Though its name might lead you to believe otherwise, Iridium Runners is a cart racing game, pure and simple – and one with a cheap gimmick at that. In a future time of flying cars and interstellar travel, the Iridium Games feature juiced-up foot racers, each partnered with an attack drone. It plays very similar to Mario Kart, if you don't take into account that fact that IR is just not good. Everything it borrows from other games it does poorly, making the game frustrating, short and not worth the money, even considering the MSRP of $19.99.
There is a total of 20 runners to choose from, each representing one of four sponsors including cell phone provider “All Talk” to the FedEx of the future, “GoGoGo”. The sponsors are supposed to be funny, with quirky gimmicks like, “Sign up for our preferred customer service, and we'll feed your dog,” for the casino service “Best Bet.” Hilarious huh? I bet you can't wait to tell your friends how you laughed out loud at that one. But at least it matches everything else in the game – in other words, totally uninspired.
After you pick a runner, you can also pick from a dozen different attack drones that alter the chances of what kind of items you'll pick find on the track. You can leave it balanced, or go for more offensive, defensive or speed boosting items. That customization is the one characteristic I actually liked about the game. Offensive items include a simple laser blast; a toxic ball launcher that leaves puddles that slow me down more than my opponents; and a shrink ray that makes everyone else on the track mini. Hmm … I wonder what game has done that before? Actually, the shrink ray in this game has two distinct differences from the lightning bolt in Mario Kart: 1) It makes everyone go unbearably slow. 2) It happens all the time!
The only defensive item is one that makes you invulnerable for a short while. The other item you can get is a speed boost that lasts for a long time. So, speed is pretty much the only thing I hope to get from the item blocks.
The running theme doesn't change the fact that you control the game just like any other racer except that you can check the opponent to your left or right with the L2 or R2 buttons, knocking them down and propelling yourself forward. Even that simple function is tainted, however, as the L1 and R1 buttons are how you jump and use items, which means you'll be jumping when you meant to check. I mean seriously, what game uses a shoulder button for jumping?
Glowing rods of iridium are found all over the track and fill up a boost gage. This stuff is like pure speed, and I'm talking about the kind of speed you buy off a creepy fellow on your street corner. It sends the runner flying at almost twice the normal rate. A simple mechanic, yet again, the implementation is completely wrong. The first problem is that whoever is in the lead will usually gather most of the stuff on the track, making it almost impossible to overtake a racer, unless he misses the stuff or you can nail him with a weapon. The other, painfully annoying, problem is how you actually use the boost; not something easy, like holding down the X button, that would be too much like other (better) cart racers. Rather, you have to constantly tap the X button. Maybe the makers thought this would simulate running, or perhaps they realized that after a few minutes of tapping, your arm hurts, thus simulating the pain of a real marathon runner. That must be how they expect someone to give up the lead: pain. After all, causing you real life was one of the cool things Metal Gear Solid did, but then again that was for a torture scene.
If you think that a foot racing game sounds silly, it looks even sillier. Just picture a 5' tall, muscle bound jock scrambling at 100+MPH in a manner that Quasimodo would find embarrassing. It's ridiculous to watch and it makes and you feel ridiculous for playing it. And you would think that the game would take advantage of its gimmick of running and offer up some racing locations that are different from every other racing game. But no, every track is a generic make that could have been done in any other sci-fi racing game. You run on streets, dirt roads and floating cyber-streets. That's about it. Then again, maybe the game didn't have any room for the original stages since there are only 6 different tracks in total. Even worse, the game tries to deceive you having unlockable tracks that are really the same tracks you have been racing on, only in at a different time of day. Once again, making the player feel ridiculous for trying so hard to actually try and achieve something with this game.
Budget does not have to mean crap, but this game might fool you into thinking that. Ever since Katamari Damaci, I've learned to expect something good even from inexpensive products, and not use a game's price as an excuse for lazy craftsmanship. Iridium Runners is probably the only game I can truthfully say was painful to play. If you want a cheap racing game, find an old copy of Mario Kart for pretty much any system, or if you only own PlayStation2, then find Crash Team Racing.