All right, race fans! Prepare to welcome the wackiest bunch of racers ever assembled on a Dreamcast near you. No, it's not Sonic & Tails, nor is it Seaman Racing. It's Infogrames' Wacky Races. Based on the Hanna-Barbera franchise of the same name, Wacky Races chronicles the exploits of Dick Dastardly and Muttley throughout a worldwide series of races. With a comfortable couch and some Dreamcast gear, you too can join Muttley, Dastardly, Penelope Pitstop, and the entire Wacky Races gang as they thrash, crash, and trash their way to success.
Initially, the game offers three areas of five courses each. Each area has four different racing modes: track challenge, Wacky Cup, Golden Muttley Cup, and battle arena. Track challenge is a series of single courses, whereas the Wacky and Muttley Cups are full-area competitions. The battle arena mode pits you against the competition in Mario Kart-style combat arenas. Out of the box, only the first mode, track challenge, is available. However, beat the five courses in each area, and you'll earn access to the Wacky Cup. Beat the Wacky Cup, and you'll go onto the Muttley Cup, and so forth. Some courses require gold stars to unlock, which you can earn via first-place finishes. There are also a few side quests as well, which net additional power-ups and vehicle upgrades. On top of all that, every mode supports two-player simultaneous racing.
In a cartoon-based racing title, character selection is important. Like a satisfying Super Slurpee, Wacky Races' cup runneth over with selection. Initially, eight characters are available: Penelope Pitstop, Peter Perfect, Rufus Ruffcut & Sawtooth, Luke & Blubber Bear, the Ant Hill Mob, Sergeant Blast & Private Meeks, the Gruesome Twosome, and last but not least, the Slag Brothers. If you earn enough cup wins, you'll unlock the last three combatants: Red Max, Pat Pending, and Dick Dastardly & Muttley. Rounding out the game's incredibly ample features list are some cheat codes you can earn.
Despite a thorough features list, a racing game needs two things to be truly enjoyable: good control and excellent gameplay. When it comes to control, Wacky Races is set. You have two handling types: advanced and kart. Kart is the more forgiving of the two, requiring only minimal braking and basic cornering. Advanced mode loosens the turning radius and adds realistic physics, making the game a harrowing battle of wits and perseverance. Depending on the racer you choose, your car will handle the courses differently. Some vehicles, such as the Compact Pussycat and the Surplus Six, are known for their speed and durability. On the other hand, the Arkansas Chugga Bug and the Bullet Proof Bomb accelerate well and recover from accidents quickly. Using the Surplus Six on a winding mountain course may not be the best idea, but it's a great choice for courses with plenty of obstacles or wolf-pack situations. Once you've selected a character, you can choose the three power-ups you're going to use in the game. You can launch these abilities with the X, Y, or B buttons - provided you've collected enough Wacky Coins, that is. Thanks to Pat Pending's convert-a-car challenge, you can also earn two additional abilities per racer.
As for gameplay, Wacky Races is solid, with one caveat. Let's discuss the good stuff first. The courses are full of twists, turns, slopes, straightaways, and shortcuts. Further, each course's layout reflects the environment. Snowbound courses feature ice floe and glaciers, whereas riverside levels feature numerous water hazards and overpasses. Some courses are full of straightaways and hairpin turns, whereas others are zigzag affairs that will have you going in circles in no time. When it comes to course design and creativity, Wacky Races easily equals, if not surpasses, both Crash Team Racing and Mario Kart 64. Car handling is quick and precise, capturing the arcade-like feel that kart racing demands. Furthermore, while power-ups are plentiful, a slight time delay prohibits their abuse, leading to a game that's half skill and half mayhem.
While the driving is wonderful and the courses are delicious, the game's artificial intelligence and difficulty level need work. Mario Kart and Crash Team Racing feature tiered difficulty levels and increasingly better computer opponents. Wacky Races has two difficulty levels: hard and "fetch me the mallet." Who gave the other seven guys rocket jets? You begin each race in last place, and a majority of the time you'll see CPU opponents staying ahead of you for no plausible reason. If that weren't bad enough, the AI gets even more implausible during the final lap of each race. Imagine yourself cruising in first place, mere yards from the finish line. The map says the nearest opponent is 100 yards away. Then, out of nowhere, three CPU-controlled opponents come flying onto the screen and overtake you. Making matters worse, the severity of CPU AI seems to be random! Sometimes you'll finish a race way ahead of the pack, never colliding with an errant projectile or land mine. At other times, though, the CPU opponents will shove you into lakes, launch more power-ups than they could possibly have, leap from behind, and generally make your life one of aggravation. Considering the genre and target audience, a better difficulty balance would have been nice.
Still, if you can see past the questionable difficulty, you'll enjoy wonderfully pants-drenching visuals. Every course is designed and rendered in a style that remains faithful to the cartoon series. Houses are decrepit, trains are superdeformed, and vegetation populates the landscape like a '60s acid frenzy. When it comes to the racers themselves, Infogrames took a feather from Sega's cap and mixed polygonal models with black outlines, delivering a look that is similar to Sega's Jet Grind Radio. As a result, the racers' moves and gestures are represented with 100 percent accuracy to their cartoon counterparts. The Ant Hill Mob hangs out of its car, Penelope's umbrella flaps in the wind, and Peter Perfect's Turbo Terrific curls its nose as if it were alive. While there are some instances of slowdown and moiré, the game remains fast and furious. Most importantly, the two-player modes don't seem to slow the game down much, if at all. Kudos to Infogrames for that.
Wacky Races' soundtrack also plays a significant role in the game's overall quality. When it comes to vehicle effects and background music, Wacky Races sticks to a familiar formula: light background music and realistic engine effects. However, kart-racing games tend to include character voice effects as well. To this end, Wacky Races is auditory expression done right. All the racers have a number of comments and quotations they utter during a race, most of which are taken straight from the cartoon itself. Penelope apologizes constantly, Peter Perfect preens profusely, and Sergeant Blast berates Meeks at every turn. While it would take ages to summarize each character's vocal range, it's safe to say that Wacky Races perfectly captures the auditory experience of the cartoon.
With the exception of random AI, Wacky Races is a license-based racing game done right. The control is wonderful, the gameplay is fun, the visuals are superb, and the sound is delightful. Sure, there are a few quirks to get used to, and the difficulty level is less than forgiving, but these nitpicks are no reason not to give Wacky Races a chance. With a list of features unparalleled by any currently released title, the game offers at least 60 to 80 hours of hands-on gaming. Furthermore, the game gives Dreamcast owners their Mario Kart game and does so in a way that some will find vastly superior.