Game Review

Family Slot Car Racing Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Sean Aaron

Slot car racing fun for the whole family...or is it?

Arc System Works is clearly enjoying some success with the "Family" series of games because they just keep on putting them out. Considering what real life slot-car racing is all about a video game version could offer some improvements, so is it possible that this game is worthwhile?

Americans who were children enticed by Tyco adverts in the 70s will likely be familiar with slot car racing as an activity most commonly enjoyed on a tabletop or kitchen/lounge floor. Assembled tracks featured lanes with a central groove and two embedded wires; the titular slot cars possessed pegs that fit the grooves and springy contact plates which rested on the wires, with the controllers connected to a terminal plugged into a household electrical point. Squeezing a spring-actuated trigger controlled the flow of electrons to the car motors via the track, with the promise of high speed thrills. There was excitement to be had watching the little cars race around the track; of course if you gave the cars too much juice their little electric motors caused them to fly right off it! Sadly despite a wide range of travel, the controller often provided a range of movement from creep to rocket with little in-between. Even with updates adding track features like jumps and half-twists, the slot-car racing set could be an annual gift due to inevitable breakage resulting from cars flying off the track or being destroyed by children getting frustrated at having to put them back on it every five seconds.

Family Slot Car Racing emulates the more modern hobbyist version of the classic pastime, featuring a larger scale (the tracks can fill virtual table tennis courts) than what many will remember playing with as children. The controls in the video game version are as simple as the real thing: press A to make your car go; release it to slow down. There's also an alternative control method using the Nunchuk control stick, though disappointingly there is no analogue input which results in less control over the speed of the cars than an actual plastic slot car set! Add this to the fact that the Nunchuk cannot be used by a second player and it's not clear why this is even included as an alternate control scheme.

Despite the limited speed control, the game actually plays rather well since the cars take a decent amount of time to slow down. Driving around the tracks consists of holding the button or pressing the stick until hitting bends marked out with red and white curb striping, which indicates when you should release the button for a second or risk flying off the track - also influenced by the grip rating and speed of your car. If you do go off the track your character (as with other games in the series Mommy, Daddy, Billy and Sarah are on offer) will make an exclamation in Japanese and the car appears back on the track ready to get going again. The red and white curves are the only places where your car can go off the track and some of the more basic courses lack these completely, which is perfect for learners. You have an initial choice of four cars with a further eight to unlock, and each car comes in three fashionable colours. Like modern slot cars they are rather detailed race cars and have fanciful names like Shark, Raptor and Gale. Each car has a rating for acceleration, speed and grip with various combinations of ratings indicated by a number between 1-5.

Tracks are all pretty ordinary roundabouts and overpasses with no unusual features like jumps or loop-de-loops to be found. You can choose to race 3, 5, 7 or 10 laps at any given track against the CPU or a person. You can unlock up to nine tracks and then the ability to race them in the opposite direction (cheekily these are numbered as separate tracks though the only thing that's different is the direction the cars are facing). There are also six bonus tracks which play like slot car roulette: the small tracks consist of a single loop divided into numbered sections. Accelerate your car to top speed and then release the button: where your car stops determines the number of points you get, and you get three tries to accumulate a score that matches or exceeds the goal for the track. Beating the goal score the first time unlocks a new car; further plays are just to better your score.

There is a bit of strategy where a second button comes into play if you fall behind during a race. Being overtaken for an extended period of time causes your Turbo meter to build up; if you really fall behind it fills quite rapidly. Holding A and pressing B will cause you to turbo boost until the metre runs out without any possibility of flying off the tracks. It helps keep the game a bit exciting even if you're chronically off the rails; going off the track can be a strategic decision when cars with different top speeds are competing. Given that you could buy real sets featuring more than two cars in the 70s and modern tracks have more than four, it's a bit disappointing (and decidedly un-family-like) that single and multi-player races only feature two cars.

The single player game against the CPU can offer some challenge in the final and reverse tracks since the computer uses the fastest car which doesn't get unlocked until the 8th or 9th reverse track. Once you unlock this car you have to make an effort to lose the game, though even this can be a challenge since falling behind will result in the CPU car stopping (accompanied by audio of the CPU character suggesting some unknown foul-up on their part); giving you a chance to catch up or overtake. You can also play the single player Challenge Mode where you're trying to beat the high score; given racing against a CPU car results in your time being recorded there doesn't seem to be much point in this mode. Score attacking isn't terribly rewarding anyway because the only thing recorded along with your time is the car used; there's no way to tell who got what time on a track in a multi-player household.

In addition to overcoming the possible indifference of other players to the slot car racing concept, multi-player fan will have to contend with a few in-game issues. A vertical split-screen is used for some reason which gets pretty distracting and, unless you're being lapped, is completely unnecessary. This brings us to the camera. There are two choices: "Fixed" is the default camera mode. Despite thinking a "fixed" position implies being stationary, you'll find in Family Slot Car racing the camera maintains a 3/4 view, but tracks the cars. The "Dynamic" option places the camera overhead and follows the car so it stays in the centre of the screen. Since we're racing slot cars, how about a view of the whole track? It works in Driift Mania where you're actually steering the cars; in this game you're playing with one button! Given the lack of track detail (without the visual clues provided by the track surroundings you wouldn't even know you were racing slot cars) it's not clear why the camera moves about to track the cars at all except in some vain attempt to inject some excitement into the game.

Against a human opponent the game can offer a bit of fun - providing you both like slot car racing. The prospect of a racing game consisting of holding a button down isn't likely to appeal to a broad audience, which is why real slot car racing is only a hobbyist pursuit in America today. Despite the possibilities of the video game format, Family Slot Car Racing's adherence to the limitations of real slot car racing ensures that the audience for this game will be no different; the lack of customisability of cars and tracks means even the hobbyist won't find too much enticing here.


Family Slot Car Racing is certainly an accessible racing game, but the game is so faithful to the real slot car racing experience that it's unlikely anyone who doesn't already like slot car racing will find it interesting for more than a few plays. Besides the bare-bones presentation, having a "Family" game without the ability to play with four players just seems wrong. The end result feels like a quickly produced game that fails to realise the full potential of its underlying concept.

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User Comments (23)



Kittsy said:

Hey, nice early reviews. =_=
God, how many shovelware Wiiware games are we going to get?



Omega said:

Ah, well. Another game which I do not need to buy. This saves money and memory on the SD-Card.



Bass_X0 said:

A lot, Kittsy. At least they're easy to ignore on the wiiware than having them flooding the shelves in game stores. Its games like this that really are the low end of "casual" gaming. It would be okay if it were a good game that anyone can enjoy but barely putting any effort into it and saying "its for casuals" is no excuse. But then poor developers have always done this and always will.



Kittsy said:

Couldn't agree more. Casual games don't have to be poor, they just make it seem so. You know, that's the reason casual gamers are frowned upon by the big, manly hardcore gamers of this world.

The Family series makes me die inside, if I ever bought one I'd probably throw my Wii out the window in shame.



Sean_Aaron said:

This game could easily have been better in many ways. I'm all for a virtual slot car racing game, but a slot car sim that doesn't even simulate the full control range, well, I don't see the point in that!



warioswoods said:

Not being able to create your own tracks utterly defeats the point of slot car racing, which I remember being fairly fun for this kid and his dad when you include the process of creating different track layouts from the basic building blocks each time you play.



Sean_Aaron said:

Yep, building your own tracks, customising your cars, physics-defying features, the possibilities are quite extensive really. I'd be all over a full-featured slot-car game!



Philip_J_Reed said:

I was probably going to pass on this anyway.

Now Karate Phants Slot Car Racing...that would be a day one download for this boy.



Kawaiipikachu said:

@Sean Aaron.
If you got an iPod Touch or iPhone give slotz a go it got a fully customizable track editing feature where you can create tracks that go on forever & ever.



Sean_Aaron said:

@Kawaiipikachu: I have neither, but if I ever do get an iPhone (and it is on my list of things to get one day when my overdraft is paid down and my job future is more secure) I'll definitely give it a look.

@redflicky: The game is playable; it's not completely horrible, it's just not that great without any incentive to replay.



KnucklesSonic8 said:

Did better than I expected, honestly. I know for a fact the game is pretty bad but I'm glad to hear it's not totally horrible. Family Pirate Party and Mini Golf are still the best in the series.

Also, it looks like a big oversight to have removed online play. They had it in the JP Version, AFAIK.



Ristar42 said:

Man, we get stuff like this while X-box gets 'Mark of the Wolves'... And I used to love slot racing as a child! I wish Nintendo would sort out some decent downloads...



Ren said:

too bad. this concept had lots of potential, so it's another case where it may scare anyone else away from doing it better. I was all about the real thing as a kid and there are some nuanced controls that needed to be simulated to make it fun not to mention some wacky unreal stuff that could be added since it is a video game. i.e. customizable tracks, cars, (wheels, engines, bodies), pressure on the trigger control to find the sweet spot, even small jumps, hills obstacle walls of other toys and things. The sky is the limit since the basics here are so simple. What a dissapointment. Thanks for the great review Sean! Spot on.



XCWarrior said:

I thought Nintendo was supposed to police shovelware on WiiWare? We only get 2-3 games a week,and stuff like this shouldn't be allowed.



Metang said:

Seriously. WiiWare would be called ShovelWare if it wasn't for the good games on it. NoA, this is unacceptable... FAIL, FAIL, FAIL!



Terra said:

I love Slot Car Racing but I'll pass on this. I have some old Scalextric stuff somewhere, think I'll go dig it up.



Sean_Aaron said:

@SteveW -- yes; you should assume that unless stated otherwise. There are very few games that aren't (Gradius ReBirth is the only one I can come up with off-hand -- Contra ReBirth is 4:3, but is presented "pillarboxed" so no need to play with your TV aspect settings).



bedouin said:

This game could have been great, but it's far too easy and simplistic. Maybe it's better when competing against a friend. I beat each level in probably an hour. With some of the beginner tracks you can literally hold down the button and look away from the screen without flying off the track.

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