Review: Midtown Crazy Race (Wii U eShop)

Will drive you crazy

You know when you’re playing a game and it’s all going well when, suddenly, it introduces some arbitrary racing section just to add a little variety? Until now you’ve been jumping around, exploring, but for the next half an hour you’re stuck trying to complete this side mission just to continue. The driving controls are wonky, the AI is a mess and, really, you just want it all to be over. Midtown Crazy Race barely even manages to reach those modest heights, failing to provide an experience any more substantial than a mini-game from over a decade ago.

It comes from Jose Varela, calling itself a tribute to car games from the late 90s. There’s certainly nothing complicated about it — with three game modes and one city to drive around — but don’t think these tight limitations help hone the gameplay. This title was previously released on mobile devices last year, and shockingly little has changed since. Most noticeably, players are locked into using the GamePad’s gyroscope to control your vehicle by physically turning it left and right; at high speed, sharp turns will literally flip your vehicle over, so players are forced to make tiny adjustments just to keep on the road. There’s no other option available, which is quite telling of its beginnings on smaller handheld platforms. At least there it was free.

The main menu presents three different options for single-player, which form the extent of the game given the total absence of any kind of multiplayer. Practice mode allows players to freely drive around the city, where you can take in the sights and sounds of flat textures, empty streets and crashes that sound either like dull thuds or demonic screeching at complete random. Be The First and Countdown are simply a race and time trial respectively, taking place across a small section of the same city — there’s no campaign mode, and very little that gives a sense of progression or meaning to what you’re doing overall.

The driving itself is riddled with problems, and not just the obvious control issues. Cruising around the city is manageable on its own, if completely pointless, but once you’re asked to actually win anything it’s a completely different story. Both races and time trials last less than a minute each, barely stretching further than a few street corners before suddenly ending. There’s very little satisfaction to be had from following giant glowing checkpoints for a grand total of twenty seconds, especially when you aren’t rewarded for it in any way; yet the racing is the real problem here.

Once AI opponents are introduced, attempting to play becomes nigh on masochistic as they toss themselves all over the road with total regard for actually winning. They’re randomly assigned one of the seven available vehicles as well, while you’re initially forced into the slowest of the lot. This means that there’s a very good chance they’ll instantly take off in much, much faster cars than yours, and even at full speed there’s little you can do about it but hope they crash before the end. Winning comes down to complete chance over skill; where the planets align, no-one slams into you and the AI are all assigned more low-end cars. This is unfortunately very uncommon, so you’ll need to quickly unlock newer, faster cars to even the odds. How do you unlock these new cars, you ask? Why by winning races, of course! Oh…

In-game, a first person view can be toggled by pressing ‘Y’, but if you’ve already taken damage (and believe me, you have) then the cosmetic dents and twisted metal clip through the viewpoint, obstruct your view and often making it unusable. You can also press and hold ‘select’ to use the GamePad as a rear-view mirror, which is useful for all of ten seconds given how often you’ll need to restart races. The option to switch between night and day is also displayed prominently on the main menu, as goodness knows there won’t be any other kind of variation other than the static change you have to manually toggle yourself.

Racing titles of the 90s had a real energy and personality to them, so for Midtown to call itself a tribute is a genuine stretch of the imagination. There’s no crazy announcer, the city is bland and unimaginative, the driving is an ordeal rather than a joy – the list could go on. The best thing about this game is the main menu theme, which is in stark contrast to the processed electronic beeping that plays during races. Perhaps with a substantial amount of work a sequel could be more in line with what was promised, rather than the abysmal offering currently available.

Conclusion

Events in Midtown Crazy Races last less than a minute on average, but that doesn’t stop them from being almost unwinnable thanks to an unpleasant cocktail of broken AI, ridiculous physics and forced motion controls. Even if you manage to somehow extract enjoyment from the driving, there’s so little substance here that it won’t be worth your while.

It's embarrassing, but given the fact that the free version on mobile devices actually has multiplayer modes when the Wii U doesn’t, there’s absolutely no reason to waste your money on this.