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Tokyo Extreme Racing (DC) Review

Background Info
Who needs Electronic Arts on the Dreamcast when you have Crave Entertainment's release of the Genki developed Tokyo Xtreme Racer? If you have the need for speed, Tokyo Xtreme Racer will give you a pure adrenaline rush as you race through the highways of Tokyo. This racer for the Dreamcast offers arcade racing with a great sensation of speed.

In Tokyo Xtreme Racer, your role is to cruise the Tokyo highway system and search out members of rival street gangs. By flashing your lights at your rivals, you initiate a race. The object, of course, is to beat your opponent. However, your rivals' cars quickly improve in performance, so you will need to improve your driving skills as well as consider upgrades to your car. Throw in highway traffic and you have a challenge ahead of you.

Presentation/Graphics : 80
Tokyo Xtreme Racer is set on a single loop of a highway course which can be played on the inner or outer loop. The course is not mirrored; the second route follows the inner loop but uses different features. The highway itself offers a realistic interpretation of a highway, from painted stripes on the sides and middle of the highway to guardrails and concrete structures. Buildings adorn the sides of the road, and at one point you wonder if you are even in Tokyo, as an attractive rendition of the Eiffel Tower pops up.

The cars have a fair amount of detail. Subtle changes to spoilers, grills, and even mirrors can be easily seen during gameplay. Furthermore, even little details such as license plates are shown and the plates' numbers can be read. Taking place solely at night, the street lights reflect off the windows and bodies, and tail lights blur as cars rush by.

Because the game takes place at night, the game is very dark. If played during daytime hours and there is significant reflection on the monitor, the game can be difficult to play. When blazing down the highway, you have to be cognizant of the oncoming traffic. The easiest way to judge which lane traffic is in is by looking for tail lights, but with too much light in the room, this is too difficult. This is a nighttime game. Or, you can increase the brightness on your monitor. In doing so, you'll be greeted with graphical touches you may have missed earlier, including trees and clouds. It also makes the game almost play like the dusk or dawn hours of the day. Overall visibility increases and makes the game a little easier.

The game promises 60 frames per second action, and for the most part, it delivers. At times, there is significant slowdown. One particular corner is almost guaranteed to have some slowdown, with the frame rate dropping to 30 frames per second or less. However, there are horrible frame rate problems in other areas. There are times when the frame drops to the single digits. The game grinds to a halt, and all of a sudden, the frame rate jumps back to 60 fps. You feel like you have been vaulted out of a cannon. Before a race begins, the computer counts down from 3 seconds. If you are in a poor frame rate area, time extends, and the 3 second count down takes much longer. Fortunately, the game runs at 60 fps most of the time, but when it drops, it is unacceptable to the point of affecting gameplay.

Tokyo Xtreme Racer provides the option to view replays of your races. The replay graphics are as good as the in-game graphics, and surprisingly exhibit some of the same frame rate drops as the realtime race. Unfortunately the replay mode offer only one view, that of a TV style presentation which shows you coming from a distance, passing the camera, going off screen, and moving to another camera view. An in-car or behind-the-car view would have been nice to give you the opportunity to learn from your mistakes. Furthermore, your speed and gear are not displayed, which would have also been a helpful aid.

Presentation/Audio : 75
The sound Tokyo Xtreme Racer is a mixture of music and car sounds. The music gets annoying after a short time. Each time an opponent is engaged, some guitar rock chords play. The track loops and you may hear it multiple times just waiting to start the race. During the race or just while cruising the highway, the background sound track plays. Featuring mostly techno style music, it gets repetitive and you just want to turn it down or off. Fortunately that can be done in the game's options. Unfortunately, the background music setting is not saved to the memory card. Even more unfortunate is that the annoying guitar riff is as loud as it ever was. Its volume can not be affected through any game option.

For the most part, the cars' sounds are realistic. The engines rev, tires squeal, and mufflers change the way the car sounds. Every car appears to have unique sounds, and some are quite odd. One car sounded as though the engine was not well lubricated. The engine emitted a metal-to-metal grinding sound which did not seem healthy. Odder yet is that the same car, when downshifted and then quickly upshifted, lets out a whipping sound. You can actually hear the crack of a whip as you do this. Needless to say, the realism stops when you feel like you're not driving a car but rather a mule pack. Modeling collision sounds has never been done well in racing games, and Tokyo Xtreme Racer is no different. You will hear the usual bumps from other console racers.

Interface/Options : 90
If you've become accustomed to detailed manuals, Tokyo Xtreme Racer will disappoint. The manual gives the basics of the game, such as control, game options, tuning options, and of course, credits. Explanations are brief, and there is no discussion of history of why you drive around racing other gangs, no info on the rival gangs, and no hints on driving techniques.

Fortunately it is easy to make your way through the game. Game menus are navigated with the digital or analog pad, executed with the A button, and canceled with the B button. In the Garage menu, the Y button can be used to display your car's specs. Upgrades affect the car's performance, so this is a useful gauge as to your performance improvement. The Y button can also be used when buying parts to display a short sentence or two on the impact of a new part on the car.

During gameplay, the analog stick acts as the steering wheel, and the gas and brakes are activated by the right and left analog triggers, respectively. Should you select manual transmission (or shift assist off), the A button shifts up while the X button downshifts. The B button flashes your lights to engage an opponent, and the Y button switches between one of two views (first person or from behind your car). The start button pauses the game. The controller configuration is customizable if the button layout is unsatisfactory.

The analog triggers don't come into play with this game. The intensity of the racing pushes you to be full throttle or brakes or nothing. There is no time to finesse the brakes and gas.

Progress is easily saved off to the memory card, which only takes 15 blocks of memory. Replays can be saved, but they take 76 blocks of memory.

Gameplay : 95
Tokyo Xtreme Racer is arcade racing at its finest with a little simulation thrown in. The game offers several modes of play on two tracks. Practice mode allows you to get familiar with the tracks and driving. You can select a car from your garage or one of the non-upgraded cars. The initial offering of cars in Tokyo Xtreme Racer lists 24 cars.

Versus Battle is a two-player battle where you can select stock cars or tuned cars from your garage. Racing is done split screen, and unfortunately, there is no traffic during the game. Racing can be either in SP Battle or Time Battle mode. In Time Battle mode, players race each other around the track for one lap. In the SP mode, an energy meter (or Speed Points meter) is displayed. The trailing car loses points based on the distance to the leader. The game ends when a player's meter reaches zero. Versus Battle offers good gameplay, especially with the better performing cars, but the lack of traffic makes for a less challenging competition.

The game is really geared for single player action, and it is here where it shines. In Quick Race Mode, you select either SP Battle or Time Battle mode and race the computer with full traffic. In SP mode, the computer rival automatically engages your car in a race, and the rival is different each time. As long as you beat your opponent, you keep racing. Unfortunately, if you lose you are given the opportunity to retry the opponent repeatedly. To honest racers, this is not a problem - just take defeat. But it does offer a sort of cheat to get past your rival.

The Quest mode is the guts of the game. In Quest mode, you seek out rivals from 20 gangs encompassing 133 drivers. Each gang and driver is increasingly difficult to beat. Along the way, you may encounter one of the four Devas, bringing the number of rivals up to 137. Beating all the Devas unlocks the Devils, another four cars which take all your skill to defeat. So to beat Tokyo Xtreme Racer, you have to make your way through 141 opponents.

Starting Quest mode, you receive 25000 credits from which you can purchase one of the 24 available cars. However, many cars cost more than 25000 credits, so you will find yourself with one of the lower performing cars. Additional credits are earned by racing. Credits are earned based on distance traveled in the race (the longer the race, the more credits you earn), the number of speed points remaining after a race if you win, and your rival's strength. Slower rivals only yield hundreds of points, whereas the tough cars (the Devils) can earn upwards of fifty thousand points.

Once you purchase a car, it's off to the highway. A map of the highway is located on the left side of the screen along with six colored squares. The squares represent your opponents. Blue squares are rivals you have not yet met; green squares are rivals you have beat; pink squares are rivals you have lost to; and your car is represented by the yellow square. You seek out a rival by cruising the highway. To separate the rivals from the regular traffic, the game displays a red "R" above the rivals' cars.

The game takes place over a series of nights, and each night there are six squares representing rivals on the map. As you progress through the game, the six will be a mixture of new, defeated, and undefeated rivals. Unbeaten rivals can be raced repeatedly during a night, although you may find it fruitless if your car just does not have the required performance. As you defeat the gangs, you eventually come across the second to last member of the gang. Defeat him and you race the gang's leader. Beat the leader and you may just happen to have a date with a Deva. The Devas offer stiff competition and require an upgraded car and nerves of steel.

As credits are earned, you can purchase a new car to add to your garage or upgrade an existing car. Upgrades include engine, suspension, chassis, drive train, muffler, and wheel modifications in various stages. The later stage modifications require increasingly more credits but are well worth the cost. You can also make cosmetic changes to the car in the form of color and body changes (grills, mirrors, spoilers, hoods, etc). Some parts open up options in the Settings menu of the Tuning menu, such as gear ratio, damper rate, and brake response. The tuning is not extremely detailed but offers a quick way to adjust your car's performance.

The actual races get very intense. Early races, with the lower performing cars, are a good way to get familiar with the course and handling of your car. But as you progress through the game, the competition improves, you improve, and the racing is more engrossing. You will find yourself targeting specific stretches of the highway to set up the race and suit your driving characteristics; some areas offer gentle turns and higher speeds while other areas require better cornering techniques and a car with good braking and acceleration. You may find it advantageous to use a manual transmission (auto shift off) to improve cornering and acceleration out of turns.

Don't get discouraged by the tough competition. The game is all about practice, perseverance, and upgrades. You will find that the game pulls you in more than most racers, mostly due to the one-on-one high speed races. With the top-of-the-line cars, the racing overwhelms you. The sense of speed in the game really shows in some areas of the course. Zooming down the highway at 170 mph with 50-mph traffic in front of you takes quick reflexes and nerves of steel. Throw in one bad corner that cost you the race and you quickly challenge your rival again, and again, and again. You'll find yourself yelling at the television as a pickup truck decides at the last moment to switch to your lane, and you'll watch helplessly as your rival's taillights surge ahead.

Once you are lucky enough to make it through all 137 rivals, you still aren't done. Once you get through, you get to dance with the Devils. Another four Devils await you and offer the most challenging races of the game. At this point, you've probably upgraded your car to the maximum, so you'll have to rely on pure driving skill and cheap tricks (you'll have to figure these out) to beat your rival.

Tokyo Xtreme Racer is pure arcade fun with some simulation aspects thrown in. If you are a fan of the Need for Speed series from Electronic Arts, you'll feel right at home with this title. The nail-biting tension it provides is exhilarating to the point you'll want to pat yourself on the back for smoking that hard-to-beat rival.

However, with all that's great with the game, there are some downsides. The aforementioned frame rate problems can affect the race's outcome. If it happens at the wrong time, your fast reaction time that you've developed during the course of the race goes into slow motion. You'll have to instantly adjust to a second or two of crawling motion and hope you don't lose control coming out of the time warp. Fortunately this does not occur in every race, nor do the terrible episodes of frame drop occur with frequency. Furthermore, like any arcade racer, you scrub off too much speed when you graze the walls. You can easily lose 30 mph or more even gently hitting the curb. For damage fans, look elsewhere. If you're driving 170 mph and collide with an 18 wheeler traveling down the road at 40 mph, you just bounce back and are ready to keep pressing on. Damage is non-existent.

There are no difficulty settings in Tokyo Xtreme Racer. The game naturally gets more difficult as you progress. The early races are easy to the point of being boring. But the tide quickly turns as the competition heats up and beats you with no problem. With a few upgrades, the game becomes relatively easy again. But like the seasons, things change and it is difficult once more.

The AI of the rival's car is particularly good. The rivals do not all have the same driving tendencies. Some are straight-ahead racers while others will bob and weave making every attempt to restrict passing. Furthermore, the rivals are not perfect drivers. They can bang into the sides just like you and even get caught behind traffic.

Replay Value : 82
The replay value may not be great for some. Should you beat the game, you are awarded with a few extra cars that can be used in the Quick Race mode or for purchase in later games. Some cars would have been great to use in your quest to defeat all 141 rivals available in the game, but once you get them, there only at most four rivals (the Devils) left to beat. Of course, you can restart the game and try to complete the game in fewer simulated days. If you like intense competition and races which can last several minutes, the replay value is in there. Tokyo Xtreme Racer provides some of the most exciting arcade racing to hit the console scene in the same vein as the Need for Speed series.

Overall : 89
Despite the frame rate issues, Tokyo Xtreme Racer entertains as well as aggravates. It's inexcusable for a game on such a powerful platform to have such a frame drop. Hopefully the reason is because this is a first generation title. The bigger aggravation is not from the graphics issues but from the racing itself. You'll find yourself repeatedly engaging the same rival until you beat him and question the moves you made in the previous races. Simply stated, this game is both fun and challenging, which are two necessary ingredients for a great game.

So if you are an arcade racing fan who can overlook a graphics glitch or two for intense gameplay, Tokyo Xtreme Racer will certainly satisfy your need for speed.

By: James Smith 9/21/99

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