The King of Route 66 Preview

We check out Sega's latest trucking game.

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Sega has always had a knack for fixating on quirky subjects in its games. In particular, the last few years have seen the release of some breezy games based on driving unorthodox vehicles such as the Crazy Taxi series, Jambo! Safari, Emergency Call Ambulance, and 18 Wheeler Pro American Trucker. Though, while the vehicle choices have been rather odd, the games have always managed to offer solid, arcade fun. The newest entry in the odd car oeuvre is the upcoming PlayStation 2 conversion of The King of Route 66, the spiritual cousin to 18 Wheeler, an arcade game developed by AM2. A fast-paced dose of arcade-style truckin' action, The King of Route 66 comes home with its tongue stuck firmly in its cheek. We recently had a chance to check out a preview build of the game that showed off the additions being made to the game for its home release. The game is loopy, kind of tacky, and very playable, and it seems to be coming together nicely.

Apparently grandpa here can't stand up to a trucker gang by himself.
Apparently grandpa here can't stand up to a trucker gang by himself.

For those unfamiliar with the game's premise, The King of Route 66 puts you in the middle of an attempt by honest, hardworking folk to drive off the evil Tornado gang, who are making trouble on trucking routes such as the game's namesake. Your goal is to help the helpless and deliver whatever goods they need you to, despite the looming threat of the Tornado gang. If you're able to drive off the Tornados and deliver the various goods you take on, you'll restore peace and bring hope and joy to truck stops everywhere, thus becoming the king of Route 66.

Just in time for Black History Month!
Just in time for Black History Month!

You'll find the game's silly story is ably complemented by its eccentric cast of colorful truckers. You'll find five truckers to choose from--each with a unique vehicle--that tread on the same ground that the 18 Wheeler cast did. Texas Hawk is a John Wayne-esque cowboy. Highway Cat is female trucker sporting a full load of cleavage and sass. Iron Bull is the Native American representative in the group, and he sports the stereotypical garb worn by his people when they're put into a video game. Fortunately, Iron Bull is not alone in the exaggeration department, thanks to the inclusion of Soul Man, an Afro-sporting, sunglasses-wearing brother in gold chains and a polyester suit who looks like a cross between Jimi Hendrix and Ready 2 Rumble's Afro Thunder. Japanese representative Ichiban fares a bit better, due to his bland Samurai-esque appearance. As you progress through the game, you'll also unlock some other colorful truckers you can use in the game's two-player mode.

You'll find five modes in the game, four single-player and one two-player. The king of Route 66 is an arcade-style mode that offers a series of races set in Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. While you're ostensibly being asked by local merchants to deliver goods, you'll invariably end up in a racing duel against Tornado gang members. Your path to California will branch in places, as you'll have the option to select the difficulty level of your race by choosing different jobs. The queen of Route 66 is a more-traditional story-style mode that finds you traveling from state to state to help out the local queen by undertaking various challenges. You'll earn money and be able to upgrade a number of elements on your rig, ranging from performance-oriented fare such as the engine and muffler to cosmetic tweaks like the accessories that decorate it. Route 66 challenge is a collection of minigames, similar to the crazy box in the Crazy Taxi series. You'll try your hand at colorfully named challenges--such as convoy golf, destroy the cars, long haul slam, emblem catch, and moving targets--that usually require you to collect or destroy items or just speed your way to victory before time runs out. Rival chase is a series of races against various Tornado gang members set in the game's eight cities. Finally, versus battle is a two-player split-screen race against a friend.

Don't you hate it when have to hurry and collect your jewels?
Don't you hate it when have to hurry and collect your jewels?

The gameplay in The King of Route 66 is a slightly twitchy, but accessible, variation on the Crazy Taxi gameplay Sega has been refining over the years. Your main concerns in a race will usually be steering and gaining speed. Once you get the hang of it, you can also start keeping your eye out for Route 66 emblems, which are converted into cash at the end of a level, and nitro containers, which you can collect and store for whenever you need a speed boost. The only hitch at the moment is the game's control, which feels a bit too sensitive at high speeds. The game will also support the GT Force wheel.

In terms of graphics, The King of Route 66 is looking very sharp, with detailed trucks and visually interesting cities. You'll find a solid number of polygons being thrown around, along with nice use of special effects to complement them. The trucks feature a mix of high detail and clean textures. You'll also find a nice use of reflections on the trucks, as well as particle effects when you use a nitro boost. As far as the environments go, you'll find a solid variety of towns to race through and a good amount of breakable objects strewn about. Granted, you'll find some of the same desert-style themes repeat, but they're usually given a new twist with their layout. The environments are also spruced up some with the inclusion of weather effects. Despite the meaty buffet of eye candy on display, the preview build's frame rate was high and fairly solid.

The split-screen two-player mode is actually pretty fun.
The split-screen two-player mode is actually pretty fun.

The game's audio is a slightly cheesy collection of rock tunes and character voices that fit the game's theme. The game's soundtrack has a definite Western feel to it that's driven home by heavy use of guitars. The motley assortment of character voices captures the feel of the various drivers pretty well.

The King of Route 66 is coming together well. The arcade-style gameplay is being fleshed out with a solid assortment of modes to give the game a solid amount of replay value. The game's graphics take advantage of the PlayStation 2 hardware to produce clean visuals that move at a decent clip. Anyone looking for some arcade-style trucking should keep an eye out for The King of Route 66 when it ships this March for the PlayStation 2.

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