Car-Fu takes a bit of getting used to, and there will be a period during which you’ll wonder whether the effort is worth it. It’s never 100 per cent guaranteed that you’ll come out of a scuffle in a better state than your victim. In the long run, however, your efforts will be amply rewarded. Once you’re out of the initial Class 1 championships you’ll have precious little chance of getting a podium place without using your crazy Car-Fu moves.
In terms of gameplay, then, the fundamentals are all in place. Graphically and sonically, too, Speed Racer is a more than decent effort. It’s not as good looking as F-Zero GX – one of the finest looking games to grace the GameCube – but it does a good job of bringing the exuberant colours and retro-futuristic design of the movie to the smaller screen, and there’s enough background scenery and trackside furniture to help produce a convincing sense of speed. The music – presumably imported from the film score – is as pounding and urgent as it should be, and if the vocal samples grow repetitive the longer you play, there are enough of them that the repetition doesn’t grow incredibly annoying. In nearly every area that counts, Sidhe Interactive has done a fantastic job.
So where do things go wrong? Well, for me the biggest issue is the AI and the way it handles your rival racers. For one thing, Speed Racer rubber-bands the pack of racers like you wouldn’t believe. For another, the competition is extremely aggressive, constantly trying to whack you from behind or eager to put a stop to any attempt you make to get in front. The problem eases the better you get at Car-Fu, but there’s no getting round the fact that you spend 90 per cent of your time literally fighting your way through the pack, at which point you’ll frequently get clobbered, resulting in a depressing and practically instantaneous drop from first or third to twelfth, thirteenth or fourteenth position.
In some of the shorter races it’s a matter of luck whether you can actually make it to the front before your two laps are over. In the longer endurance races, you’ll go from first to fifteenth so many times that your only hope is that you happen to be in the right position at the second that you cross the line. In an adult game, I’d find this exasperating, but in a game aimed mainly at kids it’s inexcusable. Keep scrapping through and you will eventually win your way through the three speed classes and their championships, but it sometimes feels like it’s more a test of persistence than racing nerve or skill.