It's no secret that the WiiWare service has been crying out for a racing title, so many fans of the genre have already put a lot of hope in SPOGS Racing after viewing the many inviting screenshots and videos that have been popping up around the internet over the past few weeks. Combining the look of an arcade racer with many of the unique and fun mechanics of a kart racer, the formula used in SPOGS Racing would seem like the perfect combination for a quality WiiWare racing title. Sadly it didn’t quite turn out that way, as we will find out.
In SPOGS Racing you take control of a SPOG (Sports Player Object Gyros), which is basically a wheel with a face inside and an exhaust pipe protruding from it. You get to go up against other SPOG drivers in various types of events ranging from standard track meets to Crash 'N Grab races that allow you to smash into opponents and steal vital parts from their SPOG. You can play in a single player game against the computer-controlled opponents, or grab a friend and experience a little two-player action. Two-player mode also includes the standard racing mode as well as the Crash N' Grab mode in which the two of you can go head to head. To add a little variety to the mix, there's even a SPOGmaker mode that allows you to customize your own SPOG. While this might sound intriguing, it really only allows you to change the colour of the SPOG, the face inside of it, and what type of strength your SPOG will have, such as speed or handling. This mode feels like more of a tacked on afterthought than a real additional mode of play.
In terms of control, you can use either the Wiimote/Nunchuk combination or the Classic Controller to play SPOGS. Both work just fine and feel very similar in the way they're used in the game. You use the analogue stick to steer your SPOG and you have buttons for acceleration, braking, and using the special power up items you can pick up along the race tracks. You'll even have to occasionally make use of the D-pad in order to choose which part you want to steal from your opponent in the Crash N' Grab mode. It's all fairly intuitive and very easy to pick up and play.
Sadly, the same cannot be said for the gameplay and it's in this regard that SPOGS Racing really begins to go off the tracks. There's not a lot of consistency in the way the computer-controlled opponents perform. One example is that you can be travelling along at top speed and out of nowhere one of your opponents will just fly past you without warning. At other times you'll breeze past the other racers for no apparent reason, even when you're not using a power up item. There's not a lot of logic to how the whole AI function is executed; there's nothing quite as annoying as being close to the finish line and moving at full speed only to have all three other racers fly past you at the last second. Even on the Easy difficulty setting, winning feels more like luck than the result of gaming skill. Power-ups are also few and far between, which is just as well since normally an opponent will swoop in front of you and grab what few there are anyway. Luckily the two player games feature a much fairer and balanced feel. In all honesty, the two-player modes are really the only decent facets of this terribly erratic game -- and even they're not that great.
As if the streaky gameplay wasn’t enough of a hindrance, it seems the developers in charge of the visuals were working with their eyes shut. Not only are the graphics extremely bland in most places, they're also terribly jaggy when viewed up close. This is inexcusable, even by WiiWare standards; it honestly wouldn't look out of place on the Nintendo 64. To make matters worse, when you get past the initial track visuals and begin looking at the backgrounds, all you can normally see is one very blurred colour fading off into the distance. It's a shame when the best visual aspects of a game are the menus and gauge displays, but that seems to be the case in SPOGS Racing. Overall it's a very disappointing visual production considering how good the sample screenshots made the game appear.
If there's one thing that can be said about SPOGS Racing it's that the game is very consistent. As below average as the gameplay and visuals are, the music is just as bland. For some strange reason the developers chose country-tinged rock tunes that seem to come out of nowhere and, while they are not particularily horrible, do not feel like they belong anywhere near this game. The sound effects, on the other hand, are much better and are easily the high point of the package. Everything, from the acceleration noises to the tire screeching, all sound very authentic. It's a shame that the same attention to detail didn't go into the musical tracks as well.
To be fair, there are some really unique ideas in SPOGS Racing. The only problem is that most aspects of the game are so far below average that these few redeeming qualities tend to get lost along the way. There will inevitably be some racing game fans that will find enough good in this title to warrant a purchase, but the broken gameplay, cheap AI, and dismal visuals will likely be more than enough to scare everyone else off. If you're looking for a quality racing game fix on the WiiWare service you are going to have to wait a bit longer, sadly. SPOGS Racing’s tag line says "Put your face in the race" but in all honesty you're not going to want your face anywhere near this game let alone in it.