Have you ever see the film The Great Race, directed by Blake Edwards and featuring Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, Larry Storch, and various other '60s-era comedians? With its combination of 1930s vehicles, rustic roadways, and a lengthy European road race, the film inevitably conjures joyous fantasies of quitting one's job and touring the countryside. It must be this exact feeling that LJN was striving for with its Dreamcast release of Spirit of Speed 1937. Similar to The Great Race, '30s roadsters, period scenery, and wacky antics abound. However, unlike the classic film, Spirit of Speed 1937 is neither inspiring nor endearing.
The valiant attempt known as Spirit of Speed 1937 begins with its features: four race modes, 15 cars, and nine tracks. Quick race lets you practice the game's courses, while the single and championship modes lock you into tournament-style competition. You can also take part in a scenario mode, in which you're placed behind the wheel of a difficult situation and asked to finish on top. The game's tracks - such as Montana, Tripoli, and Italy's Monza - are designed in a manner faithful to the architecture of the time. As far as cars, you have your choice of a number of '30s-era Mercedes-Benz and Alfa Romeo vehicles, as well as specialized roadsters such as the Duesenberg or Bugatti 35B. Unfortunately, any attempt at an adequate feature list ends here. There's no multiplayer whatsoever, as Spirit of Speed 1937 is single-player only. The ten scenarios are challenging, but no different than using a slow vehicle within the championship mode, so they compose a moot option. You can't vary the number of laps or cars per race, either, making quick races impossible. Furthermore, while 15 cars may seem adequate, the CPU always opts for the faster vehicles. Sure, you can use that slow Bugatti if you wish, but you'll never win - not ever. Thus, Spirit of Speed 1937 lacks key options and imposes ugly constraints on the features it does have.
After you've chosen a race and a vehicle, it's time for some old-time raceway gallivanting. Given a cursory glance, Spirit of Speed plays well. Acceleration varies depending on the car you've chosen, while actual speed affects a vehicle's handling characteristics in numerous ways. The Alfa Romeo series has decent acceleration, but performs poorly in turns, whereas the Mercedes class can turn on a dime - if you ever get enough speed, that is. Careful turning is important, and - as an added bonus - skilled braking is actually required to navigate the game's more difficult twists. All this is nice, but upon closer inspection, the game goes to hell in a handbasket. Once you've achieved any semblance of speed, controller responsiveness dies, leaving you guiding a stiff vehicle through an endless array of hairpin turns. Miss a turn and you'll crash. Twitch a little bit and you'll crash. If skill prevented this, that would be one thing - however, the game randomly throws your car into skids or sticks it to walls, utterly without warning or explanation. The courses themselves are so large that a single lap takes four or more minutes to complete, resulting in races that take upward of 30 minutes to finish. Simply put, Spirit of Speed is pain personified.
Even more disappointing than its frustrating gameplay, though, are Spirit of Speed's visuals. One would literally be hard pressed to find any PlayStation or Nintendo 64 racer that doesn't outdo this game graphically. Car models are boxy, tires are nigh octagonal, and reflection mapping is nonexistent. The game's tracks exhibit an attempt at scenery variation, but possess nowhere near the level of detail of F1 World Grand Prix, Tokyo Extreme Racer, or even Disney Magical Racing Tour. The majority of trees and signage are 2D sprites, while roadside structures exemplify the kind of six-sided polygons and flat texture maps displayed by early Nintendo 64 titles. If these issues weren't bad enough, texture warping, polygon dropout, and chop-inducing slowdown abound.
After all of the above, forget about Spirit of Speed's audio. There's no background music to speak of, the crash effects are silly, and the engine effects simply don't fit the vehicles. The game sounds worse than Virtua Racing 32X, and that's not an exaggeration. One could go on for hours ripping this game apart, harping on its intolerable load times, useless physics engine, or haphazard AI, but it all boils down to one inescapable fact: Spirit of Speed 1937 is abysmal.