You may remember Smuggler's Run as one of the early launch titles for the PlayStation 2. Although by no means extravagant, the game earned a loyal following thanks to its fun-loving mixture of buggy driving and criminal mischief. Destination Software picked up the rights to make a handheld version of the game and set UK developer Rebellion to work on a port for the Game Boy Advance. Sadly, the end result is just a pale imitation of a great console game.
One of the biggest shortcomings of the original PS2 game was that its career mode wasn't very lengthy or difficult. To compensate for this, you were able to unlock six different vehicles and participate in a number of turf war minigames. The races and contraband competitions in the turf war mode were exceptionally entertaining, especially with a second player competing against you. The GBA version, by contrast, has only four different player-controlled vehicles and a single turf war minigame, and it does not offer any multiplayer features.
The loss of options and features wouldn't be so bad if Smuggler's Run on the GBA were at least a reasonable facsimile of the original PlayStation 2 game in terms of gameplay. Unfortunately, it's not. The 29 missions included in the Game Boy Advance version are so tedious that mere words cannot explain the boredom they impart. Usually, you're driving from point A to point B to pick up contraband and then drop it off at some predetermined location. Sometimes you're racing against the clock, and sometimes you're competing against a rival gang. There's little to no strategy involved, however, as for the most part you just have to follow the arrow and not slam into too many obstacles in order to reach the next level. The CPU behavior is terrible, and law enforcement vehicles often just appear out of nowhere. The physics and collision detection are pretty poor as well, as you'll often drive through one tree or rock only to be spun out of control by the next.
The only noteworthy aspect of this GBA port of Smuggler's Run is its graphics. The terrain of each stage is rendered in 3D using an engine that allows for free movement and major changes in geographical elevation. The vehicles aren't composed of sprites, but rather shaded polygons that enable them to bounce and rotate with remarkable realism.
Sadly, the game's visual presentation is also flawed, and fairly significantly at that. Since so much of the system's horsepower is used to render the basic terrain, the draw-in distance is strikingly close. Hills, trees, and rival vehicles just seem to pop up out of nowhere. At the same time, the overall level of detail present in the environment is painfully minimal. The only other visible landmarks besides the smoke pots for checkpoints are the cloned trees, rocks, and signs that pervade the landscape.
The audio in Smuggler's Run is at least what you'd expect from a typical handheld racing game. The music is upbeat, albeit not spectacular, and the sound effects are the necessary mix of grungy engines and metallic crunches. If you're low on time or complete a mission, a female associate will radio you with comments like, "You're running out of time," and "Not bad, baby!"
It's obvious that the developers did their best in spite of the limitations of the GBA hardware, but there are so many shortcuts that the handheld version of Smuggler's Run doesn't even come close to evoking the same kind of excitement as the original PlayStation 2 game.