that you've listened to for the whole race. Again, this may seem like no big deal, but it all contributes to the boredom factor, which will make it that much shorter of a time before the young gamer in your life is begging for another new game.
Bottom line, do not buy Cartoon Network Speedway for anyone of any age. If you've got a young one who's a huge fan of the cartoons featured in the game, then I realize that you might not have a choice, but don't expect to see them playing it for very long. It seems like all the problems in this game boil down to one common, universal misconception- that if you're making a game for a younger audience, you don't have to put any effort into it. That couldn't be further from the truth, and I really wish that more companies would figure that out. Still, as aggravating as this game was to review, a short look down the pike shows that in January we'll be blessed with Cartoon Network Block party. Ah, the obligatory party game...