Climax and Acclaim bring you a new motorcycle based racer, but is it worth your dough? We take a look.
PS2, Xbox, Cube
More often than not, the release of an original budget title is met with scepticism, with most people immediately dismissing the title as being doomed to flop. Of course, this preconception is not consistently accurate, as a small selection of titles have proven with gusto (Vib Ribbon, anyone?). With Acclaim rarely associated with quality of releases over quantity in the industry, Speed Kings arrival at the office left us slightly cold. Sorry. No preconceptions - not even the most marginal reaction. Which should make for a completely impartial Kikizo review! Read on, you crazy diamond...
On first playing Speed Kings, you're asked to delve into what seems like a long process of choosing a bike, appropriate leathers and helmet. Whilst not immediately bothersome, this process belies the fast thrills and speedy nature of what is yet to come. It also smacks of being peripheral, almost completely redundant, with bland select screens and forgettable sound effects detracting from the players' enthusiasm.
These seemingly insignificant additions to the games longevity are thankfully not where the bulk of the game's lastability lies. Indeed, the core of the game lies in the hands of racing round the track until you achieve a crash Evil Knievel would be proud of. During the process of racing, performing tricks helps to build up your boost gauge until you're finally ready to break all road traffic laws in one fell swoop. In order to give this a little more structure and meaning, there are two specific modes, which organise your on-road anarchy into manageable, sane levels.
Licence mode tests your ability to do as you're told (read: licence mode, ala Gran Turismo) and more importantly Meet mode, where each "meet" consists of 3 races. As you progress through each meet, new bikes and features are unlocked throughout the multitude of modes on offer. Both of these modes make up the bulk of the games single player enjoyment, with varying degrees of success. There were points where you couldn't help but wonder whether both modes were simply tacked on in order to appease the single player, with no discernable effort made to break from the already rigid structure of the genre's obligatory single player option.
Other modes available to select offer an all too empty distraction from the core element of the game, yet nevertheless prove to be of some value after a few goes. The trick mode sets you challenges during a race, ranging from performing turbo boosts on the starting grid to "wheelying" over long stretches of the track. This element of the game isn't particularly important nor will it provide lasting fun, yet it does manage to fit in well with the scheme of things. Thankfully, the multiplayer mode, whilst sparse, is nevertheless worthy of note, simply because of the reaction it evokes from players. Crashes viewed in a group result in gasps and roars of disbelief, as your bike hurtles several feet in front of you. One particular incident saw the entire grid roster crashing on the first turn, which saw the entire room go nuts. Regardless of depth and longevity, moments like these must be applauded.
It's fair to say that Speed Kings borrows and improves upon elements derived from its stable mate Burnout: what sets SK apart is the delicate and fragile nature of motorbikes, as a collision not only results in your bike being smashed up, more often that not you and your bike go flying several feet ahead of the racing line. This results in a degree of awe when played to a crowd, and certainly keeps spectators captivated. For this reason, Speed Kings stands apart from its peers as being an accomplished game that delivers unfiltered fun. You won't find much in the way of accurate bike handling or extensive modification options, though it could be argued that these are peripheral when considering the objective of the game. Speed Kings is clearly a game for racing fans, simulation fans are advised to pick up something like Namco's Moto GP 3 or THQ's Moto GP 2 (both entirely different, by the way).
When reviewing a game, it's very rare that you have to factor the price tag into your appraisal: usually, a poor game is a poor game regardless of cost. You inherently don't expect much from budget titles, so it's with some surprise that I found Speed Kings to be a great deal of fun. Of course, after several hours of play there's very little of actual substance and the issue of longevity becomes a simple question of "how much fun can you derive from crashing into stuff" but those issues aside, this is superb value for twenty notes.
Whilst I've largely avoided comparisons to Burnout, I certainly wouldn't hesitate recommending Speed Kings to fans of the four-wheeled crash fest. However, although the two titles are similar, Kings lacks the presentation and execution of Burnout by some margin.