It’s relatively easy to guess what a game titled Racers’ Islands: Crazy Racers might be about. If you said "a crazy racing game in which you race across some islands," you’d be correct – assuming that by "crazy" you meant "rubbish." The aim was obviously to capture the hearts of the millions of Mario Kart fans with this expensive WiiWare racing game. Unfortunately, however, due to the poor implementation of new ideas and a general mishandling of basic controls, it looks like most people should just stick with Mario Kart.
A Crazy Racers race consists of four "wacky" characters going head to head over the course of three laps. The low number of opponents makes the action a lot less frantic than that of other racers, and the lack of any real sense of speed hampers the enjoyment somewhat. The game includes its own repackaging of the item-based gameplay that typifies the kart racing genre. The item designs score no points for originality – the simple rebranding of the classic speed boost as a Vitamin Can is a typical example, and almost all of the items have been done before elsewhere, and better.
Where Crazy Racers does try to strike out in a new direction is with the inclusion of Wii Remote aiming and shooting. It moves steering and accelerating onto the Nunchuk’s analogue stick and Z button respectively, which means that the Remote is freed up to allow players to take pot shots at other racers. Shooting gives you four rechargeable shots at a time which stick to opponents to slow them down, and it's quite a useful tool to have in your arsenal, but unfortunately the controls make it a bit of a hassle. You load the weapon by waving the Remote and fire by pointing at rivals and pressing A. However, the game can take a little bit of time to register your frantic waggling, so by the time you've loaded the weapon, re-centred the pointer and taken aim, your opponent is likely to have driven off. It's an odd choice to opt for pointer aiming and then have players aiming away from the screen to wave the Remote like a lunatic. The shooting itself is relatively unimpressive; firing off generic blobs, which cling to rival cars like stray pixels, isn’t the most visually gratifying experience. This could easily have been the thing to make this game stand out from the karting crowd, and while it most certainly works, it's a bit too finicky to warrant excessive usage. Indeed many players will probably overlook it completely, as time would be much better spent concentrating on driving and wrestling with the controls.
With six characters to choose from each with different speed, weight and acceleration stats, you’d think there would be some difference in the way the cars control. You’d be wrong. All six cars feel exactly the same to drive, whether you are playing as the Japanese Taki Kobayashi in his futuristic sports car or English gentleman Sir Percy Winston Twilight in his Chitty Chitty Bang Bang-esque old banger. Even Navratilova Karenina (a Russian stereotype taken from the time of the Iron Curtain) controls in exactly the same way… and she drives a tank.
To compensate for the exclusion of a handbrake turn or power slide, the steering has been ramped up to allow for complete U-turns so you can make it around some of the game's tighter corners, but this has had an adverse effect on handling. The cars are prone to sensitive steering: the slightest tweak to the analogue stick will send you veering wildly in either direction, and you can end up snaking your way down the track as you desperately try to centre yourself. The constant minor adjustments needed to control Crazy Racers can really frustrate and take it out of the difficulty range of its relatively young target audience and into the space reserved for pro gamers and helicopter pilots.
Lone players who master the twitchy controls can tackle a Single Race, Time Trial or a Championship, which is a three or four race event in which you are scored on points. These are gained not only by finishing first, but also by collecting the bolts that have been scattered around the course and being the best attacker or defender. The extra challenges add a little spice to the otherwise bland racing, and an option to turn off the bonus points is available for players who prefer their racing plain. Beating the three championships on the medium setting unlocks the next difficulty up, which is exactly the same from the courses right down to the challenge level, as all three settings seemingly play the same. Rival drivers won't particularly give you a run for your money if you establish an early lead, although the game does have a sort of organic rubber-banding to balance things: you'll crash into walls a lot and the computer will catch up to you eventually. Players into second-shaving will be somewhat underwhelmed by Crazy Racers’ Time Trial mode. It features a whopping one option: to choose your course, and there are about as many ghosts as Ray Parker Jr. is afraid of (i.e. none). Seasoned racers will blitz the Championship mode and the lacking Time Trial is near obsolete, which can drastically cut the quantity of time you’ll want to spend with the game.
Crazy Racers has ten courses and ten more unlockable mirror versions. Each course is basically a different route around Racers' Island, each one named after the country that the course thematically resembles. For example, the Russian course sees you pass through an ice area complete with frozen woolly mammoth and nuclear submarine. The problem is that all of the tracks pass through the same areas multiple times. The lack of variety in the course design dulls the experience, and by the end of the three championships you’ll be far more familiar with the hamburger strewn USA area than you could ever want to be. With so many famous sights and thematic "jokes" dumped onto the island, the game looks very cluttered.
Gamers who want to play with friends have only two options to choose from: Single Race or Championship Mode, each playing out exactly like the single player counterpart except with up to four human players in the driving seats. The game's press release mentions an eight player mode, the premise being that each of the four connectible Remotes and Nunchuks are manned by two people: one driving, one shooting. This feature is a "mode" in the lightest sense of the word, as it features in none of the menus, nor is it mentioned as an actual option – it's just something that can be done. It's the same way in which it can be done with almost any Wii game that uses both the Remote and Nunchuk as it is essentially two people sharing one controller.
Graphically, the developers have opted for bright and bold variations on a square: the cars are blocky, the buildings are blocky, even the blocks are blocky. With more primary colours than an episode of Barney the Dinosaur specifically about primary colours, the game can be quite difficult to look at for extended periods of time. In fact, the cluttered environments could leave you with a bit of motion sickness during longer play sessions, so you have been warned.
Presentation-wise the whole game feels slightly rushed. The fact that there are roughly three music tracks in the whole game adds to this impression; one for the menu, one at the beginning of a race and one that plays while you are competing. As the race theme slowly invades your brain, you’ll be wondering which important facts had to go to make space for the jaunty-yet-annoying tune – that is, if you’re still able to think at all.
The lack of fanfare (or any noise at all) when you win a Championship sums up Racers’ Islands: Crazy Racers – anticlimactic. On paper the game sounds like an interesting take on the racing genre that utilises the Wii Remote in a way to justify its 1200 Point price tag; in reality the game is more about jumping on the Mario Kart bandwagon than blazing its own trails. Considering that you can download Mario Kart 64 for 1000 Nintendo Points, it’s difficult to recommend Racers’ Islands, with its erratic controls, bland gameplay and hefty price point.