Despite what seems like every third title being a racer, U.S. Dreamcast owners haven't been blessed with any really good racing games if you stop and think about it- Sega Rally is too hard for it's own good, Tokyo Extreme Racing is way too short, Speed Devils- ugh, you're kidding, right?- and don't even get me started on TNN Hardcore Heap and Test Drive 6... Well, Titus has decided to throw it's hat into the ring with a little game called Roadsters, and at first, I didn't even want to go anywhere near it, thinking it would be yet another uninspiring but graphically clean racer for the DC. But, my need for a speed fix, coupled with my curious nature forced me to open up a copy. Boy, was I surprised- flaws it has, but Roadsters turns out to be a good deal of fun, if you can stick with it for a bit!
The game is fashioned so that anyone can pick up and play it within a few seconds (minus the annoying loading times). You can go for a quick race, or time trial if you just want a tiny bite, but the meat of the game is in the Championship Mode, where you pick a driver and car, modify your ride, and race for the Roadster Trophy. All the cars here are actual convertibles, or seem to be based on others (when was the last time you heard of or drove a Mind Star 200R, or an Ibella Zeeta Mk3?), and it's great to see Fiat, Lotus, and Renault represented here. But this is no Gran Turismo, as far as track design goes- Rather than go with realistic courses, the developers decided to create fanciful tracks full of dips, curves, and shortcuts galore. A few of the courses are named after real locations, but I seriously doubt you can zip through the Hoover Dam at 134 MPH! There are also some cool effects, such as lightning and leaves blowing around certain areas of tracks that add to the visual appeal of the game. So far, so good- but of course, the big issue is control, and here, things start to get sticky...
Pick a car, any car- and a driver (from a selection of Crazy Taxi rejects, it seems), and you'll be quite impressed with the game's speed and decent frame rate- until you hit something like a fence, and either get hung up on it, or come to a dead stop. If you manage to stay on the road, and not hit your opponents too much, the game becomes a hell of a lot more fun. The analog control is a bit loose at first, so there is some minor amount of frustration to be had until you nail the controls. The weird thing is, there are some obstacles that can be driven over or knocked about, like the tree stumps and bushes on one course, but run up against a simple wooden barricade, and it's like you've driven into a wall made of flypaper! This actually defeats the aspect of reaching some of the shortcuts, and seems a bit cheap, especially if you're trying to win a race, rather than just finish it. But practice makes perfect, I suppose. You get the feeling that the developers played a lot of Beetle Adventure Racing when they put this one together, but they decided to go for the Crusin' USA crowd, as far as a demographic. There are no power-ups or turbos lining the track, which is fine with me, but the game seems a bit unfocused at times, and needs a little something extra to tie all the elements together- I just can't put my finger on
what it is...
Roadsters also supports up to 4 players, and takes a hit in the frame rate, as to be expected, but it's nowhere near as bad as you'd think. The music is decent throughout, but the voices and sound effects couls have been a bit better. The other drivers are amusing the first lap or two, but hearing "Hey, watch it!" a dozen or more times during a race gets old fast. If you're going to add personalities to a game, make sure they have personality! Also, the cars "suffer" from looking a bit too shiny, even after kicking up tons of road dust, but you could say the same thing about Gran Turismo 2, if you wanna go there... But the funny thing about Roadsters is it does grow on you, in its little way- then you stop playing for a bit, and wonder why you keep going back to it over and over.
In the end, Roadsters ends up being the sort of game that you'll either like a lot, or just a little. You won't love it- it's just not that great, and you won't hate it- it's not that bad, either. It's just somewhere in the middle of the road, and that's probably the best place for it, especially if you're in the market for an average racer that doesn't promise you the world on a spoon, just a decent and enjoyable racing game.