Space Race for the PS2 is for the most part a direct port of the fairly well-received Dreamcast game that Infogrames released in late 2000. Developed by the publisher's talented Melbourne House studio, the game lets you play as various rocket-sled-riding Looney Tunes characters, who compete against each other in typical kart-racing-style matches. Due to the artists' skillful use of cel-shaded graphics, the game's characters look and seem very faithful to their television counterparts. Some corners were cut in terms of the gameplay, however, and the result is a kart racer that isn't quite as solid as the best that the genre has to offer. The PS2 version of Space Race does have two all-new tracks not found in the Dreamcast version, but it's also been almost two years since the release of the original game. So due to the fact that its visuals aren't anywhere near as impressive as they were back then, the game's technical flaws become a bit harder to swallow.
That said, looking at the characters and watching the ways they interact with one another is definitely amusing. There are nine characters in all, including some of Warner Bros.' most notable creations, such as Wile E. Coyote, Bugs Bunny, Yosemite Sam, Daffy Duck, and Sylvester. As the way things often go in these games, some characters are more stable and slower than others, while others will accelerate more quickly but are more prone to being knocked around. But, for what it's worth, these differences seem much less pronounced than they do in other, better kart games. So in fact, all the characters seem pretty much the same, with the only distinctions being the ways that they look and animate. All their voices--and, in the case of Wile E. Coyote, informational signs--are intact, and in most cases, they all sound good enough to keep Mel Blanc from turning over in his grave. Space Race does a great job of bringing its characters to life, and this is its most fully realized element.
It's too bad the gameplay doesn't quite stack up. While the controls are fairly responsive, there is a general disconnected feel to the game that, when coupled with the often-haphazard track design and brutal AI of the opposing racers, makes the gameplay pretty hard to like at times.
It seems promising enough. As you would in any game of its type, you'll find various sorts of weapons scattered throughout Space Race's tracks. They're called "gags" in the game, and, while they function much like you'd expect them to, their look is pure Looney Tunes. You'll be able to drop safes and pink elephants on enemies, as well as zap them with giant fireworks, jagged lightning bolts, and those black, spherical bombs that they use in cartoons all the time. You can even turn storm clouds loose on your enemies, and they'll trail them for a distance before zapping them with lighting. The effects all look very cool, and your character will acknowledge successful hits with funny little reaction animations or even cries of triumph.
Your enemies will effectively use those same weapons against you, though, and the frequency with which they'll do so will likely frustrate you at least a little. It happens so often that it frequently feels like chaos is raining down on you at random. In some of the later races, you'll feel like you can't travel more than 20 feet on a track without getting zapped, smashed, or skewered by something. You're able to avoid some of the attacks, but others will give little to no indication of their approach until they hit you. The falling weapons are examples of this--there's nothing worse than coasting in first place with nary a concern when, all of a sudden, "smack," there's an elephant sitting on your lap. There's a sidestep function in the control scheme that was presumably included for avoiding these types of attacks, but since you don't get much indication that there's something coming at you in the first place, it isn't particularly useful.
The track design is part of the problem. Granted, some of the tracks look neat, and some of the flightier designs are actually cool in theory. Most often, though, you'll encounter sadistically placed curves and some pointless geometry. One track has something of a ramp built in it that you can dash off, launching yourself over a set of jutting rock formations, one of which has a loop built into it. If you time it right, you can actually go over and through both of them, but there isn't much incentive to do so--you'll actually lose time, giving any opponent close enough behind you the chance to overtake you. This geometrical formation is actually on the final stretch of the track that houses it, so you can actually lose an entire race at the last minute due to the poor design.
As mentioned, the game at least looks pretty good, especially if you focus simply on the characters. The environmental textures appear to have been lifted directly from the Dreamcast version of the game, and it shows. The ones that aren't blurry have a washed-out look to them, which contrasts pretty starkly with the vibrant character models. The graphical effects accompanying the gags look great, though, even if they look a little raw. Melbourne House probably could have upgraded them a bit for the new hardware, but the game certainly doesn't suffer from its negligence to do so. The frame rate, meanwhile, is pretty consistent, though it takes a hit in some tracks when there's a lot going on.
What sound there is has been well produced. Besides the well-done voices, the sound effects do an admirable job of emphasizing the wild physical and metaphysical contortions of reality that these classic cartoons are known to present. The music, too, is suitably cool and fast-paced. At its best, it sounds like a sort of crazy space funk, which suits the tone nicely. It's the sounds that are missing that do the game wrong. Specifically, there is no sound associated with the movement of your rocket sled or its impact with parts of the track, and this does a whole lot to make the game feel hollow and formless. Unfortunately, the negative effect of this on the gameplay never really wears off.
To be fair, there is quite a bit in the game. Fourteen tracks, a four-player multiplayer mode, and your standard assortment of auxiliary modes make it a decent value, and all sorts of unlockable extras, including mini movies and new weapons, tracks, and characters, provide you with more to aspire to. It's just that the gameplay isn't as good as you'd want or expect, which sort of kills the motivation to go ahead and unlock all that stuff. All in all, it's safe to say that Space Race probably wasn't the best game port to the PS2 untouched, though Looney Tunes fans ought to give it a look.