Racers' Islands: Crazy Arenas Review
Posted by Laurie Blake
Racers' Islands is back to drive you mad
Crazy Arenas is the second in the Racers’ Island series of WiiWare games, and this time around, it takes the form of five multiplayer battle mini-games for you to compete in with your friends and enemies. Even the most cold-hearted person, however, wouldn’t wish this much tedium on another human being.
For all who played the first Racers’ Island, you’ll recognise, perhaps with some melancholy, all six of your favourite drivers who return to take part in this mini-game derby. These are caricatures of well-worn national stereotypes – there’s a tank-driving Russian, an English gentleman and a Stetson wearing American. The joke is now so old that there’s a good film of dust forming between the feed line and the punch line.
Crazy Arenas also reuses many of the same assets as the series’ previous incarnation. The same three music tracks make an unwelcome return, and they're still the only ones in the game, so prepare to listen to the main driving theme until your ears shrivel up and fall off.
While the arenas themselves are new, the items used to decorate them have been ripped directly from the code of Crazy Racers and scattered throughout the new environments. The arena for Hot Potato mode looks like the result of a tornado sweeping up all of London’s landmarks and ditching them in the Roman Coliseum along with a whopping serving of cheese… yes, cheese. Whilst a lovely big helping of Edam certainly screams "crazy," in this case at least, it doesn’t say "neat level design." The arenas themselves try too hard to be madcap and instead end up coming across as very bland, and with only one arena per mode, the environments get old very quickly.
Crazy Arenas also utilises the series' drive and shoot mechanic, where you waggle the Remote to charge up your weapon and then fire shots at your opponents with the pointer. This ability fits in well with the battle style mini-games, but it still feels counterintuitive to wave the Remote to load the weapon then have to re-centre the crosshairs to aim. Unlike with Crazy Racers, however, you'll get some use out of this mechanic as it is essential to competing in some of the modes. Bonuses such as the Energy Drink and Soap Bar make a return, too; these items give players speed boosts or can be dropped onto the track to slow down the opposition. They are designed to give you the edge in car combat, but most are next to useless in all but two game modes.
There are five different ways to play: Hot Potato, Puck Hunt, Hell’s Peak, Taki’s Castle and Totem. From the options menu you can choose a Single Race or Championship. Single Race is the best way to test each mode out, letting you play once and then ditching you back on the title screen. It’s a shame that you can’t stack games or that you can't choose another mode straight away instead of going back and starting the whole process over again.
In Championship, you choose a mode and compete to win the most points over three rounds. However, all rounds must be played on the same mini-game, which can get quite tedious, as a couple of the modes are overly long to begin with. There is the option to play all five modes one after the other, which is nice, but that’s all there really is to the game – five stages. Perhaps the ability to customise a game set would have been a better inclusion.
The modes themselves are a mixed bag. Totem is a fairly standard four-player capture the flag game, where you navigate your way through a maze find the totem and return it to your coloured zone on the labyrinth's edge. Driving over the totem will pick it up, and shooting a rival will have them drop it. Similarly, Hot Potato is a variation on pass-the-bomb: one of the four racers starts with the bomb and has twenty seconds to collide with another player to pass the explosive. Once the bomb detonates, the remaining three players are ditched back into the game and play on until only one driver is left un-singed. This mode is made quite difficult by the soupy handling of the cars; actually attempting to hit another driver is quite difficult as the lightest touch on the analogue stick will send your car veering off at a 90 degree angle. Dodgy collision detection and glitches like cars getting stuck on each other and then warping to the other side of the arena just as the bomb is about to go off keep this mode from being all that it could.
Taki’s Castle is a straight-up deathmatch where you score points by capping your opponents with fully charged shots. The first to ten wins, but if you’re playing against the computer, don’t think that this winner will be you; the AI controlled drivers take great pleasure in shooting you from the other side of the arena with unbelievable accuracy. On your own, you’ll spend the majority of your time getting shot, re-spawning and getting shot again as you re-spawn, and with friends, you’ll spend the majority of the time searching for each other. The arena for this game is a Japanese-style castle and grounds, and with only four players on the field and no radar to guide you to other players, you can spend ages driving around aimlessly unless you partake in a spot of screen-peeking.
The final two modes are the most interesting and original of the bunch. Hell’s Peak sees you racing up a mountain on rickety walkways ahead of a rising tide. The aim of the game here is to be the last to get washed away; Hell’s Peak is where shooting and using items become really useful in slowing your opponents and giving them a premature dip in the salty drink. With friends, this mini-game is a fun race against time; however, it does have a tendency to end way before you ever reach the summit. On a number of occasions during evaluating the game for this review, a well-placed bomb at the start has ended the match not ten seconds in. Crazy Arenas consistently succumbs to balancing issues like this.
Puck Hunt is arguably the best game in the pack. The mode is essentially ice hockey with cars: four players are split into two teams of two, and the aim is to grab the giant puck by driving over it and then shoot it into the opposing team's goal. The more charged your weapon is, the further the puck will fly, but collide with any other player, including the one on your team, and the puck will transfer to their car. Shooting opponents and using items will also set the puck loose, meaning that every time you get your mitts on the puck it becomes a mad dash for the goal. The interesting thing about this game is the surprising depth when played with friends; the ability to fire the puck from your weapon will naturally lead you to start passing it to your teammate, making sneaky steals and taking a more tactical approach in general. Out of all the modes in Crazy Arenas, Puck Hunt easily tops the list and with a bit more polish could be a very good mini-game in its own right.
With only five modes, only two of which are any good, Crazy Arenas has limited appeal for an 800 point game. In fact, these mini-games seem like something that should have been included in the rather expensive Crazy Racers, which would have gone someway to justifying the hefty 1200 point price tag. Instead, to get the full Racers’ Island package you have to pay out a whopping 2000 points. Of course, this may have pushed the package beyond WiiWare space limitations, but on its own, Crazy Arenas feels incomplete and overpriced. The multiplayer focus slightly enlivens the otherwise bland gameplay, however – that’s if you can convince three friends to play with you without being driven mad.