The cart racing genre has seen everything from Mario to the Smurfs so for the Star Wars license to be successful in this area they would have to not only come up with a new idea, but also make a compelling game. The new idea part is easy to judge, the degree of compulsion is a bit more difficult. By taking the carts off of the ground and making them hover vehicles, Bombad allows for many more options. However the kid-like feel of the game and the quickness of completion may be a major turn-off to many consumers.
Like many cart racers the plot of Bombad is nearly non-existent. Along time ago in a galaxy far far away (of course) there was this crazy kat named Jabba that liked to have famous Star Wars personalities race in little carts in different parts of the galaxy. So you must pick your favorite Episode 1 character and race them through different levels trying to earn that gold medal. If you place 3rd or higher you are rewarded with more tracks; if you do not then you must race again.
The entire game is based on the characters, locales, and situations surrounding Episode 1: The Phantom Menace with one secret exception (a hidden character with a really deep voice). So the characters include Obi Wan, Yoda, Darth Maul, and everybody's favorite Jar Jar Binks. If you are a classic Star Wars fan then you will probably want to steer clear. The vehicles that each of the racers rides are refreshingly different from one another and reflect their respective drivers. Darth Maul rides his Sith Infiltrator while Queen Amadalia rides her royal starship. All of the vehicles from Episode 1 are included including Yoda's council chair, which has been fitted with repulsor lifts and rocket engines. Like Mario Kart and others, the size of the driver and cart affects the speed and acceleration. Bigger guys have high top speeds and slow acceleration while little drivers are just the opposite. Also the smaller riders handle turns better but have lower shields than their larger counterparts.
The courses are all taken from the movie as well. You start in the swamps of Naboo and venture forth to the Gungan Kingdom, hit the streets of Coruscant, go out to Tatooine, and back to the Royal Throne Room. You even go up to a Trade Federation control ship. All of the courses are very different from one another and each favors a certain type of racer. Thankfully you can choose your racer before each race so you can get the best driver for the job. Only 3 courses are open at the outset but as you complete them, more open up. There are plenty of shortcuts and hidden paths that you can take if you are skilled enough. Some are really hidden well, which makes for some interesting replays.
No cart racing game would be complete without the obligatory weapons. And this one is on different. There are four different pick-ups that you may encounter, Speed Boost, Shield Boost, Front Attack, and Back Attack. Each of these pick-ups has three or four randomly generated versions. For example if you pick up the Front Attack weapon you may get anything from a tractor beam to photon torpedoes. The last weapon pick-up is the special weapon. Each driver has his or her own special and some are most devastating. Yoda can flip over all of the racers with the power of the force, while Darth Maul throws his double-bladed lightsaber. These weapons are especially useful in the battle arena areas where the object is to destroy your opponents before they destroy you. 4 levels are reserved for this activity if racing gets too repetitive.
What makes the game unique is the fact that all of the racers fly. Well they don't actually fly, they sort of hover, but this is better than any of the other cart racers that have come out recently. Being air born has its advantages when it comes to level design. Instead of just skidding around a turn you can jump over it and turn around mid-air. Also this gives much more openings on the vertical plane. There are many levels where it is beneficial to take the high road. Though there is gravity for most of the races (i.e. you cannot fly wherever you want) there are a couple of instances where gravity is lost and the carts are free-floating. These parts are regrettably few and far between. At least one whole level should be devoted to this kind of space racing but it is not to be.
The level at which you enjoy this game depends heavily on your enjoyment of cart racing games. It has a very basic cart racing style of gameplay without a lot of bells and whistles. There are no secret items to collect, no missions, just a solid racing engine. I found the game refreshing in the sea of mediocre cart racers. The developers really seem like they spent their time on level design and not fancy weapons or tons of secrets. There is enough in the game to make it a solid title and nothing more. It would be nice to have a bit more to do, but I would much rather have nicely designed levels and control than a whole lot of extraneous crap.
In closing I must emphasize that this game is meant for kids. It is being put out by Lucas Learning not Lucas Arts. Adults may find it fun at first, but will also find it much to easy. I finished the entire game in one night. But just because it is easy does not mean that it does not possess some really fun qualities. If you are a fan of cart racing games like Crash Team Racing or an of the other 25 cart racing games that have been released lately then you will definitely derive some enjoyment out of this one. Plus with 4 player split screen available, it makes a great party game. It is not as easy to win when you are playing against people as skilled as you. So when the 1 player mode gets too easy just plug in a multi-tap and enjoy.
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