If theres one thing I cant understand, its the temporary insanity that seems to grip publishers when giving the green light to certain games. It just makes NO sense for a piece of junk, waste-of-resources title to hit shelves when it has absolutely no redeeming qualities other than can the fact that it boots up in your console. Is the influx of quick cash from duping unsuspecting gamers worth the black mark on a publishers reputation? I dont know why, but it still amazes me to see games with no new ideas, cloned gameplay, low production qualities and nonexistent amounts of fun get released. Who approves these? On the other hand, games like this wouldnt get released if nobody bought them, so let me do my best to prevent anyone from making an uninformed retail purchase.
Smashing Drive is a perfect example of the type of software that should never reach shelves. In this game, you play a cabbie in what I assume is the future. Your hack is a beefed-up techno thing that has all kinds of special abilities like Gas and Brake. Of course, the point is to get your fare from point A to point B in the shortest amount of time possible. What else would it be, really? This highly innovative goal is achieved by taking the type of jumps and shortcuts that have been a pox on racing games for far too many years. To spice up this already tantalizing package, there are numerous power-up icons scattered about. These icons activate special features like big sawblades to cut through annoying logging trucks (so common in downtown urban areas), a REALLY loud horn to "blow" away any obstacles in your path, and even a yellow cowpuncher attachment for plowing through colonies of unfortunate fruit and newspaper stands. It must have taken all of three minutes and a few Speed Racer episodes to come up with fresh stuff like this.
Anyway, while I think the "extreme shortcut racing" genre is already full to bursting, theres something to be said for a well put-together game that can deliver a few thrills. The funny thing is, thats not exactly Smashing Drive, either.
For starters, the graphics and presentation are a joke. Everything is under-detailed and overly colorful. This one-two punch results in the disc looking like one of the Nintendo 64s uglier efforts. Most of the levels are cityscapes indistinguishable from each other, and theyre all equally dull. Suffice it to say that the GameCubes powerful hardware is half asleep while running this disc, which is a coincidence since you will be, too. Besides the generally low quality of the graphics, the screen is constantly cluttered with small explosions, boxes bouncing off the hood of your taxi and entirely too much visual distraction. If you can imagine putting on a pair of goggles and having a crowd of people throwing handfuls of confetti in your face, thats a rough approximation of the optical garbage going on here.
People who read my reviews will know that I dont often mention music or auditory information unless its either extremely good or horribly bad. Since Im mentioning it here, lets just say that its not because I liked it. The "music" selected for this game is so miserable that it must have taken a crack team of sound technicians weeks to get the right shower stall surrounded by an echo chamber to fit inside their recording studio. The singer (obviously someones uncle or third cousin) seems to enjoy his heavy-breather performance, which is admirable considering the sophomoric level of the lyrics. Ill take silence over this stuff any day.
While graphics and sound are important parts of a videogame, they arent the most crucial elementthe gameplay is. Rather than go for a halfhearted attempt, Gaelco decided to pull out all the stops and create a complete and total failure of a game that is equally bad in all areas. I applaud them, since this obviously wasnt easy. Taking a look at the play structure, its terrible. The courses are very linear and not at all open to roaming like the infinitely superior Crazy Taxi. When you start each stage, you have to race your competitor to a finish line. There are no fares to pick up or drop off, and theres no freedom in where you go. Basically, the whole "futuristic taxi" premise is a thin façade meant to disguise the fact that this is nothing but a simple-minded racing game. Theres nothing wrong with racing games, but I dont see why they bothered with the pretense.
In any case, its not even a decent racing game since your skill as a driver has diddly-squat to do with winning. You will not be able to pass any of the mid-to-late stages of the game until you spend a few tries memorizing all of the ramps and "Risky Routes" (to use the games terminology) that lead to speed boosts and second-shaving shortcuts. Personally, I loathe racing games that require shortcuts to win, but Smashing Drive goes one step further with this ridiculousness. More than a few times I would actually be ahead of the computer opponent and STILL run out of time before the finish line because I didnt bother to take every single alternate path and collect every power-up. (And no, I dont know why a taxi would need to make it to a finish line, so dont ask me.)
Bottom line: dont waste your time, money or electricity by trifling with this piece of sorry software. I can see absolutely no reason why Namco would bother putting out something of such dubious quality except to cash in on GameCube owners starved for new titles. Come to think of it, I dont understand why Nintendo would even approve it for release. Do yourself a favor and spend your money on anything else. Taking a taxi ride down to return or exchange Smashing Drive will be more fun than playing it.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the GameCube version of the game.