Falling somewhere between Super Mario Kart and Wipeout, Ubi Soft's S.C.A.R.S. mixes cute graphics with familiar arcade racing, power-ups and all. The particular similarity to Mario Kart, both in feel and appearance, proves fortunate since too many games use Psygnosis' Wipeout as a blueprint. And while a few have tried to capture Mario Kart's formula already (such as Manic Media's Super Karts and its sequel, Manic Karts), none succeeded quite as well as S.C.A.R.S.
The premise in S.C.A.R.S. (which stands for Super Computer Animal Racing Simulation) is that super computers have taken over the world and now entertain themselves with virtual races between vehicles based on animals. This story only has one real impact on the game: The cars look like animals. They aren't so much anthropomorphic as anthropomobile; they're cars simply shaped like beasts. Each car has unique traits, loosely inspired by the animal that shares its form. The mammoth car, for instance, is slower but more heavily armored, while the shark car is faster and weaker. There are three other cars available to you at the beginning (mantis, lion, and rhino) and four more that have to be earned (panther, scorpion, cheetah, and cobra).
The tracks are well designed. Following the philosophy of Mario Kart, the tracks are mostly sharp turns and steep angles. The environments are colorful and good-looking, ranging from a snow covered tundra to a volcanic mountain. Yet while the game certainly looks good, it doesn't look great. The fact that S.C.A.R.S. has had past lives on both the PlayStation and the Nintendo 64 is apparent not only in its rainbow-hued palette, but in its somewhat flat and fuzzy graphics as well.
Fortunately, it's fun to play. Many of the power-ups littering each track are inventive, including a hot potato bomb that cars throw back and forth until it detonates, and energy fields that block the road (but can be jumped over - and the fact that you can jump at will should alleviate any lingering questions about realism). Of course, you do get your standard variety of missiles, bombs, and shields.
There are only two real problems with S.C.A.R.S. First, the game lacks any multiplayer modes other than two-player split screen on a single computer. And second is the fact that a game with so much going for it still relies on so many over-used elements, such as the droning techno music and the hidden tracks. (One day, someone will invent a Futuristic Racing Construction Kit - just techno and a blue missile weapon - and make a cool million.) Apart from these two concerns, though, S.C.A.R.S. is a fast, fun ride.