Shutokou Battle: Zone of Control Import Hands-On

We test-drive the Japanese version of Genki's latest racer.


Street Supremacy

Recently released in Japan but currently unconfirmed for North America, Shutokou Battle: Zone of Control is the latest street racing game in Genki's long-running Shutokou series. The game revolves around various crews and gangs who engage in head-to-head races in an attempt to take control of the other's turf. We recently got our hands on the Japanese version of the game and are sorry to report that it doesn't compare favorably with other racing games we've played on the PSP.

The licensed cars look great, and are totally customizable.
The licensed cars look great, and are totally customizable.

One of the first things you'll notice about Shutokou Battle: Zone of Control, for example, is that the game has no multiplayer options whatsoever. The only gameplay options available, in fact, are a time attack mode, which lets you drive circuits without having to worry about other racers, and the "team rumble" career mode.

Like the career modes in most racing games, team rumble sees you starting out with a finite amount of cash to spend on the first of what will hopefully become many cars in your collection. You'll be able to afford any of five fully licensed vehicles the first time you visit the car store, plus you'll likely have enough coin left to make a trip to the tuning shop worthwhile. The tuning options in Shutokou Battle: Zone of Control are quite impressive, and once we found our way around the almost exclusively Japanese-language menus, we were able to improve our car's performance with part upgrades, weight reductions, and nitrous kits. More impressive still are the game's customization options, which really let you make cars your own with body kits, spoilers, wheels, neon lights, decals, different headlight styles, and such. You can create your own custom colors for just about everything you add to your car, as well, including the decals, the neon lights, the wheels, and even the bulbs in your headlights. The car models look great, but all the good looks in the world don't count for anything if your car can't perform on the streets, of course.

Like previous entries in the series, Shutokou Battle: Zone of Control employs an unusual racing system in which there's no finish line for you to aim for. To win a race, you have to make sure your fighting-game-style "health bar" at the top of the screen doesn't get depleted before your opponent's does. Your health takes a hit anytime you crash into another vehicle, scrape a roadside barrier, or fall too far behind your rival. Essentially, then, your goal is to get in front of your opponent without driving like an idiot. The system can make for some quite enjoyable and extremely competitive matchups, but since it's possible for you to get pitted against vastly superior or inferior cars, it can also make for some extraordinarily short contests. We'd even go so far as to say that some of the races aren't as long as the load times you'll have to sit through before you can get to the start line.

Even when using your nitrous boost, the sensation of speed is conspicuous by its absence.
Even when using your nitrous boost, the sensation of speed is conspicuous by its absence.

Fortunately the horribly mismatched races can be avoided for the most part, since the opponents you can challenge have a rating that gives you some idea how their vehicles compare to yours. So what the career mode eventually boils down to is winning all of the races you can with your current car, ending that "day" so you can spend your winnings in the garage, and then heading back out to the streets to repeat the process. Your skills behind the wheel will have an impact on race results, of course, but Shutokou Battle: Zone of Control is definitely a game that pits cars rather than drivers against one other--much like the Gran Turismo series.

Unfortunately, that's where Shutokou Battle: Zone of Control's similarities with Polyphony Digital's offerings come to an abrupt end. The vehicle handling is unresponsive, the course designs are unimaginative, and the sensation of speed is practically nonexistent. It's conceivable, of course, that the game might get some much-needed polish if it's confirmed for release in any territories other than Japan, but we certainly wouldn't recommend importing the version that's currently available.

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