Younger gamers will enjoy racing against the computer or with a friend, while the more experienced will breeze through the game in no time flat.
Smurf Racer is Infogrames' latest addition to what's quite possibly the most overrepresented genre on the PlayStation: kart racing. As such, the game is fighting a pretty uphill battle. It faces some very stiff competition with the best games of the genre, like Crash Team Racing. While Smurf Racing doesn't offer the same rock-solid gameplay that CTR does, it does get the distinction of being an entry into the growing library of $9.99 PlayStation budget titles.
Smurf Racer sticks close to the mascot racing formula. It starts with a character-based license and tosses the familiar characters into a go-kart racing game complete with power-ups and weapons, as well as gameplay that approaches fast and frenetic. In addition to the basic game, you can expect to find hidden characters, which add some life to the game after you've seen everything else. Smurf Racer does all of the above and manages to do so with some decent results.
As is the case with almost every game like this on the market, the characters that the game is based on are aimed at younger children. This statement can be viewed in at least two different ways: First, the game will provide a relatively nonviolent gaming experience, which is comforting to many parents, and two, because the game is aimed toward a younger audience, seasoned gamers will probably not be too interested in the cute mascots and will also find the game mindless and very easy to master.
Smurfs aside, this game provides a fun gaming experience. The game's controls are simple and are instantly familiar to anyone who has ever played this type of game. Steering is controlled by either the directional buttons or left analog stick. The remaining face buttons provide acceleration and use power-ups. It's an easy control scheme to get used to, which makes it simple for you to jump right in and race. To start off, you're given the choice of three different options to prove your racing prowess. First is single race, in which you can choose from eight different Smurfs and nine different racetracks. Within the single race, there are also two difficulty levels--easy and expert. The easy setting is pretty self-explanatory and provides you with a chance to get a feel for the game. Expert difficulty kicks the game into high gear with faster cars, more difficult opponents, and a power meter, which is refilled by driving through keys that are littered about the course. Second, there's the championship mode, in which you must successfully complete races to unlock four hidden Smurfs within the game. The third and final mode is flag race, which adds a twist to a simple three-lap race by placing flags around each level. The goal of this mode is simple: grab all the flags before your opponent has a chance to do the same. In addition to playing these single-player games, there's a two-player option in which you can race against a friend in a horizontally split screen in either the single race or flag race modes.
While Smurf Racer is fun to play, it's not without some faults. First and foremost, when driving down a hill, you can't see anything except the immediate road ahead, which makes many of the game's tracks hard to traverse until you take a few laps and get a feel for the level. Second, the 3D models are overly simple and blocky. It would have been nice to see some more detail thrown in, especially since you spend the bulk of the game looking at your onscreen character. Finally, the variety of music in the game is very slim. While the whimsical music fits well in the game, there simply aren't enough songs to keep the game from sounding repetitive. To the game's credit are the tracks: They're well designed, and they get progressively harder as you reach higher levels.
In the end, Smurf Racer is an average game. Younger gamers will enjoy racing against the computer or with a friend, while the more experienced will breeze through the game in no time flat. While the production is overshadowed by better games in the same vein, the $10 price tag translates into a pretty good value for the money.