Monster Racers Hands-On Impressions

We rustle up some wildlife and go for a spin in this hands-on with Monster Racers for the Nintendo DS.


Pokemon is a hell of a drug. This may sound silly, but if you boil anything down to its simplest form so that it amounts to little more than advanced rock-scissors-paper, a thinly veiled plot, and the collection and training of mythical creatures, you'd have the very addictive Pokemon, which has carved a very profitable niche for itself. It's no surprise, then, that while the formula has been tweaked and perfected over the years, other would-be contenders want to cash in on the success and get a share of the dollars. Enter Monster Racers.

I choose you winged lion!
I choose you winged lion!

While developer Koei is probably best known for its action-orientated Dynasty Warriors series, the upcoming game, Monster Racers, uses many of the mechanics found in collection and training role-playing games. The game is split into a couple of distinctive parts, and when you're not hunting or putting your monsters through their paces doing star jumps, you'll pit them against each other in a supersimple 2D side-scrolling racer.

As is explained in the game's text-driven introduction, you're interested in becoming the world's best monster racer. Naturally, it's no easy feat, and you'll need to first qualify for your monster license. It's here we meet the archetypal sidekicks; the scared first-timer; the cocky young upstart; and the professional monster wrangler, Santos, the Silver Seven Racer team member who everyone admires and is roadblocking your rise to glory. Even without taking on Santos, we can hazard a guess at how it pans out, and you'll soon be off and racing.

Luckily for us, the monsters we're going to death race are willing participants with little desire other than to be trained, leveled up, and put into competition against each other. Like other similar games, the monsters you'll find and catch are based on several real-world element types, each with its own distinct advantage on certain course surfaces and against other foes. Your job is to find the right beast for the job and use it accordingly.

While we had a quick run with the RPG, the meat and potatoes of Monster Racers is in, funnily enough, racing. Controls are about as basic as they come, ditching the DS's touch screen in favor of using the D pad to control your directional movement, while the face buttons toggle your jump, turbo boost, and special attack. These special attacks work by picking up power-up objects scattered around tracks. Platforms can be scaled with a jump to avoid attacks from behind or gain a tactical advantage. Higher platforms appeared to contain better items like offensive bonuses, such as fireballs, invincibility stars, and larger amounts of turbo boost, though you'll risk forfeiting your lead by chasing them. Turbo boosts freeze the action on your screen briefly, surrounding your character in a glowing outline while moving at a significantly faster clip for a few seconds. Turbo is a great way to catch up to faster monsters and can be used in midair to avoid hazards, such as pits and walls. During our play, we saw sandy deserts, green grassy rainforest environments, and a snowy zone that caused our pace to slow as we collected frost.

Multiplayer racing is available and supports up to four players locally, while online play through Nintendo's Wi-Fi connection service will also be present when the game launches sometime this year.

If your idea of a good time is capturing native wildlife and jumping through hoops, but you're craving a little more side-scrolling action in your RPGs, Monster Racers might be right up your alley.

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