Orbital Media's Racing Gears Advance is a delightful throwback to the genre of isometric-view racers, which hasn't been great since the days of Rock N Roll Racing and Ironman Ivan Stewart's Super Off Road. Featuring tight racing controls, 12 wacky drivers encapsulated in 12 real-life vehicles, and fast-paced, addictive, and challenging racing, Racing Gears Advance is simply a great game in every respect.
Upon starting the game, you'll find yourself with only a few unlocked tracks and a colorful array of characters to race with, each with his or her own licensed car. However, these cars are almost as goofy as their drivers, with a roster that includes an H2 Hummer, a Dodge Super-8 Hemi, a Lotus Typhoon, and a Chevrolet SSR, among others. Each character is also armed with his or her own special ability, like one that makes other racers spin out when they come into contact with you, or a speed boost that's activated whenever you're hit with a weapon. Before a race, you also have the option to use an individual racer's cash to buy weapons, like oil slicks, smoke screens, nitro boosts, and land mines. These gimmicky abilities, along with the weaponry, come together to create a style of racing that's almost comparable to a modern-day kart racer. However, it isn't all blasters and oil slicks, thankfully, and the driving engine is where the game really excels.
When racing in Racing Gears Advance, you're presented with an isometric viewpoint. Just press A to accelerate, B to brake, and let up on the accelerator around corners to pull off a powerslide. That's about all there is to the driving mechanics, but that hardly makes the game easy. Your opponents are quite tough, forcing you to bob and weave through enemy weaponry, as well as keep an eye out for hidden shortcuts (of which there are almost always at least one or two). The best thing, however, is that the challenge of races never feels artificial. There's no rubber-band artificial intelligence that lets CPU drivers catch up with you--right at the last second--when you're about to win. Every racer is just as capable of screwing up as you, so if you suck at the game, it's totally on you to learn the tracks and improve, because you won't have any cheap opponent racers to blame your inherent lack of skill on. And since the racing is so wholly enjoyable, you'll most certainly want to get better anyhow.
The track designs in the game also help matters quite a bit. Though there isn't a huge variety of environments, the tracks are laid out with plenty of twists, turns, terrain changes and obstacles to navigate. The addition of the shortcuts also keeps things interesting, especially since the locations of most of them are tough to decipher until you've repeated a track a few times. Overall, there's more than enough variety and challenge contained within each track to keep you coming back time and time again.
All the cars start out basically the same upon your first play. However, as you play through the game's championship mode, you'll earn mad amounts of cash you can use to purchase upgrades for things like tires, your engine, and weapon storage. The tire upgrades are especially useful, as the game uses a few different types of terrain and weather across each track. So you'll have snow tires for snowy conditions and dirt tires for off-road courses. The one somewhat peculiar thing about this system is that purchasing items for one racer does not make those items available to any other racers in the game, meaning you'll have to earn money through the championship mode using each individual racer. In fact, you can't even use unlocked tracks, either. Only a racer that completes a championship can access unlocked tracks, and even then, he or she can only access those tracks that specific racer has unlocked. With 12 racers and five different five-track championships to play through, this would ordinarily seem like a horribly daunting task. However, the championships are paced well enough to where you won't feel like it's taking you forever to progress. And again, the racing is thoroughly enjoyable, so it's not like you'll get bored with the process.
Outside of the championship mode, there are the usual quick race and practice modes, as well as a two-to-four-player multiplayer mode, which lets you hook up via a link cable to race to your heart's content. Unfortunately, the game doesn't support single-cartridge play or wireless play, for that matter, but if you've got the link cables going on, the game's style of racing translates beautifully to the multiplayer arena.
Aesthetically, Racing Gears Advance is a fairly simple-looking game, although it's hardly an unattractive one. The 2D car sprites and environments blend together very nicely, and the cars actually show off a fair amount of detail. The game's most impressive achievements in the realm of presentation come from its technical aspects. The isometric, top-down camera that's employed works extremely well, never moving in such a way as to cause you to crash just because you didn't see a turn coming. Even if you do happen to drive behind a piece of scenery, a little arrow icon appears to denote where your car is, preventing you from losing sight of it. Racing Gears also runs at a constantly smooth rate, never chugging or breaking up frames, no matter how much craziness is occurring onscreen at once. The basic makeup of the audio is largely excellent, featuring solid car effects, some neat weapon effects, and some exceptionally catchy tunes that play while you race. The songs sound like MIDI-inspired versions of Fatboy Slim-esque dance tracks, and they're all very listenable.
All told, Racing Gears Advance is an extremely pleasant surprise that delivers as good of an arcade racing experience as you're going to find on the Game Boy Advance. It isn't the flashiest, deepest, or most action-packed racer you'll ever see, but it has more than enough well-produced, addictive qualities to make it worth a spot in your collection.