The original Speed Devils arrived during the Dreamcast launch with less fanfare than it deserved. A retooled port of the PC game Speed Busters, the game carried an arcade-style racing premise similar to that of Midway's Cruis'n series, but it added the ability for you to bet against computer-controlled opponents for money and sometimes even vehicles. That competition aspect of the game has been developed further in Speed Devils Online, where the focus, quite satisfactorily, is almost completely on online rivalry.
At the game's start, you're given the option to race online or offline. Choosing the latter lets you practice racing against computer-controlled opponents on any of the game's tracks. Opting for online brings you into your garage, where you choose a car to start with and then enter a lobby where you'll find players to compete against. Starting a race is easy - you either join a match that's waiting for players or create one based on a laundry list of options (track, weather, game type, number of laps, and so on) and wait for people to join you.
There are three main game types: standard, trial, and vendetta. Standard is a basic race where two to five players compete. Instead of earning money based on position on the course, you earn bonuses for finishing with the highest average speed, staying in the lead the longest, and earning the best lap time. In trial mode, you set a wager that other players must pay to enter the race and choose between one to four trials to challenge your opponents with. Trial choices vary from asking that players finish a race without damaging their car at all or never bust a radar, to the more traditional requests such as that their lap times progressively improve during the race (there are three laps per challenge) or that they finish with the highest average speed. The vendetta mode is the highest-stakes race; in it, two players race, and the winner takes his or her opponent's car.
In all three game types, you're awarded bonuses for breaking the speed limit when you drive directly under police radar. This lets you earn a few thousand dollars in a race in which you've placed last - a motivation that usually keeps people from quitting out on you after you take the lead. After you earn a few thousand dollars, you can purchase vehicle upgrades, such as a better engine, nitro boosts, and snow tires. Once you earn enough points, you move up into a new racing class - which are distinguished by letter assignments such as class D, class C, and so on - and you can then buy better cars. Unless you're really good at a track though, a good chunk of your money will go into overhead - repairing your car after each race.
Though wagering is the name of the game, unfortunately many players play it safe in Speed Devils Online. You'll notice many of your opponents sticking to the two tracks that are easiest to bust the radar on. The game rewards this sort of dogged persistence with cash, not fun, as racing on the same tracks repeatedly is quite boring. Also, it's rare to find players in the early classes who will compete in a trial. And since it takes so long to build up a car and earn extra money, it's nearly impossible to get someone to take you on in a vendetta before you reach the A or B classes, unless you want to race against someone who's clearly much better than you.
There are enough variations available in the online competitions to keep you playing for many hours, and you'll be glued to your set for the first few days at the very least. But Speed Devils Online does have its share of drawbacks. All the tracks except one were in the original Speed Devils, which is a letdown for older fans and means it sports last year's graphics. The lack of a dedicated single-player mode means that the learning curve is steep - the developers didn't even include an abbreviated version of the first Speed Devils. The soundtrack is only made up of a handful of songs, which get repetitive. The chat server, which lets you converse with other players about what course you should race in next, is often down. Lag is rarely a problem, but the option to switch to the Dreamcast's broadband adapter isn't there, even though one of Ubi Soft's earlier releases, Pod II, supports it. And those with long dial-up user names will find that they're simply out of luck with Speed Devils Online unless they want to get a new account or borrow one from a friend. User names that work fine in other Dreamcast online games can be too long for the allotment provided on Speed Devils Online's connection page.
The bottom line is, those who are looking for another game to play online with the Dreamcast should consider picking up this one. It's hardly frustration free, but there's enough payoff in Speed Devils Online to make it worth your time.