Handheld game consoles sacrifice power and features for portability. Comparisons are less and less acute these days, but back in 1998 when the Game Boy Color came out they were pretty stark. We’ve gone from 64-bit computing and 3D polygonal rendering back to 8-bit low-res bitmap graphics for these reviews. Oh, and kiss analog steering goodbye for the time being.
Nicktoons Racing (2000)
I’m going to start off by saying that I’m too old to have grown up with any of these “Nicktoons” shows, and though I’ve heard of some of them and their characters, I’ve never actually seen them. So as far as I’m concerned, these might as well be characters from Charles Dickens novels.
This game is strictly for kids. It’s too easy for anyone else.
I don’t often try to think like a kid, but I can’t imagine that this game would be much fun even for children, unless they harboured an unhealthy obsession with Nickelodeon characters.
There are two modes of gameplay… one single race and the “Championship” which lets you race through all of them in a circuit.
You can also sort of do multiplayer, though this isn’t done through the Game Link cable, from what I could tell. Instead, you just take turns swapping the same GBC between players. You know, like Measles.
My name is longer than three characters… whatever.
Now here’s where you get to choose from among your favourite Nickelodeon characters. I have no idea who any of these are.
Except for this guy… I do recognize Sponge Bob.
Here’s the prompt for each player, so you know when it’s your turn.
And here’s what you get. B accelerates, Right and Left move the vehicle right and left no matter which direction you’re facing.
By this point in the game, unless you’re very young or deaf, you will have noticed how bad and repetitive the music is. Bad and repetitive are the operative themes with this game.
There are vehicle engine noises too. There are also power-ups along the track. Some make you speed up, some make you stop your opponents if you contact them when active. Some of them might be weapons or something, I don’t know. I didn’t play this game long enough to find out.
If you play this game for any length of time, you will soon run into a very major flaw, and that is what is shown above. Sometimes bumping into opponents will spin your vehicle around. No biggie, this happens in other cart racing games too. But in this game – unless you come to a complete stop – you can not turn completely around again while driving at top speed along the track.
Think about that for a moment. The only thing you’ll end up doing is grinding against the wall for a long time while trying to steer out of this. What the fuck Hasbro? The track is so narrow, even at its widest points that there is no room to turn around unless you come to a complete stop first. I don’t think kids young enough to overlook this game’s flaws would be clever enough to figure that out.
And get this. It was at this point in the race that I realized I had the D-Pad on my controller active, while I was actually using the analog joystick to steer. Yet I somehow made it through the course just fine, albeit not in the lead. That’s right, you don’t even need to fucking steer in this game. The game will do it automatically for you.
Because I didn’t actually steer through half the course, I merely finished third. Holy crap.
Here’s the second race. It looks familiar. It looks a lot like the first one.
Here I’ve been spun around again. Lucky for me I was actually steering this time.
Even with the huge size of the character sprites in this game, they still barely resemble what they’re supposed to. The Game Boy Color just isn’t a very good platform for racing games. There’s a lot of flicker too.
I’ve gotten me another power-up. A speed boost in an easy game when my opponents were already far behind me.
Hooray for me.
Alright, now this track finally looks different…
…until I played through it.
First place (!!!) is starting to be less and less impressive.
This appears to be Sponge Bob’s home turf.
Yes, I know.
Hmmm… all of these tracks follow exactly the same pattern. They’re just flipped or turned around.
This is lame.
Fuck it, I’m done. I don’t care how many more there are, I’ve seen enough.
I made it all the way through Hyperchase Auto Race on the Vectrex, so I’ve filled my bad racing game quota for a long, long time, thank you very much.
Nothing to see here. Move along, people.
Woody Woodpecker Racing (2000)
I don’t recall how popular Woody Woodpecker was in the year 2000, but I’m guessing that this 1940s cartoon character wasn’t anywhere near as cool with the kiddies as the Nickelodeon characters were.
That’s a shame, because compared to “Nicktoons Racing”, the quality and fun of “Woody Woodpecker Racing” are inversely proportional to the popularity of their characters.
This game was made by Konami, and they were able to make a great racing game for the Game Boy (“Motocross Maniacs“), so I wasn’t surprised that this one turned out to be so good too. There is also a PlayStation version of “Woody Woodpecker Racing”, but I’ve never played it.
This game features actual two-player gameplay in addition to single-player mode, so if you have all the right equipment, you can pull off a two player race.
And unlike “Nicktoons Racing”, you can save your progress and other stats in this game.
There are four modes of gameplay. “Extreme” is a circuit race through the game’s nine tracks, and its distinguishing feature is elimination of players who finish last. “Grand Prix” is the same, but instead of elimination, points are awarded for winning and for placement in races. “Sprint” allows you to race any single track at a time, and “Time Attack” is similar to the same mode in other games. I’ll start off playing the “Extreme” mode.
You can choose from ten characters, four of which need to be unlocked.
Yeah, I’ve never heard of any of them either, except for Woody.
Next you choose from one of three areas, each having its own difficulty rating and each containing three separate tracks.
You can also choose from three difficulty settings inside each area.
You get a little preview of the three courses.
Then you get a chance before each area to upgrade your vehicle. Since this is the start of the first race, I’ve won no “grades” and can’t upgrade anything yet.
Each track gets a preview graphic splashed upon the screen right before you begin. This is a nice touch that gives the imagination a little more to work with since the GBC’s graphics are so limited.
You’re shown a top-down view of the starting grid, and you are counted in.
The view is actually a hybrid top-down/side view. It works well for this kind of game.
And I’m pleased to report that none of the previous game’s obvious flaws can be found in this game. The music is wonderful, and is different in each of the 9 tracks. Game Boy music can sound great, and thankfully it does here.
There are power-ups and speed boosts, like in most kart games since Mario Kart showed everybody how things should be done. Here I am chucking a bomb at either Heckle or Jeckle.
It’s my guess that if you finish in the first three places, you will advance to the next race.
After each race, the standings are shown. Note the two last-place finishers being disqualified. I was actually in first place right until a homing missile hit me. Things like that make this game that much more fun and interesting.
You are also given some choices before advancing to the next race, if you’d rather do something different.
The next race is shown…
…and represented in a little more imaginative detail.
You get counted in again…
…and off you go racing. The steering control is very good in this game. Again, right is always right, and left is always left. B accelerates, while A activates any weapons or power-ups you’ve collected.
The same thing happened to me in this race, I was ahead until someone used a weapon on me. This game gets more challenging as it progresses.
Next up: Speed Ring. There’s a Rob Ford joke in here somewhere.
3… 2… 1… Go!
Driving over any of these blue arrows gives you a speed boost.
And finally I managed to elude the weapons at the end of the race.
One area down, two to go.
Now I have one “grade” I can spend on upgrading.
Let’s go faster.
Here’s a glimpse of Area 2.
We get to drive across a golf course. That’s bad for the grass, isn’t it?
Who cares… time to race!
Each track in this game is unique, and has its own character. There are some new elements here, like these ramps that make you jump.
Fuckin’ Chilly Willy! Always wreckin’ my shit!
Next track is indoor. I can’t imagine an arena would be this packed to see a bird drive a car, but you never know.
Here we go….
I was finding it hard to stay ahead here, despite the look on my face.
And this is one flaw in the game that sullied my enjoyment of it. I was headed from the bottom of the screen upwards, jumping over those two water ditches. I fell into the second one. The game then “reset” my vehicle and placed me going right… forcing me to retrace about a third of the track and losing a few places in the process. There was no way to cross that second ditch without falling into it. The only way is to jump both ditches from in front of the first.
And because of that, I was disqualified. Some memorization of these tracks is definitely needed in the trickier areas. This is a problem present in a lot of top-down or isometric view racers, like I talked about in my review of “Over Top” for the Neo Geo.
Next, I checked out “Grand Prix” mode.
Like before, you get to choose your area first.
And you can also choose which difficulty level to race at.
This is the third area.
The variety and detail in tracks and music really impressed me.
And this track is another one of those that needs a bit of memorization to get right.
Some of the graphics are quite lovely for the GBC.
I blame gawking at the scenery for finishing in fifth place.
Next up: the almost cliché wild west town level.
This one looks pretty good too.
Though it’s equally tricky and has some areas that need to be avoided, like the train tracks that slow you down or the sheer cliffs that lead straight down.
With all the high detail and action on the screen, there is no flickering at all in this game.
Well, at least I’m consistent.
This should be interesting.
Aside from the usual obstacles, power-ups and racers on the road…
…this track throws some conveyor belts at you. Sometimes you drive with them, sometimes they can nudge you into the water, so you have to know where you’re headed here too.
Well, at least I’m consistent.
“Sprint” mode allows you to choose the difficulty level as well as which specific track you will race.
You can also choose to race as any of the characters to get a feel for how they handle.
The “Time Attack” mode has a ghost car feature, which didn’t appear to work for me. I usually don’t like that feature, but I was interested to see how it looked on something as underpowered as the Game Boy Color.
In this mode, the power-ups are disabled since you have no opponents. Speed boosts still work though.
And of course two player mode requires two GBCs, two game cartridges, two people wanting to play this game and a link cable. Much easier with emulation now.
The Options screen allows you to access and alter the saved game data…
Including ranking data, time trial data and player data.
I’ve already made it pretty clear that this game is way better than “Nicktoons Racing”. The question is: Should someone go out of their way to play this game today? Like I said in my golf reviews, yes. But only if you actually have a Game Boy Color and still use it as a portable gaming system. This would be a definite must play in that case.
If you just want to check it out on an emulator, it’s not a bad little cart racer. But it’s not 3rd-person view like I prefer, and there are a lot of better kart racers out there. Still, it’s a high-quality game and it has that 8-bit retro feel, so check it out if that appeals to you.
F-1 Racing Championship (2000)
There must be dozens of games with this same title or a title close to this one. This is the one published by Ubisoft.
It’s by far the most full-featured and realistic racing game I’ve seen for the Game Boy Color.
You even get your choice of five languages.
The game is broken down into two main modes – Arcade and Simulation.
Entering the game options screen will allow you to change from third-person (out) to first-person (in) view, if you like. You can also use those antiquated Imperial measurements for your display if you’re in the US, Liberia or Burma. And this game has a feature that allows you to take on damage as you race. There are pitstops along each track so you can fix that damage and refuel too.
Also selectable are transmission type (automatic or manual) and the number of laps per race (3, 6 or 9).
Both Arcade and Simulation mode feature “Single Race”, “Championship” and “Time Attack”. Only the Arcade mode has “Mission Mode”. Other than that, the difference between Arcade and Simulation is difficulty. Simulation mode has quicker steering, and is harder overall to control.
“Single Race” is self explanatory. “Championship” is circuit-style racing, where you try to race through all the game’s tracks and rack up points by winning as many races as you can. “Time Attack” is a solo race against the clock.
You get to choose from among eleven drivers and teams. I’m going to digress right now to talk about some things I’ve learned since I started reviewing racing games.
I didn’t know much of anything about the sport of auto racing before I began this. I used to joke that things like NASCAR and Formula One were not much more than guys doing a bunch of left turns over and over again. Of course, this misses the point. The selection of Michael Schumacher in the above screenshot isn’t a coincidence. I’ve learned just how dangerous this sport is by reading about some tragic accidents that have occurred both on and off the track.
I have a new respect for what these people do, and how they lay their life on the line every time they race. There is a lot that can go wrong when they get behind the wheel, and these guys deserve a lot more credit and respect than I thought to have given them in the past.
Racing video games don’t take into account what really happens when things go wrong during a race. When your car bumps into a side wall or another racer, or when your car flips over or gets some air, you laugh it off and keep on racing. Maybe if it’s a realistic racing sim, the game is over. But that sure isn’t what happens in real life.
Back to the review.
Sixteen tracks are available to race, and weather conditions are randomized. There are some different elevation effects to be seen while racing, but these are more prominent in certain tracks compared to others. My guess is that efforts were made to recreate each real track as closely as possible.
I started out with a single race in Australia. As you can see, there are options to practice and qualify before I begin.
Starting grid positions are shown…
…and lights count you in.
The display is done about as well as the Game Boy Color will allow. Everything that isn’t your view is kept to a minimum, and the action on-screen is nice and fast. The map near the top shows alternating dots that mark your position and that of the lead car.
B accelerates and A brakes, though just tapping the brake will bring you swiftly to a dead stop, so I found it wasn’t really useful. Another problem I found is one that affects “Nicktoons Racing”, though to a smaller degree in this game. The car sprites are just too big for the tracks. You can see how the developers tried to get around this sometimes when your car will seem to travel right through other cars on the track, but it still gets noticeable while trying to take very sharp turns.
Pressing the start button will allow you to pause the game, and access some options.
Driving into the pitstop is necessary, especially when racing more than three laps. To get the pit crew to perform their duties, repeatedly press the A button.
Just look at that fantastic artwork! It kind of looks like a crab, doesn’t it? This game’s graphics lead me into another little rant I need to make. Digitized graphics are all fine and dandy. This very game has an impressive video intro that was digitized to be rendered by the GBC’s hardware. It looks pretty impressive.
But sometimes, the attempt falls flat, like what you see above. There just isn’t enough colour depth for this to work in that image.
Sometimes, hand-drawn bitmap art looks a lot better. Take a look at the screenshots from “Woody Woodpecker Racing” to see what I mean.
Okay, end of mini-rant.
There is no in-game music here, but the menus and intros feature some music which is pretty good. The sounds in-game consist of simulated engine and tire sounds, and are handled admirably for the hardware.
Well, this game will take me some practicing.
Again, this looks rather bad, and not just because my name isn’t among the top three.
Standings are shown after each race.
An option to continue, restart or quit is given.
I’ll move on to the “Championship” mode.
As in the “Single Race” mode, you can practice or qualify beforehand.
And look who didn’t finish in the top three again.
Nor in the top 11….
…but I still got to proceed to the next race.
You can’t see it in this screenshot, but it was raining during this race. The rain looks alright, with white streaks coming intermittently out of the sky.
The above screenshot shows part of the “Mission Mode”.
Instructions are clear. Piece of cake!
That didn’t take me long to fuck up. It was literally like three seconds.
Well, so much for checking them all out right now.
Here’s a view of “Time Attack” mode. This is the San Marino track.
And just to show you more tracks, here’s Monaco…
Canada, with the view switched to first-person…
Uh… I mean… Japan.
All in all, not a bad little 8-bit racer. Not the best either, though. If you look back at the reviews I did for other 8-bit platforms you might see some games that interest you more. This one puts forth a noble effort, but the limitations of the Game Boy Color – namely its tiny screen – make its flaws a little too obvious sometimes.
The only reason to play this specific game would be if you’re taking your GBC with you and you need your racing fix. But here in the year 2014, we can emulate much more recent systems on awesome handheld systems like the Nvidia Shield. So why settle for a tiny screen and low colour palette?
But if nostalgia is what you’re aiming for, and you’ve played this version of “F-1 Racing Championship” or any of these games before, then by all means dig out that old Game Boy Color or fire up the emulator. I recommend BGB.