People of the interwebs, if you’re a follower of my reviews, you’ll know that I am a bit of a sucker for charm. I love a game that might not be the most impressive visually, structurally or some other way if it’s got bucketloads of charm attached to it. It’s part of the reason I love the MySims games – for the most part – because even though it’s repetitive and one-dimensional, it’s absolutely chock-full of charming little bits. On the outside, a game like Penny Racers should be just my cup of tea. Essentially, it’s a cutesy car racer. Take a few cars, make them look a bit cutesy/cartoony (almost) and set them off to race around your usual racetracks and away we go. Surely that’s a recipe for Wellsy here to begin enjoying himself!
Oh how wrong you would be.
Good Lord, I don’t think you could be any more wrong if you tried. And given that wrong is a finite word (you either are wrong or you’re not… you cannot be more wrong or less wrong, basically…), that is a pretty damning indictment on a game.
Penny Racers, put kindly, is a bit of a turd. It has the ingredients to be a pretty solid game but it is not. It is definitely not.
From the outset, you are plonked straight into the game without any fanfare. There’s no intro, no FMV, not even a hint of vocal interest from a commentator or something. Ridge Racer, a game that preceded this one by nearly two years, managed to include the usual vocal samples like introducing the game’s title. This game clearly forgoes that in a ‘hey, you can read’ kind of way and then gives you the choice of GRAND PRIX, FREE PLAY, VS PLAY and SOUND.
Yup. That all important SOUND option. No difficulty. No customisation of anything like laps or anything… just… change the sound from Stereo to Mono or vice versa.
When you get into the game, you’re given a choice of six starting vehicles, each with WHIMSICAL names like RED LOBSTER (HA HA HA) and WHITE EAGLE (TEE HEE HEE) and BLACK DRAGON (HO HO HO) and GREEN CAT (AH H-what?) and each one is INTENDED to handle differently in some way, which to a point they do. I’ll get onto that one later.
Graphically… the game has MAJOR shortcomings. Look at this shit:
Now, regardless of whether this comes out in the early PS1 era or not, there really is NOT excuse for not at least having ROUND, CYLINDRICAL WHEELS. Wheels… are meant to be round for a reason and yet… you’re giving us this lazy interpretation of round and hoping we won’t notice? After the crappy background and the boxy car models, it was one of the first things I noticed. THE FUCKING WHEELS AREN’T ROUND.
Perhaps this explains why the cars twitch around the race tracks so much as you drive around them.
Look, being totally honest, I would have EXPECTED this to be the graphical style on a 1994/5 EARLY PS1 title. I could have accepted that a bit more than I did with this. But this is a 1996 title that really should have known better. The car models look incredibly lazy. They’re the type of crudely-textured models that cheap PS1 games had. The boxy style isn’t cute or cartoony. It’s just fake-looking and torpid. It gives off a lackadaisical impression of how the developers really couldn’t care less about the game itself.
“THE WHEELS ARE NOT ROUND ENOUGH.”
“NO ONE WILL NOTICE. MAKE EVERYTHING LOOK A BIT CRAPPIER AND THEY WON’T EVEN COMPLAIN ABOUT IT.”
“THIS IS GENIUS LOGIC.”
“ALSO MAKE SURE THE CARS TWITCH EVERYWHERE LIKE THEY’RE BEING ELECTROCUTED.”
“I AM IN AWE AT YOUR MASTERY.”
Fucking hell, guys. Really.
One thing that IS pretty neat, and I will give it this as a plus point, is that each of the different guys has a different neat speedometer to the next. You have some that have it in the corners of the screen, some that use a digital reading for speed and then you have the one as above which looks like a proper race car dashboard. It is a neat little touch that atleast shows that maybe… just maybe… they did try a little bit.
However… there is no getting away from the fact that the game itself looks murky and unbalanced. The weird car models stick out a fair bit against the crummy textures and the low-resolution backgrounds, whenever you can see them, look painfully obvious. Pixelated mountains as your backgrounds do not a good game make. These are the type of images that you could ALMOST get away with in the Mega Drive era.
But oh no. OH NO. We get them in the PS1 era too. And they’re NOT good. Or welcome. Go back to wherever you came from, graphics. We don’t want you.
Graphics aside, the major kicker as to why this game is SO awful are the controls. The cars handle ATROCIOUSLY poorly. Pressing left or right on the D-Pad means you’ll be sitting there, watching your car respond… ever so slightly. If you attempt to corner at relatively high speed,s you will skid all over the fucking shop. But even getting the car to make any movement at all is a major bonus. I held the directional pad for a while, hoping it would turn eventually. It did not. Not quickly anyway. It made small movements. You have to active release the accelerator for it to actually handle at all. You can brake to get a bit more of a turning circle but HOLY MOTHER OF GOD, this control scheme – a control scheme that probably DOES make sense in real life – does NOT make for a fun game. It is PAINFUL. It HURTS. It physically HURTS to try and manoeuvre these cars anywhere. They had very little turning as it was and then suddenly, we’ve got a reasonable one… and then moments later, if you press the accelerator whilst still cornering, you’ll be spinning around on a sixpence. It is SO intermittent at times that occasionally, you wonder if the game even knows HOW to handle.
One minute, it slid about without even touching it, twitching and doughnutting all over the place, the next, I was gliding around corners easily and I don’t even know what I did differently to get that to happen.
I fucking hate these controls. I don’t like the idea of not being able to slide around a corner properly. I hate the fact that the car REFUSES to turn if you’re accelerating without basically crashing into the side of a mountain like a dumbass.
Yeah, car. That’s right. You’re a dumbass. Red Lobster: you fucking suck. White Eagle: you’re a wanker. Green Cat: your name is fucking stupid. Blue Dolphin: you’re not even a real car. Fuck the lot of you. You all suck. Your acceleration is shit. Your handling is shit. YOU’RE ALL SHIT.
With the cars freaking out in the handling department, whatever the handling caught has spread to the rest of the game. There’s this very obvious twitching that the game goes through. The cars occasionally judder about the screen like they’re travelling on rocky roads when there is absolutely NOTHING there. There’s a random amount of clipping going on in the game that is distressing as it occasionally brought my car to a standstill, or at the very least slowed it down. We’re not talking about just the walls here… we’re talking about the FLOOR. It snags regularly but it doesn’t ALWAYS affect the car. It just depends on how lucky you are.
Clipping against the walls though? That’s not lucky. That’s a fucking given. You WILL hit walls, purely because the handling’s shit, but also because the tracks are so claustrophobically narrow, you have next to NO ROOM to actually go around corners without hitting at least one wall here and there as you go round. The mountain and woodland tracks are particularly good examples (or bad, depending on how you feel about these things…). It’s a matter of the utmost skill to be able to get past these chicanes without hitting a wall and crawling to a stop. Each hit against the wall (and you will hit it more than once in quick succession) slows you down by about half your speed until you’re pretty much stopped dead in your tracks RACING GAME PUN. It feels very unfair and actually quite cheap.
And let’s be real here: who is this game designed for? It’s attempting to be a bit cartoony and cutesy so it’s not exactly going for the serious racer angle. It’s a weird combination that straddles the wrong stools. It’s cutesy so it ought to be aimed at younger gamers. But it’s serious racing so it ought to be aimed at seasoned racing game fans, many of whom might be older.
And it falls unceremoniously between the two stools without even touching either one of them. And because of this, I plopping this game particularly into the AWFUL gaming category. It just doesn’t fit. It’s so insanely difficult and unfair that younger gamers won’t want to play it and the cutesy stylings are going to put off serious gamers. It doesn’t work. If you’ve paid attention to the screenshots, you’ll notice that I’ve basically come last in every single one so far. It’s SO fucking difficult to get used to the controls that I’ve been round every track so far and have come a highest of 9th out of 10.
And then I tried the track simply called Normal Circuit: Hard.
And I thought to myself that there is nothing good that can come of this. At all.
OH LOOK. 10TH. BIG FUCKING SURPRISE…
And then I started to wrestle with the controls a bit more…
And gradually…gradually, I passed a couple of cars. And soon enough…
THE FUCK? I’m 6th??? And 5th place is just ahead of me! What the fuck is going on here? On the hardest track? I’M DOING WELL ON THE HARDEST TRACK?
And as I keep going, I pass 5th place, hit a wall and move back down to 6th again… but after a better segment of driving… I finally end the race…
And I’m disappointed. 4th place was NOWHERE to be seen. They were long gone. There was no way in hell I was going to get that car. No way in HELL, I was going to when essentially, by the time I’d passed 5th place again, 1st, 2nd and 3rd had actually already finished the race. There was no way I was getting to 4th. And I was disappointed again.
I was excited for a moment because I did SO much better and on the hardest of all the tracks.
And yet it didn’t feel fair. I’d hit a few walls here and there. I’d actually had a decent race. But there’s literally almost no room for error. You hit a wall, someone’s flying past you. You hit another car, another one’s gonna fly past you. Coming first in this game is going to be a pipe dream for me. Seriously. If I ever come first in this game, I’m going to cry. Tears of joy or sadness will be determined once I’ve done it. Predict tears of sadness that I even cared enough to do it.
Also: random car sex.
This car rammed into the back of mine so many times, we actually got stuck on the wall together for nearly thirty seconds. He couldn’t move and neither could I. It was only when another car zipped past, lapping the pair of us that we were able to get out of it. Chalk that one up as another load of shit.
And the final nail in a coffin that’s basically just a coffin made of nails?
THERE’S NO REVERSE BUTTON.
Penny Racers, you can go fuck yourself off a waterfall right now.
OH WAIT. YOU CAN’T EVEN FUCKING WELL DO THAT.
Penny Racers? Not even worth that.