Mario Kart never looked so good.
Review written by
July 6th, 2009
In general, I enjoy racing games. Especially those that take stylization and fun characters to make a goofy, fun game which doesn't have to play up to all the rules of physics that sometimes haunt the more realistic racing games like Need for Speed and Burnout. Cart racing is almost a genre of its own. When done right, cart racing games are significantly more enjoyable than their reality-based counterparts. When done poorly, they can be a gargled mess that discourage the player from wanting more.
So that brings us to Heracles Chariot Racing, a game so plagued with technical issues and bad game design that my friends, who I used as test subjects in multiplayer, argued over who wouldn't have to play more.
Heracles Chariot Racing is a WiiWare title (although at 800 points, a relatively expensive one) so comparing it to retail games is unfair. However, attempts to be a Mario Kart clone are extremely evident throughout. While this could actually be a benefit in some ways, seeing as Mario Kart is perhaps the highest standard, all of the similarities were so poorly copied that Mario Kart owners will be rushing back to the better game.
Frustration is the best way to describe my emotions while playing this game. Interestingly enough, the analog stick is used for steering. The only motion related actions are skidding (tilting the Nunchuck), and jumping (by swinging the Wiimote up). I found that neither of these actions were necessary, so for the most part you won't be playing with motion controls at all. Unfortunately, even good controls, motion or not, couldn't save how horribly the chariots respond to walls and each other.
Basically, the chariots are big and clunky, while the roads are too narrow and the bends too tight for such large vehicles to be able to stay on. Often you will be thrown off the side because the chariots don't turn fast enough. Even when a wall or guard rail is present to prevent you from being thrown off, hitting it is just as costly as driving over the edge. Hit a wall or guard rail at the wrong angle and the chariot will turn to directly face it, inhibiting you from turning back into the race. This means that you have to slowly back up and turn to a raceable position. Why the developer couldn't have just let the racer turn while running into a wall is beyond me and certainly isn't a mark in Heracles' favor.
A good cart game has recognizable characters that the player will want to see racing. In this respect, Heracles Chariot Racing earns a score. They could have made the setting and characters completely generic, but instead they chose a Greek Mythology theme, which many people will recognize. Playing as Medusa or Poseidon is certainly more exciting than randomly created characters.
The game supports up to four players in local multiplayer, which was just as painful as the single player experience. Even with only two people racing, the massive chariots consumed too much space on the screen so neither of us could see the track very well. Another problem with multiplayer was that there didn't seem to be enough player interaction. Neither of us felt like we were effecting the race in any way for each other, which should be a major draw with multiplayer. Of course this could also be because the races were mostly spent with one of us in the lead and the other in the rear.
My biggest complaint was that the items you obtain, once again similar to Mario Kart, are lost whenever you get hit by something or run into an obstacle in the course. This was mind-numbingly annoying, especially when the item I held could have helped me regain at least some of my lost time.
The gameplay is near appalling, with few and rare bonuses that don't help the experience to be even mildly enjoyable.
From what my friends and I experienced, the lifespan in this game is incredibly short. Heracles relies too much on repetition, which isn't beneficial since the stages you repeat are poorly designed. In the championship mode, you play through three cups, each of the first two with five courses and the third with ten.
You would expect a variety of stages between the three cups. However, the developers only made five tracks. In the first two cups, they have the same five courses, only certain paths are sectioned off, making you run slightly different routes. Worst of all, the third cup (or the "Gold Cup") is just the first too cups stapled together, meaning you will have to race two slightly different routes in each of the five courses, totaling ten races in all. Never have I seen such a lazy attempt to lengthen the experience. Not only did they not make new tracks for the second and third cups, but they didn't even make new alternatives of the same courses for it.
By the end, I was so sick of the five courses that I did not care if there are any unlockable ones hidden away behind the higher difficulties. The pain of not only playing the courses repeatedly, but very possibly not getting gold on those courses makes the hope of earning unlockable stages vanish, especially because they would only mean there is more of this dreadful game to play.
Also, there are single races and time trials which are exactly what you'd expect them to be. There is little interesting about the time trial that makes it stand out in any way. It serves for the purpose of training if, and only if, you feel the need to improve.
Compared to other WiiWare games, Heracles Chariot Racing looks to be about or just below average. The setting is portrayed justly, if not detailed enough and the menus are uncomplicated.
The courses in particular, while a bit unvaried, are colorful and vibrant. They set the mood for their locations, as the dark red theme matches Hades well, and the white, gold, and light blue fit Mount Olympus. The environments are no eyesore, but extra attention to detail could have been put in to make them more interesting.
The character models aren't anything special and their animations feel very canned. If you have little interest in Greek mythology, you probably won't care about which character you choose; only their stats will matter.
On the technical side, there are a lot of glitches and phase problems I encountered. For example, whenever you fall off the side of a path, whatever you run into while falling, be it the side of a cliff or something else, the model will phase right though. This takes you out of the experience and makes you realize even more that this is a poorly made game.
A lot of midi work and annoying recorded foley was used to create Heracles Chariot Racing's music and sounds. The music is mostly trumpet fanfare and is incredibly repetitive. The sound effects won't win any awards either, seeing as they use the same Half-Life valve turn and a low rumbling noise constantly for the wheels moving.
I think the worst use of sound was with the Stymphalian Lake course. There was a section in the course with a frozen pond and roaming bird creatures. Their sound effect was literally the sound of some guy whistling. A perfect example of the lack of creativity the audio employs.
With some fantastic games around on WiiWare, there are better purchases than Heracles Chariot Racing. Even for a WiiWare title, this game is sub-par. Whatever possible enjoyment that can be found is tarnished by outright bad design choices. Heracles ends up being lackluster and has little to redeem itself when surrounded by better (and often cheaper) games on what is becoming an increasingly competitive platform.
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