Monster Racers First Look

We take Koei's brand-new DS game, which blends monster collecting and racing, out for a run.

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Although Koei has made its name with the slash-'em-up Dynasty Warriors series, the Japanese developer is trying its hand at the monster-collecting role-playing game genre staked out by Pokemon. Monster Racers, the newly announced original Nintendo DS game, is a hybrid RPG racer that lets you put your collected critters to work for you in races. We had the chance to get our hands on a very early, work-in-progress version of the game at Koei's recent press event.

This, friends, is monster racing.
This, friends, is monster racing.

The final game will feature a full-fledged single-player RPG mode that casts you as a boy or girl who is competing in the most popular sporting event in the world, monster racing. To be the best of the best, players must compete around the world in exotic locations that happen to be home to various unique breeds of critters that you'll want to collect. You'll journey around the globe, competing and collecting critters to further your career. As you embark on your quest for glory, you'll interact with different characters, some friendly, some rivals.

Though we weren't able to check out any of the above, we did get a chance to try out three tracks in the game's multiplayer mode over local wireless play. The three tracks consisted of simple paths that ran at different elevations and featured platforms, pools of water, gaps to jump over, and assorted hazards. Power-ups can be found along the way and will offer limited bonuses. The power-ups in the demo offered firebombs, speed-ups, turbos, invincibility, and a powerful thunderbomb. The tracks also contained gimmicks, such as breakable walls, that help and hinder your monster. You'll also be able to perform a special move with your critter once an onscreen power meter has charged up. In addition to local head-to-head wireless play, the game will support single- and multicart multiplayer as well as competition via the Nintendo Wi-Fi connection. Aside from the competitive multiplayer, Monster Racers will feature a cooperative mode in which you can enlist a friend to help you capture a particularly challenging monster.

The racing mechanics were very simple in the demo that we played. The finish line is on the far right of the track, so you simply have to hold right on the D pad. You'll be able to jump, use your monster's special ability, and use any special item that you've collected. At the moment, Monster Racers doesn't appear to support the touch screen.

The 2D visuals that we saw in the game featured a simple, somewhat retro, pixilated look. We got to see a handful of the monsters on each track as they were randomly assigned to players before the races. The menagerie on display ran the gamut from small to large. Each track featured a different background, including forest, desert, and snow, but they didn't seem to affect the races.

Based on what we saw, it's hard to say what to expect from Monster Racers. The side-scrolling racing was pretty simple, and we weren't able to see any of the single-player RPG game. We're hoping that the single-player game adds a good dose of personality to the proceedings and that the racing gets some refinement. At the moment, the game is shaping up to skew very young, which may be a barrier to entry for seasoned players. Monster Racers is slated to ship next year for the Nintendo DS. Look for more on the game in the coming months.

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