First Impressions: Wheelspin
Posted by James Newton
Another gaming revolution from Archer Maclean?
Wheelspin is an unashamedly old-school arcade racer, with exaggerated physics, rollercoaster-style tracks and an emphasis on enormous speed. Its influences are clear - F-Zero and San Francisco Rush 2049 are the strongest - but sadly Wheelspin never feels more than the sum of its parts.
The single-player campaign asks you to fulfill certain objectives to accumulate cash and open up the next level - these missions range from overcoming a best time to holding the racing line for a set amount of time, and only when you've met the level's requirement can you move onto the next stage. After you've beaten its primary objective however you can earn more cash by setting fastest laps, fastest overall times and collecting hidden spanner icons, with your hard-earned money coming in handy when upgrading your car's speed, acceleration and grip.
Races take place in a wide range of areas, with the traditional ice and space levels making appearances early on, but the courses themselves show more imagination, with plenty of loop-the-loops, enormous jumps and corkscrew sections. Most notable about the course design is the lack of barriers or bumpers around the vast majority of the tracks - imagine Rainbow Road and you're halfway there. This has the understandable side-effect of making you fly off the course at a moment's notice, so you get used to respawning quickly; in fact, respawn is mapped to A, giving you some indication of how often you'll need a restart. The auto-respawn usually puts back just before your deadly accident, but if you fail the same section a few times it will mercifully move you forward to the next section.
The game controls as you'd expect - you slot your Remote into the familiar Wii Wheel, steer by turning it and (in the game's words) press 2 to go faster and 1 to go slower. There's nothing wrong with the implementation of the wheel, but the way the cars handle is cause for concern and only magnifies the respawn issue. You'd expect an arcade racer to play hard-and-fast with physics, but Wheelspin tosses your cars about like an upset infant, flinging you into the abyss if you so much as graze the curb or tilt slightly.
Although the previously referenced San Francisco Rush was also fond of flipping your cars, at least it included wings to help you right your car, whereas Wheelspin repeatedly clips your car about giving you no option but to take another respawn. Couple that with the course design that sees you driving through rotating barrels with chunks in them, loop-the-loops followed by sharp turns and a fondness for other dastardly design and you're left with a racer that infuriates much more than it excites.
The version we played seemed to cry out for some decent playtesting, and it certainly dampened our enthusiasm for what was shaping up to be a fun and straightforward arcade racer. Hopefully the eight-player local play will be as fun as it promises and paper over some of the game's cracks.