Whether it was intentional or not, Rumble Racing reminded me of a digital Matchbox racing game. The selection of cars seems to be pulled right out of a Matchbox toy set; each car looks like an over-sized version of the die-cast metal hotrods I collected as a kid. The stunts and over-the-top tracks all add to the extreme feel, making Rumble Racing a nice break from the likes of Driving Emotion Type-S or Gran Turismo 3: A-spec. Unfortunately, its flaws were too great to be hidden by any feelings of nostalgia I may have had.
The first thing that caught my eye was the incredible sense of speed while racing through the tracks. Everything whips by at blazing speeds giving the welcome illusion that you are driving at breakneck velocity. Since the cars handle so easily in this game, it was a cinch to pick up a controller, jump into a race and lose yourself in the experience. I also liked the two-player cooperative mode, which is really nothing more than two-player grand prix mode that has been lacking in racers since the days of Super Mario Kart.
The problems I had involved the very aspects of the game that break it away from its NASCAR roots. The stunts for one thing, are not varied at all. When I hit a jump, it was either barrel roll to the left, barrel roll to the right, or perform some form of front or back flip to get a boost. If it can suspend my incredulity long enough that I accept that a car can roll and spin in the air, why not push things further and have the car perform even more insane tricks? Cars take to the air so often in this game, it would have helped if there were a larger selection of tricks to perform with the cars.
I also took issue with the prevalence of shortcuts. It seems that "hidden" shortcuts are in every modern arcade racer. I admit that I liked them when I first played Beetle Adventure Racing (another EA title) on the Nintendo 64. Unfortunately, instead of being a way to get ahead of the competition, they are now the only possible way to win a race. Soon each race in Rumble Racing boiled down to finding those shortcuts—perhaps that is why the tracks themselves are so ordinary—and not actually staying on course. Again, this is a nice feature in a racer, but why not just throw the tracks out all together and turn the game into an off-road, go-anywhere racing game?
I agree with Brad on the AI in this game as well. All too often I found that even if I took all the shortcuts, hit all the jumps, and collected the right power-ups, I would only have to look in my rear-view mirror to see that the other drivers were still right behind me—in some cases they passed right by me. There are few things as deflating as going through all that work to maintain a lead only to see the computer-controlled drivers wipe it all out in the last few hundred or so feet before the finish line. When it comes to racers, I don't like playing fair. Why should I when the computer doesn't? And that's one of the biggest issues I have with Rumble Racing. Brad seemed more willing to dismiss it, but it really bothered me that I had to work so hard just to stay in the running.
Rumble Racing started off nicely, but it ground down to an also ran. Better balance in the AI, more varied stunts and better-designed tracks would go a long way towards my liking its probable sequel. As is, Rumble Racing is an okay rental but not much more.