One genre that has yet to be taken up a notch on the next-generation consoles is kart racing. While the graphics have gradually improved, the gameplay has remained relatively the same, resulting in a genre that is becoming stale more quickly than an open bag of potato chips. With a popular license in hand, Infogrames is attempting to change all that with Looney Tunes Space Race, a kart racer without the karts. Looney Tunes Space Race is obviously targeted at the younger audience, but with its cheap gameplay and lengthy tracks, only truly dedicated players will have the patience to sit through it.
Bugs Bunny, Wile E. Coyote, Foghorn Leghorn, and the rest of the gang are all in attendance for this kart racing excursion. Each racer hovers above the ground on rocket craft instead of being plopped into a two-stroke engine on wheels. The premise is simple - outrun five opponents to the finish line while using and avoiding gags along the way. Each race consists of three laps around one of 12 massive tracks. As each race is won, new tracks are opened, and Acme tokens are awarded, which may be used to purchase special events. Completing the special events unlocks new characters and 3D artwork. There is also a time trial mode that facilitates learning the nuances of each track, and there are random one-on-one challenges that pop up from time to time. A multiplayer race mode for up to four participants is also included, but sadly, there is no battle option and no online support.
The single-player races are where most will while the hours away. Regardless of your previous finish, you begin each race at the back of the pack and attempt to fight your way into first. The power-ups, or gags, represent the license well, and they include anvils and pianos that fall from the sky, holes that may be placed in strategic points on the track, laser guns to zap other racers with, and bombs that may be tossed to blow the competition off the track, among others.
The reach of each weapon is far too generous. Instead of having one or two projectile weapons that require some skill to use, each weapon has a very long range and locks on to the other drivers automatically. Compounding the problem, the gag selection is completely random, resulting in a lack of any semblance of strategy in the gameplay. You're either awarded the weapon you need or you're not. Green canisters are scattered around the tracks. Once five of them are collected, a you're given a brief turbo boost to use on the straightaways. The handicapping system is far too generous. Other drivers always pick up the right weapon at the right time, and they will catch up to you in a matter of seconds no matter how many gags have been pulled at their expense. It's far too common to lose a race on the final turn regardless of how long you've been in front or how well the course has been negotiated. Trying to play it smart and sitting back in second place won't work either, as it often results in the lead racer swerving off course or taking him- or herself out with his or her own gags.
Space Race employs the cel-shading technique made popular by Jet Grind Radio, and it works to absolute perfection. The characters look like 3D cartoons, and Mel Blanc would be proud to see his creations displayed with such precision. The courses are huge - each lap takes several minutes to complete and there are plenty of jumps and shortcuts to master. There are moving parts on most tracks that directly affect the outcome of the race. Anticipating the actions of the tracks is essential to keeping pace. The backgrounds are also alive with movement. One track has dozens of futuristic vehicles darting about, while another has workers hammering away in a mine. For the multiplayer races, Infogrames has made some graphical sacrifices. The detail is cut back considerably, and draw-in occurs with astonishing regularity considering it's a nonfactor in the single-player mode. No matter which mode you choose, the frame rates stay the course, but the sense of speed is seriously lacking. As with any licensed game, the emphasis is placed on the characters, and they all look great. Wile E. constantly pulls out signs to express himself, while Daffy Duck has a tendency to throw tantrums while driving.
While it's obvious that the original voice talent from the Looney Tunes cartoons is being impersonated, most stay true to form. Elmer Fudd turns all his R's into W's, and Daffy spits every time he has to hit a hard syllable. It only takes a couple of races for the voice samples to begin repeating, but they serve as clues as to whether your surprise gags are making contact. Some of the music is pulled directly from the cartoons, but there are a few original compositions that have a more contemporary feel. The lack of 3D sound is disappointing, but the sound clarity has no problem hitting its mark.
Looney Tunes Space Race massages the retinas quite well, but the cheap AI and random power-ups place an unwanted emphasis on luck instead of skill. Even so, there are enough gameplay modes and features to unlock to ensure that Space Race achieves rental status. Space Race is a nice choice for the bambinos, but don't be surprised if they end up whipping your tail thanks to the generous handicapping. Looney Tunes Space Race provides the majority of tried-and-true gameplay elements that make this type of game a hit with a large audience, but very little else.