Owning a Ferrari definitely makes a statement. Unfortunately, most people will never be able to afford one. So perhaps the next best thing would be to play a realistic driving video game featuring one. While this game definitely looks pretty on the DS, its bare bones options will leave it in the dust.
This is going to sound very strange, but the best part about this game is the tutorial. Here, the player actually follows the game’s on screen instructions and voice narration according to what is happening on screen. The coolest part about this is that the game rewards points according to how well you perform. Take a tight turn right when you are supposed to? Slam on the breaks at the proper moment? Ride over the green racing line? Doing all these driving tasks warrants more points while failing in any category negates points. This is an interesting game mechanic that gives this game a flavor of Stuntman, a noteworthy PS2 title.
Unfortunately, this point system is solely designated in the tutorial mode. The rest of the game is simply just a straight forward racing game. As far as options go, you can change the color and number of your car. There is no option to adjust tires, swap engines, modify part of the car’s body, install Yosemite Sam mud flaps…nothing. You simply press the Start button and try to reach the goal line before your computer AI opponents.
Instead of throwing more options into the game, the developers implemented a very awkward card mode. Yes, because when I buy a car that is worth more than some houses, the first thing I think of is collecting car cards and battling my friends. Beside the complete lack of direct correlation, this virtual card mode is pretty confusing. Without any kind of tutorial, the player is left to test out this mode until all the rules are figured out through trial and error. Basically, this mode plays like a game of War, where the car with the highest number wins. Instead of different suits, each card is broken down by category, designating the card with the higher value as the winner. Ummm, yeah…
Back to the racing. This game has a great frame rate and uses some solid 3D models. It is actually pretty impressive for a DS cart. On the other hand, the draw distance and lower screen are a complete disaster. At will, the player can switch between a 3rd person view or first person view. No matter which view point the game is played from, it is always difficult to judge when a turn is approaching. The only indicator of a turn is to look at the bottom screen, taking the player’s eye off the ball. But the bottom “radar” screen is so small, it hardly makes it worth while to look at. The speedometer takes up the majority of the bottom screen, highlighting the speed element of the Ferrari, but leaves the player to squint at the tiny radar. The bottom screen is a wasted interface.
When I first saw this game, I was hoping for a Gran Turismo on DS. The play control is responsive and the 3D models are tight, but the game lacks a significant amount of realism. I understand this is a DS, but I never felt like I was going 150mph despite having a cleaner frame rate. Secondly, there is no damage in this game, so feel free to bump your opponents off into oblivion and fly straight into a wall at max speed. The lack of a damage penalty depletes this game’s fun factor.
Unlike the mixed bag of graphics, the audio quality is definitely agreeable. Engines purr as you accelerate and breaks squeal like banshees when you hit them. When cars pass, or when the player passes cars, there is an impressive level of fading. But perhaps the one feature that will probably go overlooked is the Rumble Pak support. One of the few DS games to use this gaming accessory, the rumble actually enhances the overall fun factor of this game and I am glad to see its implementation. Feeling the bumps of other cars and the rough terrain of the off road, the Rumble Pak does give this game an extra level of excitement and realism. Once you play with this is optional accessory, you will not want to play without it. On the downside, however, there are no WiFi options, but there is single and multi pak support to give this game some added replay value.
Is Ferrari Challenge a bad game? Absolutely not. But the lack of options, damage and cumbersome draw distance really hold this game back. Instead of creating a totally lame card collecting mini game, I would have rather much preferred to have some of the gameplay kinks ironed out. It is too bad that the catchy point system of the tutorial was not developed for the meat of the game. This title does a lot of things right, but it also does a lot of things wrong. And it’s these flaws that really hold Ferrari Challenge back from what could have been one of the best racers for the DS. I guess we can only hope for a sequel.