(WiiWare)

Game Review

Heracles: Chariot Racing Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Spencer McIlvaine

Will Heracles slay the Titan of Nintendo racing games?

Due to the space constraints that Nintendo places on WiiWare games, most games on the service are short, simple, and lacking in the graphics department. One certainly would not expect a complete port of a PlayStation 2 game on the service. But that is exactly what developer Neko Entertainment has given us here, and at a price point equivalent to a SNES download on the virtual console. Beware… Heracles: Chariot Racing is like an ancient Greek bearing us gifts.

In this racing game, everyone’s second favorite half-man/half-god competes in a mythological chariot race. Although based on the figure from Greek mythology, don’t expect much of a history lesson here. There are only 9 characters in all and most of them are at best only loosely based on the source material. For instance, there is only one god to play as (Poseidon). Completely absent is Heracles’ nemesis, Hera the wife of Zeus. After doing a bit of research, it appears that Poseidon was the villain in an earlier, platforming game Heracles: Battle with the Gods, released by the same company.

So instead of historically accurate choices, the game instead includes such characters as the half-man/half-bull Minotaur who is not directly connected to Heracles in the mythology and “Beezy”, the Minotaur’s sexy half-woman/half-bee ‘soldier’. That’s right… Beezy the Bee woman who fights in Minotaur’s army. At this point let’s just all agree to set aside the dubious Greek mythology connection for now and get on with the game play.

Each of the 9 characters has their own unique Chariot with its own unique characteristics measured in speed, acceleration, turning, and physical strength. Players can choose any character they want from the beginning, and other than the second round of race tracks there is nothing to unlock. The chariots provide a reasonable mix of driving styles, although in practice they don’t drive all that differently the way karts in Mario Kart are so distinguishable from one another.

As a general rule, every chariot has a high top speed but is slow to turn. This seems realistic enough with two caveats. First, the courses are generally very winding and feature sharp turns that will require you to frequently slow down to turn. And second, the designers accounted for this by providing a sharp turn feature that allows your chariot to handle more like a motorcycle than a four wheeled horse drawn carriage. Add this to the list of completely unrealistic features to this game, but sometimes realism must bend to game necessity and this feature allows experienced players to maneuver the courses at breakneck speed and keeps the pace exciting.

The way you perform this sharp turn is by using the motion sensors in the nunchuk and tilting it left or right for the desired direction to add extra sharpness to the turn. Once you learn this technique you’ll be using it all the time, as it is pretty much necessary in order to round a corner without slowing down. It’s a very different system than the way the nunchuk is used in Mario Kart and takes some getting used to, but it works. Another motion control feature is that you simply flick the Wii remote up in order to make your chariot hop, just like all chariots were historically able to do. Those are the only two motion controls in the game, but they are welcome, as the developers could have simply ported the original PS2 control scheme and left it as is.

A big downside to the controls is that there are no other choices. You must play with the Wii remote and nunchuk. There is no steering wheel, Classic Controller, or Gamecube option. Considering the game began its life on the PS2 this is somewhat surprising as it should have been easier to include more traditional controls than it was to program new motion controls for the Wii release. The absence of other options means less choice for players and also a greater barrier to playing the multiplayer mode. In Mario Kart, with so many controller options most Wii owners can throw together what they need for up to four players to play locally. Here, you must have four Wii Remotes and four Nunchuks in order to play a four-player game. Only the most dedicated Wii owners has that many accessories already lying around.

Once you get your friends together and sufficient Nunchuks for everyone to use, the multiplayer mode is actually the biggest selling point in Heracles: Chariot Racing. Because the game plays a lot like Mario Kart, you’ll still have all of the fun of hitting your friends with an odd assortment of items as you race through the courses, or engage one another in battle mode. Although the graphics are not up to par with more recent Mario Kart games, and the item selection is not as interesting, it does provide a decent alternative to the real thing for those looking for a change of pace. And with five dedicated battle mode maps, the game seems to have been designed to cater to Mario Kart Battle Mode fans looking for a change of scenery.

The racecourses, by contrast, are not very well thought out. They range from boring green fields to the bizarre Mount Olympus track, which has more in common with Rainbow Road than it does with the actual mountain. But all of them feature sharp turns that sometimes result in your chariot getting stuck facing a wall, and other times slamming into a fence that was the same color as the skyline. If you’re really lucky you’ll find the hole between a rock and a fence in Mount Olympus that we managed to fall through repeatedly. Mount Olympus alone is one of the best examples of bad racetrack designs to be found in gaming and is worth the price of admission just to see how unnecessarily frustrating it is.

And keep in mind that each track represents 20% of the racetracks in the game. There are 10 total tracks, as advertised. But they are actually five physical maps with two alternate courses apiece. In the Bronze cup you will race through each of the maps using the first route. In the Silver cup you will race through the same maps but via a different route. Some portions of the map are reused in both routes. The game teases you with a Gold cup to unlock, but this mode simply has you racing the Bronze and Silver Cups back to back. It’s all a clever gimmick that enables the programmers to get more racetracks out of relatively little space. But it means that there is relatively little variety and you will likely tire of the races quickly. Even so, it’s a formula similar to High Voltage Hot Rod show and will likely be common on WiiWare given the space constraints.

The game offers 3 skill levels for the racing mode. Higher skill levels include more on course obstacles and enemy racers who are ridiculously hard to beat. The hard level is so difficult that even experienced Mario Kart players will feel helpless against it. Unfortunately, despite the considerable skill necessary to beat the game on hard difficulty, the game offers you no reward for doing so. Even your best course times are all lumped together, regardless of whether they were earned on easy or hard.

Although Mario Kart set a standard this game cannot hope to match, as a WiiWare based racing and battle mode game Neko Entertainment has finally delivered a very attractive package here. The 3D graphics are something that a normal WiiWare budget could just never afford to develop. But because this is a port we benefit from something that looks unusually advanced for the service and at a bargain price.

Of course, the art direction could have used a little work as many of the colors used are just ugly and don’t adequately distinguish features of the racetracks in time for you to recognize the difference between an obstacle and the sky, or what is on the road and what is off the road. And those snakes that cause you to spin out on the Hades racetrack were deliberately made the same color as the road. Why? To force you to squint? And even then, they are situated on the down slope of a series of hills, meaning that you have no time to see where they are anyway. This just goes to show once again that bad game design can happen even to good game engines. But even though inadequately used, the technology behind the visuals is still pretty impressive for a WiiWare game.

Conclusion

Like the Shirt of Nessus, many a WiiWare game has delivered an experience not quite the same as advertised. Lacking any realistic sense of the story of Heracles, or the experience of chariot racing, this game would at first glance seem to be a disappointment. However, what we have instead is a passable Mario Kart clone that offers some new twists to its racing, some new battle mode levels to play with your friends, and ultimately a full PS2 game in one budget priced download. It will not win any awards, and it’s easy to see why it did not attract any attention in the PS2 market upon its first release. But on WiiWare Heracles: Chariot Racing is a big fish in a little pond. And it provides perhaps the best racing game on the service yet.

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User Comments (43)

Vendetta

#1

Vendetta said:

Jeez, I might actually have to buy this! I'm still glad I waited to read the review first, though.

GabboStaff

#3

Gabbo said:

If you're looking for a racing game on Wiiware, your choices right now are Hot Rod Show, or this. I can't honestly say one is better than the other as they both are very different experiences and both have their redeeming points. But I personally lean more towards this one.

Knux

#4

Knux said:

WOW,I'm very surprised by the score. I might get this or Hot Rod Show in the future.

Hardy83

#6

Hardy83 said:

They're trying. You have to give them some credit.
Where some third parties just make weird crappy minigames, this company is porting full games at a bargin bin price.
8 bucks seems appropriate for this game when compared to the 50-60 buck Mario Kart.

Vendetta

#8

Vendetta said:

@Chicken, LOL, Honestly it was easier than typing "prior to getting it." And when I posted it, it wasn't actually first. I saw like 3 posts by the same member that said "FIRST! and surprising score" or something like that...
Great review - I particularly liked the part about the "most dedicated Wii owners," myself. ;-) I'll get this one over Hot Rod Show. After all, how many trucks and cars and bikes can we race? It's time for some chariots!

RaviC

#9

RaviC said:

I might now get this game when it arrives in Europe. (the only other racing game here is SPOGS.) Good review though. Shame on no classic controller support.

GabboStaff

#11

Gabbo said:

Ironically, it's already out in Europe on PS2. In my research I discovered this was only ever released in Europe and so I can feel a lot better about not having realized it existed prior to the Wiiware release. :P

Machu

#12

Machu said:

When i saw the trailer I wondered if this could be cool,and apparently it is. Unfortunately this lil nugget, "You must play with the Wii remote and nunchuk.", killed it for me. :(

Adamant

#13

Adamant said:

Neko Entertainment's game library all fell under the "decent, but not spectacular budget games", and they never managed to make much of a name out of themselves with their "me too-ism". Their desicion to rerelease their games on Wiiware was a wise one - there's far less competition here, and the budget PS2/GC/Xbox-game production values and relative game size make the games stand out in the crowd of flash-esque puzzlers.

I take it we can expect Cocoto Fun Fair and Cocoto Kart Racer before too long.
EDIT: Hey, would you look at that, they've already released those on the Wii as disc games. Odd desicion, they'll just end up lost in the jungle of similiar games.
Ah well, maybe Wiiware will be graced with Cocoto Tennis Master?

KnucklesSonic8

#14

KnucklesSonic8 said:

I knew you'd do a great job with this... Gabbo (lol) and you exceeded my expectations even further! Great review. I might actually get this if I had some extra points. Thanks for such a great review. You are to be commended for your efforts. :)

@Adamant: I hope Neko brings us other games like this too, not just Cocoto stuff.

Incognito_D

#17

Incognito_D said:

I won't be getting it. It just looks too much like shovelware to me, and although it might be technically impressive, the fact it's a full PS2 release on Virtual Console at a knock-down price isn't enough to merit a purchase.
I don't like to take factors like memory size and price into account when I buy a game - just the quality of the game alone. But that's just my opinion.

gameking23

#18

gameking23 said:

Wow. This did better than I thought it would. Even with the high score I will not be getting this game. Since there are better games on the horizon for me to get.

GabboStaff

#20

Gabbo said:

@Incognito D
Just to be clear to everyone, lest there be any confusion, the score and review were based on the quality of the game. Not the price tag. I only mentioned the value aspect in the review because in some ways this is a de facto virtual console release.

Objection

#21

Objection said:

We're slowly getting closer to a musthave racer on WW. Soon, my precious...soon...

MarkyVigoroth

#24

MarkyVigoroth said:

Hnn... I wonder if, next year, we will be getting better games more frequently (due to all of the mistakes done in the 1st year)...

JayArr

#25

JayArr said:

Did anybody else feel the review read as 4-6 stars but the score read 7?

Adamant

#26

Adamant said:

@KnucklesSonic8: "I hope Neko brings us other games like this too, not just Cocoto stuff."

Aside from the Cocoto and Heracles games, Neko largely developed childrens games, usually based off cartoon licenses. The only other game I could see them releasing for Wiiware is Mouse Trophy, a game where you need to alter a maze in order to lead a number of mice to the goal in the shortest amount of time.

DazzaAdmin

#28

Dazza said:

For those who wanted to know, Heracles Chariot Racing will be released in Europe, July 24th for 800 Wii Points.

Crazed

#29

Crazed said:

I actually like Hot Rod, and this seems to be an improvement on most of my minor complaints towards it, so I'll try and get this.

KnucklesSonic8

#31

KnucklesSonic8 said:

@Adamant: Yeah I looked up their titles after I said that and I kinda take it back. I agree on Mouse Trophy. I guess I mostly meant that I hope maybe they'll come out with new titles and not just newer versions of older games.

@Pikamander2: Nope.

GabboStaff

#34

Gabbo said:

No online play, no. That information would be in the Game Overview shown in the top right corner of this page if such a feature were included.

LEGEND_MARIOID

#36

LEGEND_MARIOID said:

It makes an interesting use of the wiimote and nunchuck system of the Wii unlike Hot Rod. The latter isn't even that good with the wii wheel according to the review.

I think I'm in, I like the sound of the control mechanism and review.

ICEknight

#38

ICEknight said:

Oh please, no more reviews with a "Will something-or-other...?" question in the subtitle. <=O

You guys can be more original than that.

GabboStaff

#39

Gabbo said:

Will people still read our reviews if we don't include a teaser line??? Read on to find out!!!

LEGEND_MARIOID

#40

LEGEND_MARIOID said:

Can't say I'm fussed tbh. I'd read the ninty life revws anyway. Whats wrong with "Will.....?" anyway?!

As for classic controller support; well it should be at least an option I s'pose but if the game doesn't work that well with the wiimote and nunchuck controls (or if a racer with the wii wheel), I see that as a black mark on a wiiware or wii retail game tbh, unless of course its a virtual console. So no classic controller support WHERE the wii controls are fine, that's no problem for me at all.

EDIT: I've had a re-read and subsequent re-think of the wii controls. I thought the directional controls were similar to the directional controls on wii sports 2 resort cycling for some reason. Silly intepretation I know!

Tate24

#41

Tate24 said:

this looks quite fun i like look of the different racers and for 800 points it cant be bad!

Tate24

#43

Tate24 said:

i thought give this try and am surprised how much like it! only thing i wanted to ask was! why on 3rd lap does music cut off?? & all u hear are sound effects!

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