Review: Pit Crew Panic! (WiiWare)

Is Hudson's crazy pit crew game a hit or is it the just the pits?

Pit Crew Panic! marks the sixth WiiWare release from Hudson and easily their most unique release to date. While the title of the game would lead you to believe that you're in for a little auto racing pit crew action, you'll quickly find that you're in for a very different pit crew experience altogether. Instead of whipping tires on and off the car and topping off the fuel, you're going to be conducting repairs on everything from potted plants to Sherman tanks and everything in between. So does this eccentric take on the pit crew idea translate into an enjoyable WiiWare title?

The premise behind Pit Crew Panic! is quite simple. You're put in charge of a small pit crew and your task is to control each of the members and assign them to specific areas of repair on the many interesting items the game tosses your way, called WHATSITs. You basically point to the crew member you want to control and then drag them to the faulty part on the WHATSIT that you want them to repair. Once you've completely repaired the WHATSIT, you can then send it speeding out of the garage, at which time another broken down WHATSIT comes screeching in to take its place. Although you can get away with merely assigning crew members to tasks, if you want to break the speed records you're going to have to help the crew members out by imitating the movements of their tools in order to speed up their repairs.

There are basically four modes of play, one of which is a simple Training Mode to familiarize you with how the controls function. Normal Mode allows up to 4 players to manipulate a single pit crew as they take on repairs. You can choose to either play a Speed Race to try to get the best time or an Endurance Race to see how many WHATSITs you can repair within a set time limit. You can even set the time limits and number of WHATSITs you have to repair to complete each game to your individual liking. Players work together in Normal Mode and each player with a Wii Remote can assign tasks to the various crew members, not to mention help these crew members with their individual tasks. The ability to customize each match gives this mode a lot of flexibility, but the lack of a story mode is a bit disappointing.

Abnormal Mode is where the game becomes a bit competitive. This is for 2-4 players and basically allows you to split the pit crews up and compete against each other. The team that manages to do the most repairs on the WHATSITs by the end of the game will win. You can even keep a constant eye on which team has the highest percentage of repairs on the gauge in the upper-right corner of the screen. While this mode can be fun, it can also feel a little cheap at times, especially when one player gets his own crew members in early and the other player has to just wait for an opening to get one of his own crew members in on the action. It might have been better to have a WHATSIT for each team instead of forcing both teams to work on the same one at the same time.

For those who like to see their name on an online leader board there's the Ranking Mode, which allows you to take on one of two Time Trials in a race for the fastest time. Your times can then be uploaded to the online leader boards, which will rank your times locally, nationally, and even on a worldwide scale. Time Trial A is a fairly simple and straightforward test that features the more standard WHATSITs. Time Trial B ups the difficulty and tosses a much more intricate group of WHATSITs that feature a lot more moving parts that require repairs. While it would have been nice to be able to compete against other players via the Wi-fi, the leader boards are a decent alternative.

The play control in Pit Crew Panic! isn't perfect, but it's still executed well enough to give the game a playable feel that gamers who like to waggle their Wii Remotes will most likely enjoy. Of course long periods of twisting the Wii Remote like a screwdriver or tapping it up and down like a hammer will make your hand tired, especially for those who are going for the speed records in the game. It can also be a little tricky to get your crew members on the right task, especially when the faulty parts are so close together as they are on some of the more intricate WHATSITs, but the longer you play the easier it seems to become. It's certainly not anything revolutionary, but there's at least enough playability here to warrant a look.

The visuals on the other hand, are all over the map. While the pit crew members themselves are adequately drawn, they certainly don't show the polish we've come to expect from the current generation of game consoles. The WHATSITs are, honestly, the best part of the game, with quite a bit of detail and texturing. You'll probably get tired of seeing the same WHATSITs coming around time after time, not to mention the fact that you'll always be working in the same garage throughout the entire game, but you won't have much time to sit back and admire the scenery anyway, given the frantic pace.

The music and sound effects share a common bond in that there's not much of either, but what there is turns out to be pretty good. The same musical track plays throughout each modes of play. It's pretty much a sure thing that you'll be hearing this tune inside your head long after you stop playing. It's a catchy little tune, but after awhile it can become a little grating. The same can be said of the sound effects. While there aren't very many of them, the few that are used are extremely authentic. The engine revs are particularly impressive, especially if you're lucky enough to have a really good sound system. It's difficult to criticize the game's audio, but it certainly would have made a lot better impression if there had been more variety.

Conclusion

There's no denying that Hudson really took a chance when they stripped away the racing action and instead developed a WiiWare game around the pit crew experience instead, not to mention that they tossed in some of the wildest and most out-of-place vehicles they could think up for gamers to repair. While Pit Crew Panic! might not be the type of gaming experience most people are expecting, the end result is a playable, albeit rather repetitive WiiWare title that might surprise those who are adventurous enough to give it a try.