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GT Advance Championship Racing

Review By:  Jared Black

Developer:  MTO
Publisher:  THQ
# of Players:  1-2 (link cable)
Genre:  Racing
ESRB:  Everyone
Date Posted:  8-17-01

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".

However, with 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 promising future.

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.

However, Iíd 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.

Highs:

  • Tight gameplay accurately represents the feel of each car.
  • A ton of tracks and cars to choose from. This really is the GBAís Gran Turismo.
  • Despite minor problems, overall the graphics are excellent.

Lows:

  • Password system.
  • Password system.
  • Average sound.
  • Password system.

Final Verdict:

Sometimes reviewing 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

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