Racing Gears Advance
Sometimes a game will hit you right out of left field, and Racing Gears Advance is just one of those games.
Let it be said that a racing game doesn't always have to be the most organized in order to succeed. Sure, there are some simulation games that beg to differ, like Sony's rock-solid Gran Turismo series and Microsoft's forthcoming Forza Motorsport for Xbox. But sometimes you just have to kick back with a fun racing game that offers very few limits and puts arcade thrills at your fingertips. San Francisco Rush is one that certainly comes to mind, as does Codemasters' classic Micro Machines series and Sega's old and new examples from Outrun. And who would I be to not have a casual mention of the brilliant Burnout 3?
Now comes another example, this time from an unexpected source. Orbital Media is a new developer on the block who has unleashed an all new racing experience, this time for the Game Boy Advance. Well, that's exaggerating a little bit- the game has a familiar feel to it that's reminiscent of the old Micro Machines game for the NES, giving gamers a "race anywhere and get first" kind of feeling without getting directly behind the car. But Racing Gears Advance still has enough inventiveness to burn, and scores as one of the bigger surprises of 2005. Between its wonderful gameplay and its multiplayer offerings, you'll be hooked within a matter of minutes.
The game utilizes a strange isometric approach to each track, which can range from city to country locations and still offer tons of twists and turns to challenge your finest skills. It takes an aerial view, rather than getting close to your vehicle, and this allows you to scope out the course, even at high speed, so you can get the most out of the race as possible. However, you can also see other cars, and what they might be up to in regards to knocking you out of the race. The game features not only vehicular skills that you have to learn, but also offensive and defensive weapons, ala Wipeout but without futuristic touches. These come into play throughout the round, and, coupled with the shortcuts scattered throughout, can mean the difference between first place and last place.
The game actually looks rather excellent, as the graphic engine represents a quasi-3D appearance without really going the full way. The cars animate beautifully, and there's actually licensed vehicles that look a bit like their real-life counterparts, although a bit microscopic. Up for a spin in a mini Lotus? Perhaps a Dodge is up to your standards? There's over 10 here to choose from, and they all have their own style of steering and driver, each with the right kind of attitude towards racing. They're not fully distinct personalities, but they get the job done.
Sound-wise, the game is also a nice surprise. Like Outrun, there's a number of radio tunes that you can choose from throughout each race, and the music is very nicely composed, keeping a thrill no matter what your selection. The sound effects are minimal, but what is here is grade A, right down to tire screeches.
As for the control, one would think that a game that relies more on a distant view wouldn't involve any kind of tight handling. But, again, this is a grand discovery, as the cars control wonderfully. The weapons system is nicely balanced, and the A.I. for the computer opponents is frisky without becoming over aggressive. But how about the way the cars drive, and the fact that Orbital Media somehow crammed in tight controls AND power drifting? Wonderful.
As far as multiplayer, the game supports a number of up to four racers as long as they have a link cable and separate cartridges. It's kinda sad that there isn't multiplayer with just one cartridge, but it's worth the investment just to link up with friends and battle it out with them. The ability to upgrade your car and earn extra cash gets a thumbs up, as well as the automatic battery save.
Let's face it, this game hit me with the authority of a mack truck. I did not expect it to be this captivating a racing game, but rather just another typical four-wheeling affair. But Orbital Media taught me a lesson - sometimes the best stuff hits you when you don't ever expect it. Racing Gears Advance is for real, and worth dropping some cash on if you're looking for a smooth portable ride.
What's Hot: Overall a very tight, well-built racing experience.
What's Not: That I didn't even see it coming!