Its pretty rare that a racing game comes out which is different enough to perk my interest. While Im not the worlds biggest racing fan, I do enjoy the scent of a freshly burned patch of rubber every now and then. Unfortunately, with the overabundance of driving games available on practically any system out there, the genre seems to have become quite over saturated from where Im standing. In my opinion, recently there hasnt been a lot to make any one particular title stand out from the others unless youre a car game aficionado. As a result of too many games with not enough innovation, it takes a car game with something extra to really catch my eye. The last racing game that met the criteria was Rage Racer, which was arcadey enough to get the hang of quickly, with enough upgrades to keep it fresh—but not bogged down in minutiae like the too-realistic Gran Turismo.
Rumble Racing, the semi-official sequel to Electronic Arts NASCAR Rumble, is the latest racing game that seems to change up the formula enough to warrant a look. The game starts off like a standard arcade-style racer, but the thing that drew my attention was the "little bit of everything" approach. What I mean by that is Rumble Racing seems to have borrowed features from several other games and incorporated them into one unit. The original piece EA adds to this automotive mosaic is the slightly off-the-wall approach to speed. In order to gain quick boosts while racing, the player needs to jump their car off ramps scattered throughout the tracks and complete stunts. Land a flip or a roll successfully, and you are rewarded with a quick nitro-like burst. Once you get proficient at spotting the ramps and landing the jumps, its possible to run the bulk of any given course with the afterburners on.
Besides the jumps there are also power-ups littered about the track for a range of offensive and defensive abilities, as well as a multitude of cars and tracks to unlock by going through the games tournament circuit. The tracks are all rendered attractively if not creatively, and feature several hidden shortcuts (are there any other kind?) to help give you an advantage over your competitors. For those gamers who crave even more, there are (literally) Easter eggs hidden on almost every track. Find one of these eggs, crush the pastel-colored ovum under your tires and voila! A new vehicle is unlocked.
In general, the game is very well done technically. The frame rate is smooth as the thigh of a 50s pin-up girl at all times, and I never saw more than a brief moments occurrence of slowdown or any significant pop-up. Both of these factors help lend the game a very fast and convincing feeling of speed, especially once you get past the novice circuit.
The stunts I mentioned earlier are a great idea, and add a bit of unusual strategy and excitement that I find most racers to be lacking. Its a bit of a rush to hit a ramp, pull off two barrel rolls and hit the ground with a screen-blurring burst of energy. On the downside, as fun as it is to get aerobatic, pulling off the maneuver doesnt seem to really give any significant advantage since your opponents are generally doing the same thing right alongside you. It quickly becomes a matter of needing to pull off the stunts simply to stay in the running, which sucked a bit of the enjoyment out of it.
There is a very healthy selection of vehicles to choose from, featuring the standard sports models as well as a minivan, a mini eurocar and a truck or two among other exotic choices. They are rendered bright and colorfully for the most part, and some have some nice texture designs though they all have a fairly low-poly look about them. Its nothing major, and Im sure it helps keep the frame rate high, but they just look a bit off to my eye. Also, while there arent any power-ups to buy or equip, the cars all get souped-up graphically by adding more texture work or air scoops and spoilers once you get to the higher ranks. Its not Rage Racer, but its something.
Other quick highlights to mention include the fact that anyone can pick up the controller and race like a pro due to the arcade-style emphasis on physics and control. Itll be easy and instinctual for most, Id say. While this may turn off some of the more hardcore car buffs, its nice for more casual drivers to be able to jump right in without a steep learning curve. Power-ups may be turned off for those who want a pure racing experience, or who are just tired of getting hit with the various attacks.
Finally, I have to mention (and applaud) the fact that the game recognizes digital control. As one of the old-school dinosaurs still roaming the game scene today, Ive never gotten comfortably used to analog controls and still enjoy tap turning my way through a tight corner despite how unrealistic and inaccurate it may be. Its nice to be able to have a choice in this age of analog everything.
While nothing in the game is horrible or awful, there are a few things that cause the games muffler to drag a bit. Most annoyingly, the voice announcer spouts inane bits of hillbilly wisdom, such as "Youre hotter than a warm bucket of cornbread!!" Uh, right. I dont know where the idea for having a redneck yokel call the race came from, but the person who approved it needs a demotion. Not every race fan is from the south, or whatever this type of voiceover is supposed to imply, and its just stupid. I cant even think of any clever insults for it, its just stupid. Thankfully, the voices can be turned off, which they swiftly were.
The power-ups and attacks in the game arent very impressive, and only serve to annoy once in a while. Graphically, most of them are pretty standard stuff, with no real standouts except for a rarely seen eye-catching tornado effect.
Lastly, the opponent AI is a little too aggressive for my taste, though it usually wasnt a problem until the final lap. Once nearing the home stretch, Id often find myself flying through the air after being knocked around by someone behind me, or being on the receiving end of one of the weapon pickups. Also, as mentioned before, the enemies are constantly using the ramps to gain speed boosts and use the shortcuts once theyve been opened, so the difficulty of it might discourage some. It wouldnt be so bad except that if you lose one race on the circuit, its possible to lose the entire event, which means youd have to repeat a series of three races. Its a little frustrating.
All in all, Rumble Racing is a pretty decent game. As you can tell from the tone of the review, its solid, competent and covers all the bases without really hitting a home run. Its very close to something that would be considered a high point in the arcade-racing genre, but its missing that special spark which would have pushed it over the top. It sounds funny, but I think that Rumble Racing is a very good start for a possible franchise, and Id usually say that the sequel should be something special. The funny thing about that is the fact that Rumble Racing already is a sequel, so keep an eye out for the sequel of the sequel.