SegaSoft's Plane Crazy is a fairly unique racer that attempts to capture the thrill of aerobatic flying in an arcade action style. In some ways, the game achieves that goal. In fact, if not for Plane Crazy's flawed controls, horrific course design, and extremely limited gameplay options, it might just be a good game.
In a nutshell, Plane Crazy is your typical racing game filled with twisting tracks and fast-paced gameplay. The big difference, of course, is that your vehicle is a hot-rod aircraft modeled loosely on the slick machines you see in the Reno Air Races if you watch ESPN 2 really late at night. You have three planes to choose from, and you can customize the appearance of each by changing the paint scheme on the fuselage, wings, tail, and engine. Sadly, most of these textures are rather plain - or ugly - and if you mix and match the textures you generally end up with one sad-looking plane. When you take part in a championship season, you can also earn prize money for upgrades that will make your aircraft faster and more formidable.
Not that earning that prize money is an easy task. Thanks to the game's bizarre and aggravating course design, you'll be hard-pressed even to complete some of these races, let alone win one or two. You might expect a game like this to play upon its theme - flying - so that you could seriously test your aerobatic skills on tracks designed to provide plenty of freedom of movement. Instead, all of the tracks in Plane Crazy are tight, claustrophobic affairs in which the slightest amount of oversteer results in a fiery crash. One course, Dockland Dive, is particularly evil as it thrusts numerous pipes, walls, and other obstacles in your face at every turn. Combine this with some treacherous updrafts, and you have one very annoying racing experience.
Another fault lies in the lack of directional guides. While some of the courses are well marked and easy to navigate, most lack signs and warnings in key locations. This is especially troublesome in subterranean areas (yes, there are subterranean areas in this airplane-racing game...), where you can rarely tell which way to turn before you slam into the scenery. Even trying to follow the computer-piloted planes is not always helpful, as they attempt illegal turns from time to time (it does little to boost my confidence in a game when even the computer-controlled vehicles can't follow the track).
The controls are another issue, though an admittedly minor one. Although the game encourages the use of a joystick, it does not seem to support the throttle controls built into two of the most popular joysticks on the market. Using first a Microsoft SideWinder Precision Pro and then a Logitech Wingman Extreme Digital, I was unable to use the joystick's built-in throttle control to govern my velocity. Instead, I either had to assign that function to two buttons or keys.
While games of this sort generally shine in multiplayer mode, even here I found Plane Crazy confusing and unrefined. Starting a network game is a bizarre process that provides little feedback. I was able to get the game working over a native IP link, but it took several tries for me to connect to my opponent, as the game's 30-second linkup timer often ran out before we could sync up. Performance is decent, but I did not like the fact that the host cannot set the race parameters. For example, while I had disabled the checkpoint timer option on my end, my opponent had not, and he frequently lost for that reason alone - even when he was ahead of me in the race.
Single-player options are straightforward, with quick race, championship season, and ghost race modes available. The game includes only nine tracks, however, and only one of those is a multilap circuit track. So unless you care to spend a great deal of time on HEAT playing this game, you won't really get much bang for your buck here (and that's even considering the $30 price tag).
Graphically, Plane Crazy is pretty solid, though it will probably not blow anybody away. The hardware-accelerated lighting effects are good. The overall look of most courses is decent, but there are far too many giant wall textures (such as trees). Also, on the Sin City Run course, there were a bunch of areas where obstacles were absolutely, completely pitch black against the night sky (having slammed into most of these, I felt like Yosemite Sam when Bugs Bunny bricked up that long dark tunnel).
I suppose that some hard-core arcade racing game fans will enjoy Plane Crazy as a lively diversion from the "hot rubber on asphalt" formula, but even that enjoyment is likely to wear thin in a hurry. It's a shame really, because if not for the bizarre course design, Plane Crazy could have been a truly unique and enjoyable game.