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. Rating: 8 out of 10

Chi Kong Lui
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