We recently received the final Japanese version of Capcom's cel-shaded PlayStation 2 racing game, Auto Modellista, and despite the game's cartoon look, it actually plays much like the Gran Turismo games. There are a few different options to select from at the beginning of the game, including an arcade mode that allows you to quickly jump into a single race, a time attack mode, and a race against a human-controlled opponent on a split screen. In the arcade mode, you'll have access to the default number of cars, and you can customize your selection by changing the paint scheme and the color. Auto Modellista also features a cool replay editor mode called VJ & theater, which is essentially the same tool used to construct the introduction to the game. This mode lets you select from a list of video replays and then edit them using different music, graphics overlays, and camera effects. You can even mess around with the music by throwing in a "crap" (though Capcom probably meant clap) or laying down some cowbell.
Most of your time will more than likely be spent in the garage life option, which allows you to select a garage and then get to work on a car that you can use to participate in different races. Like in the arcade mode, you'll have access to a large list of initial cars from manufacturers such as Mitsubishi, Mazda, Honda Toyota, Suzuki, Subaru, Nissan, and others. Once you've selected a car, you can decide whether or not you want to customize it using the game's tune-up features. One of the tune-up options lets you perform a hands-off tune-up by selecting from one of several premade tuning options that correspond to different types of races. For example, if you want your car to perform well in an uphill race, you can select that particular option and then decide whether you want a higher max speed or better acceleration and more drift or more grip. There's also a deeper tune-up option that lets you fiddle around with just about every aspect of your car. You can adjust the tires, exhaust, turbo, transmission, breaks, and more. When you're done with all the tinkering, you can take your car out for a test run and make any final adjustments based on its performance. Of course, you can also make a variety of cosmetic changes to your car by selecting from different hoods, side mirrors, paint schemes, rims, bumpers, spoilers, lights, and other parts. There's also a garage tuning option that allows you to decorate your garage with posters and objects (such as tool boxes, tires, and oil cans) that you've unlocked by participating in races.
Racing in Auto Modellista is similar to the racing in Gran Turismo 3. At the beginning, you can only select from one set of races that includes downhill, highway, and basic racing. If you perform well in each of these races, you'll not only unlock additional items and cars, but you'll also be granted access to the next set of races, which features a little more diversity, including races during rainy weather. At first, the computer doesn't really provide much of a challenge, and you shouldn't have any problem blowing right through the first set of races, but the computer AI suddenly becomes quite good in the last few races of the second section.
Though its cel-shaded look suggests an arcade-style driving experience, Auto Modellista actually plays much more like Gran Turismo in that you can't really floor the accelerator throughout the duration of the race and there really aren't any powerslides in the game, though you can attempt to perform one using the hand brake. Instead, you have to be precise with the timing of your brakes and be aware of your position on the track before taking a turn in order to ensure that you keep the lead or sneak ahead of your competitors. Anyone familiar with Gran Tursimo should be able to jump right in, but fans of Ridge Racer or other arcade racing games may be disappointed to find that the game doesn't really play anything like that.
As far as graphics go, the game looks pretty slick. The cel-shading on the cars is really well done, and while you won't see any real-time reflective surfaces on the car, shadows from the trees the lights in the tunnels will have a visual effect on the surface of the car. The environments are quite colorful, but they're also relatively plain and devoid of any details other than buildings or trees. The frame rate seems to remain constant through much of the game, but there are points where it seems to take a slight hit, particularly when all the cars are onscreen at once. In the split-screen two-player mode, the draw distance isn't quite as far and there's a substantial amount of fogging, but the frame rate remains solid.
Auto Modellista also offers an online multiplayer mode, but we haven't been able to try it out just yet. We'll have a full preview of Auto Modellista in the coming weeks.