By: Jared Black
When looking for
a good realistic racing experience, a handheld system is generally
not the place most people think to look first. While handheld
systems have always had their fair share of arcade-style racing
games, realistic racing games have been few and far between. This is
largely due to the relative power of previous handheld systems,
which just havenít had the hardware necessary to deliver "a
real driving experience".
the advent of the Game Boy Advance this is all changing. Not only
are there a few realistic racers already in the works (see our
Release List), but one even managed to make the GBA launch in the
form of GT Advance Racing Championship. If GT Advance is any
indication, then this "new" handheld genre has a very
Thatís not to
say that this is an ultra-realistic racer, because itís not. While
you are required to have decent driving skills (you know, brake well
for turns and all that) in order to advance in the game, it still
has an arcade feel to it much Ridge Racer V. Power sliding around
turns plays a big role here as well, and mastering that maneuver is
essential to winning. The realism really lies in the officially
licensed cars found in the game, of which there are a total of 45
(plus a few surprises). All of the cars come from different Japanese
manufacturers (Toyota, Honda, etc.), including a lot of models that
have never been released outside of Japan.
The structure of
the game is also very similar to other racers of this type.
Initially youíll be able to choose from 20 cars, each with their
own characteristics (handling, acceleration, etc.) and feel. Youíll
then set out to conquer the gameís 32 different courses, spread
out over four different difficulty classifications. Once you finish
in the top three in a course, youíll move on to the next course.
Beating the course will also unlock it for single races. As you
reach specific parts of the game, youíll earn car upgrades (as
well as new cars) which can then be equipped on any car you can
select from. The control setup is really simple Ė "A" is
the gas, "B" is the brake, and the "L" &
"R" buttons switch gears in a manual. Overall, itís a
proven racing game structure that works very well.
In terms of
graphics, GT Advance is solid in this area as well. Each car model
looks stunningly realistic, with nice clean sprites and a distinct
look. Although the courses can become a bit repetitive, for the most
part each of the 32 courses has itís own look. The backgrounds
look stunning (especially in the dirt courses), and the roadside
objects are easily identified. The courses are also designed well,
with plenty of twists and turns to give you a good challenge.
However, I do
have a couple minor complaints about the graphics. First, itís
occasionally difficult to tell where the walls of a course begin.
The first couple of times around a course, youíll probably find
yourself bumping into walls you thought you had cleared. Secondly,
the roadside area is pretty sparse. While roadside objects do look
good, I wouldíve liked to see more signs/trees/etc. surrounding
each track. Finally, for some reason going around most turns will
result in your car model breaking up into two different parts and
bending slightly. While it doesnít take away from the enjoyment of
the game, it is annoying.
As far as the
sound is concerned, there really isnít much to talk about. The
music is all standard handheld fare, and probably couldíve been
done on a Game Boy Color. It can be catchy at times, but for the
most part itís unremarkable. Same with the sound effects Ė theyíre
there, but they donít really add or take away from the experience.
Now its time to
rant about the one thing every other reviewer has ranted about with
this game: the Password Feature of Doom. Quite simply, itís
horrible. Each password is 16 characters long, and can be made up
of: 26 upper-case letters, 26 lower-case letters, 10 digits (0-9),
and a host of other characters like "%". Folks, itís
2001. Yes, I went through the NES days of writing down a password
for everything. No, Iím not too lazy to do it now. But in this day
and age, it shouldnít be necessary at all. Cutting out the battery
backup (which the Japanese version featured) was simply a
cost-cutting measure on THQís part. I can completely understand
why they did it (the profit margin on GBA games isnít great to
begin with), but I still donít like it.
be willing to overlook it if it wasnít for the fact that it
actually makes it difficult to enjoy the game. With so many possible
characters in each password, itís very easy to write something
down wrong or misread the password. The GBAís small, dark screen
and the fact that a few characters look almost exactly the same only
compound this problem. I actually found myself having to write notes
down with each password ("Ŗ thatís a zero, not an ĎOí"),
so Iíd make sure I knew later exactly what I wrote down. The other
major problem is that this is a portable game, and having to spend
five minutes typing in a password isnít that practical on a
portable system. If you think about where you often play portable
systems (waiting room, on a bus, etc.), in a lot of cases your game
time is only limited to five or ten minutes. Once you factor in that
youíll need to spend another couple of minutes writing your new
password down, youíll see that this often makes it hard to play it
on the go.
gameplay accurately represents the feel of each car.
- A ton of
tracks and cars to choose from. This really is the GBAís Gran
- Despite minor
problems, overall the graphics are excellent.
games can be extremely difficult, and this is one of those
instances. I hate this, because based on the game itself it really
deserves a higher score than Iím giving it. However, at the same
time I simply cannot overlook the password problem and how much it
affects the enjoyment of GT Advance, and to do so would be a
disservice to anyone reading this review. If you donít mind the
frustration youíll receive from the password feature (or if you
primarily play your GBA at home), then by all means buy this
wonderful racing game.
Overall Score: 8.5