Speed Kings (Xbox)

Speed Kings (Xbox)

Written by Charlie Sinhaseni on 7/24/2003 for Xbox  

I’m one of those people who stood by Burnout when it was being panned in the press. Coincidentally, I’m also one of those people who can sit around and play Burnout 2 for hours upon hours on end. Imagine my excitement when Acclaim told me that it was developing Speed Kings, a racing title that was being billed as “Burnout with bikes.” How quickly did that excitement die down? I’d say it died the moment I set foot in the game’s virtual tarmac.

Not that it doesn’t have all the goods that a wannabe motorcyclists like me would desire. Quite the contrary, the game has a nice variety of tracks, bikes, rider options, tricks and as a slight nod to the days of yore, it even has some decent combat elements. It’s just that none of these is executed particularly well and as a result, the game feels and plays like a second rate budget title as opposed to the heir apparent of Road Rash.

Like most Arcade-themed racers only a handful of elements are available from the start. Better bikes and more exciting tracks must be unlocked via a rather decent Meet mode. In this mode players must race a series of tracks. Placing well in these races is the key to unlocking the better goods in the game, but it’s also paramount to complete the secondary tasks as well. These secondary goals range from simple tasks such as performing wheelies for a specific distance to beating up a specific number of competitors. Upon completing these tasks gamers will be given more access to new bikes and tracks.

Where the game is most disappointing is in its sensation of speed, or the lack thereof. Many have compared Speed Kings to Burnout with bikes but trust us, after you’ve gotten into the game, the two have very little in common. Speed Kings feels very slow and the game decides to compensate for this by throwing in random obstacles with very little warning. This is accomplished by a maneuver called the “power down” which sends the bike onto it’s side so that the rider can slide underneath casual everyday obstacles such as big rigs, boat trailers and falling trees. While you’re hurtling down a freeway the words “power down” will suddenly flash across your screen. You’re given about one second to press the Y button, otherwise you’re street pizza. It’s a sweet gimmick until you realize that the game has you do it about three times a lap, with just as little warning each time. As a result gamers are forced to participate in a sort of twitch-based gameplay that makes the game feel more like Dragon’s Lair on bikes if anything.
Even though the combat interface is a little clunky there’s plenty of fun to be had with it, especially for newcomers and casual gamers who aren’t too serious about racing. One good blow will knock an opposing rider from their mount, sending to the pavement with a resounding thud. Even more amusing is when you pull up on your unsuspecting buddies and knock them off of their bikes, leaving them in the dust as you giggle with glee. Sure, it’s not Smash Bros. but it’s not without its charm.

It’s strange because the rest of the controls are too twitchy and sensitive to be precise and practical. Even the slightest bit of tapping will turn the bike sharply, causing you to fall off of your line. It’s especially difficult to weave through tight traffic situations because you’ll often find yourself pancaking into the side of a poorly rendered vehicle. This also makes it difficult to turn smoothly, causing you to lose precious seconds on your lap times. Usually the back of the bike will end up sliding out while you lose speed.

To spice things up a bit (as if the combat weren’t enough) Speed Kings features a boost function that’s very similar to Burnout’s. Pulling off tricks, getting air or dinging against cars will help build up this meter. After the bar fills the player can press a button to activate a boost function for a limited amount of time. This is a nice addition but its implementation is last generation. The boosts are one-time use only and there are no means of linking them up a la Burnout 2. Instead, you’ll have to fill the meter up again in order to use the boost.

Track variety is good, lending each track a distinct look and feel. Locales range from busy downtown districts, cozy rural settings and a Vegas-like backdrop . And while the track variation is good, the actual tracks themselves aren’t. Each one of them is linear and isn’t really believable in a real world setting. The fact that each one feels isolated with little connection to possible surrounding areas doesn’t lend one the impression that the tracks could actually exist in real life. This is a stark contrast to Burnout 2 where the tracks look and feel familiar to most race fans.

As stated earlier the game’s sluggish controls make for a forgetful experience. To make matters worse the game seems to thrive off of impeding your progress in every which way possible. It’ll throw obstacles at you out of nowhere, send cars out from intersections to block your path and toss random objects in your path with very little time to react. Most of the gameplay elements seem broken too, jumping off of ramps looks cheesy and second rate. Sometimes hitting walls at full speed will allow you to continue at full speed while grazing some obstacles will send you hurtling down the road. If that’s not bad enough you’ll be greeted by a lame message that reads “threw bike up the road.” Does that even make sense? Go ahead and chew on “head over heels” while you’re at it.
Broken English not your bag? Then how about bland and obsolete visuals? By no means does Speed Kings take advantage of the Xbox’s hardware, nor does it do well to push the limits of the PS2 or GameCube. With the exception of some neat blur and lighting effects, Speed Kings looks like it could be a first-generation PS2 game. Roadside objects and buildings are very blocky and have very little definition to them. Player bikes and models look pretty decent but the traffic looks like it could have been constructed out of Legos and ‘Knex. Tracks are bland on the whole and feature very little defining elements and landmarks.

Chances are by the time you get settled your eyes will be bleeding from all of the horrific scenery, but if that isn’t enough your ears will be oozing a bit of that crimson as well. Like the Burnout series, Acclaim opted to go with a generic soundtrack that consists of low-quality guitar riffs and the like. Making matters worse the volume levels are way off and under most circumstances, the music is drowned out by the sound effects. Adding a little bit of insult to injury, the custom soundtracks feature that was mentioned on the back of the packaging was nowhere to be found in the game.

Speed Kings has the bare essentials required to construct a solid bike racing game but it fails in its execution. Had the controls been reworked, the graphics been further polished and the sound been recorded at a higher quality, Acclaim just might have had a winner on its hands. As it stands, Speed Kings is a decent bargain-bin caliber title but it won’t soon dethrone Moto GP as the definitive console bike racer.
When I received my review copy of Acclaim’s Speed Kings in the mail, the first thing I noticed was a small placard on the back of the box that read “developed by Climax.” “All right!” I thought to myself, “Climax did a kick-ass job with THQ’s awesome Moto GP franchise, this can’t possibly be that bad!” Don’t you just hate it when you get ahead of yourself?

Rating: 6.2 Flawed

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.


About Author

Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.

It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.

It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.

When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."

As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.

When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.

Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile

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