While the mascot-driven kart-racing genre has been done with lots of different land- and water-based vehicles, the genre hasn't been taken to the air all that often. Nintendo's Diddy Kong Racing had its share of airplane levels, but its developers certainly didn't devote all their energies to airplane racing. Midway's Freaky Flyers takes the concept to its logical conclusion, combining planes with a cast of classically modeled cartoon characters, a number of racing environments, and a collection of power-ups to keep the racing varied. The game does have its moments, but the racing simply isn't very exciting.
Freaky Flyers plays up its set of characters quite a bit. The cast is an eclectic bunch, all individually voiced and all with their own storyline cutscenes, shown in between races in the game's main mode. The personalities are rooted in classic cartoon writing, so you'll find a dumb but well-meaning good guy in Johnny Turbine, a stereotypically ice-cold German pilot in Traci Torpedoes, and a wide array of others. The game is available on the GameCube, PS2, and Xbox, and each version has a slightly different roster of unlockable pilots. Aside from the game's story mode cutscenes, the personalities pop up during races, as each character has a few things to say when he or she is getting shot, when he or she is shooting another racer down, or at other specific moments. However, there aren't nearly enough voice clips to keep things fresh, and the voices become a little grating over time.
The game's races are three-lap affairs that take you through a variety of themed courses. You'll visit a gangland city course in Chicago, race through the Old West, and so on. The themes of each level are done pretty well, and while the course designs are pretty standard, each level does have multiple paths to the finish line.
In addition to the game's main story mode, you can simply race on any of the courses you've already unlocked or explore the game's small collection of minigames. One minigame shrinks you down and puts you in a human body, forcing you to avoid white blood cells and continually collect oxygen pick-ups as you search for a way out. Others have you defending a central target from waves of attackers. The game has split-screen support for two players, though it makes the PS2 version's already sketchy frame rate a little worse.
Each level also has a set of six secondary objectives to accomplish. Though these goals are almost entirely optional, they have the added benefit of opening up speed-boost hoops or additional slots for weapon power-ups. Some of the goals are common to all the levels--for example, every level has a series of items to collect and a series of targets to shoot--but other goals are more specific. In the game's Arabian-themed level, you'll put a giant genie back in his place by firing at his lamp. In its pirate level, shooting up a specific pirate ship opens up a collection of boost rings. It's difficult to nail all six goals in one run, and your accomplishments don't carry over into subsequent attempts to race each course, so you'll have to complete the goals every time, which is a bit annoying.
Like most kart-racing games, Freaky Flyers has a collection of power-ups scattered throughout its courses. Picking one up gives you one of several random items, such as missiles, floating mines, homing missiles, shields, or a sort of energy discharge that damages nearby opponents. You also have access to a machine gun that has infinite ammunition but can be fired for only a few seconds at a time. With its sustained fire, the machine gun does a decent amount of damage to opposing flyers, but its main purpose is to interact with the world for the completion of mission goals.
Perhaps the biggest criticism to be levied against Freaky Flyers is that it's incredibly straightforward. The game is slow to the point of feeling sluggish, and overall, there really isn't that much to do beyond slowly chugging around the course, firing off weapons at the other flyers, who don't put up much of a fight. Even though the genre doesn't typically deliver a three-dimensional flying experience, Freaky Flyers just doesn't play better or really all that different from many other, similar games.
Graphically, Freaky Flyers looks OK. The racers are drawn in a larger-than-life sort of cartoon style that works well with the subject matter, and the environments are pretty big. However, none of it looks particularly great. The PlayStation 2 version has the added drag of an unstable frame rate, which makes the game's larger areas jerk and skip along. The Xbox version doesn't have this problem, and it also has the benefit of looking slightly cleaner, as most Xbox ports tend to do.
The audio in Freaky Flyers is all over the place. The character voices and the ever-present announcer contribute to the cartoonlike presentation, but again, the repetitive nature of the racers' in-race speech is disappointing. The game's soundtrack covers a lot of ground and has a lot of original music that fits the game's personality, including some pretty crazy songs to accompany the minigames that have lyrics that basically describe what the minigame is all about.
All in all, Freaky Flyers has some enjoyable moments, but the course design and weapon selection are pretty standard. It's definitely worth renting if you're a fan of the genre.