Many of the big console players now have their own game franchises to cover the "underground" street racing and modding scene, like EA's Need for Speed Underground series. THQ is poised to join the club with Juiced, which will be heading to mobile phones this summer to kick off an era of closer collaboration between the company's console and wireless branches. If this seems like a countermove to EA's well-documented mobile initiative, you're right--but it's also a solid idea on general principles, because racing games are a good fit for mobile. From what we've seen so far, Juiced doesn't look like it will be an exception to the rule.
Juiced is an overhead-view racer that concentrates much of its creative resources on the wild personalities and testosterone-fueled confrontations that define the street racing scene. You start out with a basic commuter car--deemed the "Hot Hatch" in our preview version--and no reputation whatsoever among the street racing crowd, whose members basically think you're a joke. Over the course of the game's story mode, it's your job to prove otherwise by making these tough talkers eat your dust in various types of races. There are several different types of races to run. There are the standard multilap challenges against various racing gangs, speed sprints where you have to manually shift gears in the right rhythm, and the occasional "pink slip" race where you go head-to-head against a gang leader, with the winner gaining title to the loser's ride. Incidentally, this is also how you unlock the game's three other vehicles. All of the cars are generic at this time, but THQ Wireless is hoping to secure a deal to put some well-known brands in the game.
The same goes for the game's (presently generic) car parts, which are also heavily featured in gameplay. You start out with a nominal number of credits, which you can use to tune up your hatchback's engine and gears or buy extra nitro charges for the races; you can even paint parts of your car different colors to put your unique stamp on it. Winning races will give you more credits to throw around, as well as "respect," which essentially measures your progress in the game. The more you win, the more fearsome your rep will be, and the more tracks you'll be able to show your face around.
Juiced's racing gameplay was solid enough in the preview build, even if it was fairly conventional. The cars tool around the track, accelerating automatically and skidding a little around corners. If you collide with walls or your opponents, it'll slow you down and knock you off course, but damage is a nonfactor. Buying a spot of contingency nitro is a good idea, because a turbo boost will help you make up for lost time after a crash. Although steering around corners is a pretty simple affair, this game definitely needs to get faster before it hits the market. The preview build we played limped noticeably on our N-Gage QD, running at less than 10fps. It was tough to gain a sense of speed, given that type of performance. As for its presentation, Juiced is sporting a look that features lots of primary colors, clean lines, and pretty forgettable scenery--nothing very ambitious, but competent all the way around. We barely got a sense of the sound at all, other than a quick little ditty at the title screen.
Juiced should eventually provide some good competition for mobile racers like the Crash 'N' Burn series when it comes out this summer. It will also have the advantage of cross-platform links with the console versions of the game, although THQ Wireless hasn't specified how these will work. We'll keep you posted on this game's evolution, and we'll be ready with a full review once it goes gold.