Fly the freaky skies.
Kart racing is an old game genre, sputtering around the track since 1992's Super Mario Kart kicked it into high gear. Every game mascot worth his funny voice is featured in a kart racer, from the famous plumber to Sony and Sega's rambunctious rodents [Though neither hedgehogs nor bandicoots are actually rodents. ~Ed]. It's even become something of joke in game geek circles, the final nail in the coffin of an overdone game series. Just wait " Lara Croft's Xtreme Kart Racing is bound to show up one of these days. I hope.
But the folks at Midway seemed to know this when they first announced Freaky Flyers a few years back, and proceeded to market it as the world's first kart racer that takes place above the track. And they certainly got that right. However, they forgot to get a bunch of other things right, leading to a pretty standard game that never quite reaches its lofty expectations.
Give credit where credit is due, though, and the premise of Freaky Flyers definitely warrants a nod. The game takes basic kart racing to the skies by getting rid of the tires in favor of propellers. You fly through big levels, pick up handy weapons and blast, dive and swoop your way to first place.
It wouldn't be a kart racer without ridiculous characters, and Freaky Flyers earns its wings here. You can choose from 15 over-the-top racers, including Tick-wannabe Johnny Turbine, evil top-heavy temptress Tracy Torpedoes, magic carpet man Sheik Abdul and my personal favorite, Marcel Moreso, two creepy mimes conjoined at the hip. Midway gets props for creativity here, even if some of the racers are just lame stereotypes (see bad Jamaican accent for dredlocked racer Island Jack).
There are a few ways to play Freaky Flyers, but most gamers will spend the majority of their time in Adventure mode, where you choose a racer and take on one level after another. You have to finish in the top three to progress early on, then top two, eventually leading to the final levels where you have to place first to pass.
The level design is generally good. Since you're not stuck on the ground, Freaky Flyers uses the Z-axis to create interesting tracks. They tend to follow obvious settings " a snow level, a sand level, jungle, graveyard, etc. " but each one is peppered with shortcuts and multiple paths. It will take a few tries before you figure out the best way to go about each race, but repetition in the name of exploration is fine by me.
Each level also features 6 goals to accomplish along the way, similar in a sense to the Tony Hawk games. A few are commonly repeated (shoot the other racers, collect all the doodads, etc.), but the more interesting ones (blow up a certain object, pick up/drop off an item, etc.) will unlock Boost Highways, a series of turbo gates that can help you get back into things if you're behind or extend your lead if you're ahead. However, anyone can use it once YOU go through the trouble of opening it up, so it can also screw you in the end.
The other point of accomplishing goals is to give you more weapon slots. The munitions are fine if somewhat typical, including a speed boost, a shield, rockets, mines and added health. There's an obvious benefit to having more weapon slots available, as you can load up on goodies and then go on a rampage. You're also given an endless supply of machine gun ammo, which comes in handy for both wiping out opponents and interacting with the levels.
Unfortunately, the game makes a big mistake by resetting the goal list each time you restart a race. A few of the Boost Highways are admittedly useful and therefore you'll focus on accomplishing that respective goal, but for the most part, focusing on the goals instead of the race will cost you the race. It's simply not very well-implemented and only manages to up the redundancy.
Adding to this is the fact that the racers don't feel very different from one another. They're broken up into a couple styles " slower and tougher, faster and weaker, etc. " but you'll be hard pressed to really sense much of a difference. Making matters worse is the fact that there are no special weapons or moves for the different characters, which takes a great deal of fun out of trying them all out.
If you tire of Adventure mode, you can play single Races or a few different Mini-Games, which are actually just four smaller levels you've unlocked in Adventure mode. In one, you defend an aircraft carrier against other ships and submarines; in another, you protect a fort from waves of evil banditos. They're pretty tough and decent fun for a while, but it's a little weak calling them "Mini-Games' when they're really just levels you've already played.
The control is good, though, and the game looks solid on all three console systems thanks to a pretty steady framerate and bright, cartoony graphics. You only get one camera angle, but it's a good one, and the character animations are fun. The soundtrack is also notable thanks to some very funny original tunes. The track for the Torpedo Run level puts Weird Al to shame.
But where the game really shines is in its outstanding amount of FMV. Each character has an intro movie and a cut-scene before each level; with 9 levels and 15 characters, well, you do the math. The quality is top notch and the voice-acting is superb, about as funny and offbeat as you can get in a video game. The FMV is so good it actually keeps you playing, in many ways saving this game from its numerous flaws.
The last of which is the fact that no version of Freaky Flyers supports online multiplayer. The split screen races are okay, but wear thin after a few tries.
And for all its outlandish antics, Freaky Flyers wears thin as a game as well. While the concept is good and the presentation is at times outstanding, the core gameplay isn't strong enough to separate it from the swarms of mediocre kart racers that have come before it. Rent before you fly.