With the Nintendo DS on the market, and the Sony PSP right around the corner, the GBA may seem like a dying system. Racing Gears Advance is the new beacon of light for this fading system as it supplies a healthy dose of challenging gameplay while throwing numerous options directly into the player’s face.
Players of Tengen’s Super Sprint, any classic Micro Machines game, or Paragon 5’s sleeper GBA hit Karnaaj Rally, will immediately know what to expect when playing Racing Gears Advance. Racing takes place from an overhead view, but is more angled than Karnaaj Rally. This isometric view allows the designers to give each environment a little bit more detail. Plus, it allows the player to see an incoming turn more quickly.
Although Racing Gears Advance can be compared to other racing games, it definitely offers its own unique flare by adding new gameplay elements. While the game is ?arcadey’ in the sense that weapons and turbo upgrades can be built within any car, Racing Gears Advance features real-life automobiles. Everything from Hummers to Lotus to Dodge, every vehicle will surely spark a particular interest for each specific player. Each vehicle is driven by a cartoon-like character, which adorns each vehicle with a special power. For example, one car will boost from a standstill while another will steal opponents hard-earned cash. Adding to the depth, further new cars will be unlocked as the game progresses.
The arcade flare of the game comes from the use of its weaponry. Missiles and other weapons can be purchased in the menu screen before each race. Weapons, however, are not the only element that can be upgraded. Engine upgrades, extra weapon slots, and even different types of tires can be bought and changed at any time before a race. Selecting the correct set of tires before each race will usually either make or break the outcome. If you use normal tires on a snow-covered road, expect to take wide and uncontrolled turns. Rain and dirt are also affective road factors, and it is great the see the developers add this amount of tangible detail to the game.
Weapon purchasing and vehicle upgrading sounds like a great idea, but Racing Gears Advance gives it out sparingly. The only way to purchase upgrades is to earn money. However, money is spread out so thinly that the player will feel overwhelmed with the ratio of available money to the number of things that can be bought. Most players will only be able to upgrade a few parts of their car, let alone buy hoards of ammo. Because the game is so hard on the player in terms of cash reward, some gamers will turn away in frustration while others will welcome the intense challenge. Either way, though, it’s likely that frustration will set in sooner or later.
The game’s overhead isometric view has allowed the programmers to include a very helpful transparency effect. Whenever the player’s vehicle drives behind a tree or any other object, a shadow will take the car’s place on screen. Because it is possible to drive off road and behind things, most tracks have at least one available short cut. Finding most of these short cuts will involve more luck than skill, but the amount of different ways to finish a track is most welcome. The game does lack significant detail as some textures are quite unclear and muddy, but Racing Gears Advance is not without its visual pleasure. Because the game moves at such a fast pace, the frame rate must keep up with the gameplay. Factor in the amount of racers on screen at any one time, plus the weapon effects, and the visual quality on show here will surely be appreciated. Racing Gears Advance may not have the nifty 3D polygons of Karnaaj Rally, but the direct input on the player’s car from the environment more than makes up for this.
The game’s control is also spot on. The developers crafted this game specifically around the GBA hardware – and it definitely shows. The D-pad works well and the immediate environment will have a direct correlation between steering and turning. Using weapons is easy, too, just as long as you can afford their high price. One shoulder button executes weaponry while the other selects between your in-car arsenal. It sounds simplistic but works extremely well.
The single-player mode will last for quite a number of hours, but a multiplayer mode is also included. Unfortunately, each player will need a copy of the game to enjoy some head-to-head competition. A basic single pak link function would have greatly increased the amount of replay value for the game. Also, Racing Gears Advance has been created without a Time Trial mode. This is just sad. But it is a pleasure, however, that the starting pole position for each race is determined by a fastest finger’ challenge – whoever hits the accelerator button fastest after the green light is rewarded with a better starting position on the grid.
Racing Gears Advance is definitely a detailed game, but the lack of incoming upgrade cash will aggravate some players. It also seems like a waste, because the game offers so much variety when upgrading each vehicle, but money is incredibly difficult to come by. Plus, the computer A.I. is always very challenging. In fact, the only way to really win a race is to upgrade your tires and engine – and not purchase any weaponry. The inordinately high price of each weapon may result in a quick win for one race, but it will kill players in the long run. Difficult decisions like these take place after every race.
While Karnaaj Rally provides a more weapon-based game, Racing Gears Advance is more about the driving aspect. Upgrades, short cuts, environmental driving conditions, and real-life vehicles force this game above the rest. This is a great game to help extend the supposed twilight era of the GBA. Driving fans that like a faster paced but detailed game will need to pick up Racing Gears Advance. Just be warned that the game’s increased difficulty level might force some GBA owners away in a state of racing frustration.