Game Description: Glide along the nighttime highways in your sleek street machine, flash your headlights to challenge the opposition, and the high-speed race is underway in Tokyo Xtreme Racer. Go head-to-head against your Dreamcast or take on a friend in heated contests of fuel-burning bravado. Keep a close watch on the racing meter, because if it runs out the contest is over. You can earn tons of cash and upgrade your car as you take on faster and meaner racing gangs in Tokyo Xtreme Racer.
During my college years, I use to have a part-time gig busing tables over weekends. It was an extremely short stint since I hated the job with a vengeance, but there was one interesting thing to note about it. During my late night drives home after closing time, I would come across an incredible empty stretch of freeway just before reaching my apartment. While driving through that last stretch of freeway, I always put the pedal to the metal to see how quickly I could speed home. I don't know what compelled me to drive with such reckless abandon, but I bet I'm not the only one. I'm sure many of you have also acted on similar impulses that lead to either impromptu drag races between friends or a date with a police officer and a radar gun followed by a speeding ticket. How can I explain this subconscious need for speed we all seem to possess? Perhaps it comes from the promise of all the multiple cylinders and hundreds of horsepower that car ads claim which beacons us to test its authenticity. Or perhaps it's the allure of an open road and the rush that begs us to race through it. Whatever those reason are, Tokyo Xtreme Racer is a driving game that draws on those very impulses.
Tokyo Xtreme Racer is all about modern day drag racing through what appears to be a realistic 3D recreation of Tokyo's highway. Players start the game off by purchasing a car and then freely cruising about the highway. It isn't until challenges are issued (by cleverly flashing the high-beamers) to or by other drivers (also casually perusing the highway) that races officially take place. The funny thing is that once races are officially underway, victory is not determined by reaching a certain destination or completing numerous laps first. Instead, victory is uniquely decided by Speed Point or SP Battle System. How this system works is that each driver is given a full SP gauge (similar to life-bars found in two-player fighting games), and this gauge is repeatedly drained if an opponent is in the lead. In other words, in order to achieve victory you need to stay in front of the opponent's car until the opposing drivers SP gauge is drained to zero; effectively beating him or her. The goal of Tokyo Xtreme Racer is to defeat every racer (literally hundreds, each with funny car nicknames like Midnight Cinderella) from the various teams (which the instructional manual kindly refers to them as, even though they readily appear more like street gangs) and eventually race against the four major bosses that only appear once you've been deemed worthy of a challenge. Final victory is accomplished by beating those four bosses.
It's safe to say that Tokyo Xtreme Racer is filled with new and fresh ideas when it comes to its approach to racing games. And I'm happy to report, for the most part, this new interpretation is rather engaging and successful. I rather liked the idea of being able to freely roam the highways—looking for an opponent and issuing on-the-spot challenges. It's a nice touch that made me feel like I was a part of this seedy underground racing league. I was really impressed by the SP Battle System as well. It really added more excitement in the races for me because there's this relentless need to stay ahead of an opponent. Any split-second delay or missed turn on my part would let my opponent fly ahead of me—causing me to frantically scramble back in the lead to survive.
Presentation-wise, Tokyo Xtreme Racer is a winner as well. Sound and music are comprised of mechanical automotive noise effects, and the J-pop tunes (some vocal) are a little more than convincing. The 3D highways (despite the Japanese Kanji characters painted on the pavement) look and feel like actual ones complete with signage, bypasses, overpasses, exit ramps and of course, plenty of remote traffic. Though not officially licensed, the developers also did a fantastic job on the frighteningly realistic looking (especially on replays) car modeling. A healthy amount of reflections, environment mapping and dynamic lighting come across car surfaces and add up to an almost surreal effect. As a result, Tokyo Xtreme Racer has the benefit of being one of the earliest racing games in the 128-bit system age to show us a glimpse into what future generations of racers have in store for us visually.
So conceptually on paper and a large part of its final execution, Tokyo Xtreme Racer has what it takes to be a really good racing game. What keep it from being truly one of the greats are some pretty significant flaws. First, is the physics model governing the feel of the cars and the road. While not terrible, its not exactly what you'd call phenomenal either. Head-on collisions and crashes into walls and other cars seem too simplistic and overly forgiving considering how realistic the cars look. Cars strangely cant go in reverse, and once a driver is facing the wrong direction, the computer will automatically take over and steer a driver back on course. There's also quite of bit of weirdness when it comes to purchasing new cars or upgrading to existing ones. It's a costly procedure that requires the earning of extreme amounts of credit from races with fairly unremarkable results. Even after dozens of upgrades and purchases, the cars handle largely the same with the exception of higher top speeds (which only serve as another deterrent because navigating with efficiency at the fastest speeds is nearly impossible given course layout).
Lastly, keeping with its modern day drag racing theme can be a double-edged sword. While Tokyo Xtreme Racer does a fine job of conveying that experience in a tight and focused manner, after prolonged play you start to realize that Tokyo Xtreme Racer doesn't really offer much else. There's an obligatory two-player, split-screen competitive mode, but that does little to distract the fact that all races are confined to only one highway (though it is a fairly large course and can be raced in reverse) and only one time of day—late night. So for the experience that Tokyo Xtreme Racer tries to convey to its players, it does well. But without more diversity, continually playing it eventually grows monotonous and leaves you wanting a more diverse racing experience. Still, there are some very noteworthy positives in Tokyo Xtreme Racer that shouldnt be discounted.
For the most part, Chi nailed the same points I wanted to focus on. However, we differed on a few aspects of what makes Tokyo Xtreme Racer good or bad. We certainly agreed on how good a job Genki did modeling the cars in the game. Right from the start, the detail and graphical effects used really caught our eye and indeed are a sign of what awaits users down the road (no pun intended). We also agreed about one of the game's negatives like the lack of an ability to reverse. With so many crashes and the potential for going the wrong way so prevalent in a game like this, the lack of such an option makes it exorbitantly difficult to keep up with opponents, especially during the more difficult races. I also agreed with Chi regarding the cars' loss of control with an increase in overall speed. If this was a game with a track consisting of long straight-aways and gradual turns, I wouldn't complain, but with so many twists and turns, a car that can't handle well is rendered useless.
It's after those points that Chi and I begin to disagree. To start with, I can't believe that there was only one track to race on the entire time I was playing. In its defense, there are two tracks, but the second one is just a mirror track so you get the same scenery as the first track, only in a different order. One of the major draws of a racing game is being able to race along multiple and unique tracks in whatever car you are given. Any omission of such a feature would bring a game's rating down, and Tokyo Xtreme Racer suffers this fate. Chi wasn't fond of the upgrading feature, and while I can agree that upgrading gets to be rather unimportant after the car is close to maxed out, it was still pretty cool up until then. I for one was able to notice improvements in my car's performance in almost every upgrade. It was a little thrilling to see how even a little tweaking of the braking "springiness" meant victory against a driver that was giving me problems. What I will concede though, is that the upgrade process is made difficult by an uninformative instruction manual. I would have appreciated a more detailed explanation of why something would work and why it wouldn't instead of the sparse tip balloons available in the menu. As is, I was left to just guess and use trial and error to judge whatever changes were made, if any.
My biggest gripe with this game however, is the racing model itself. I got really tired of racing around a track trying to find drivers to race against. Sometimes I had wiped a track clean of the competition with the exception of one or two drivers who happened to be on the opposite side of the track. That always left me with two options that were anything but appealing. I could either drop out of the game and then reenter the track, hoping to be placed closer to them; I could sit and wait for them to catch up to me or I could simply try to catch them myself and then challenge them to a race. Either way, it was a huge waste of time and it grew annoying really quick. All in all, I thought that Tokyo Xtreme Racer was a very good game that needed some more polish to really shine. But given the subject matter and availability of cars, this game is unique enough to offer a lot to racing fans that are now tiring of Sega Rally 2 and Hardcore Heat.
Parents, other then the subjectively seedy and unsavory feel the night-time races take place between what seem like gang members, there aren't any real issues of violence or profanity in Tokyo Xtreme Racer. Though I still wouldn't describe Tokyo Xtreme Racer anywhere near wholesome.
Dreamcast owners who always wanted to feel what it would be like to rip through a highway at the highest top speeds will like Tokyo Xtreme Racer. But don't expect much else out of the game because it is severely lacking in features and options. More hardcore racing fans who like their cars to behave more realistically will be turned-off by Tokyo Xtreme Racer's light physics and lack of real diversity in the unlicensed vehicle selection and handling.
More casual racing fans on the other hand, who like games like Ridge Racer and Need For Speed, are bound to be more impressed with Tokyo Xtreme Racer.