Should have turned left at Albuquerque…
This might sound like the ranting of an old, bitter toonaholic, but I yam what
I yam. And I’m here to say that the classic Looney Tunes cartoons beat the pants
off any of these newfangled shows splattered all over cable TV. Oh sure, there
are some good contemporary cartoons floating around (and the
best one ever, of course). But by and large, few compare to the razor sharp
wit of Bugs, Daffy, and their classic friends and foes.
Yet like most cartoons, it’s a little unclear how to turn such wacky antics
into a good video game. There have been a few decent attempts, but developers
always seem to fall back into the loving arms of the ubiquitous kart racer.
And for good reason – when you think of Looney Toons, don’t you then think of…space
you do if you’re ALF, but the rest of the world scratches its noggin when trying
to put “ACME” and “Time Trial” in the same sentence. Well, keep on scratching
as Infogrames serves up a PS2 port of its old Dreamcast
game Looney Tunes Space Race. Unfortunately, a year and a half hasn’t
been kind. It might not be entirely despicable,
but it sure ain’t love at first sight.
Space Race is very basic in its approach. You can partake in Single
Races, Multiplayer Races, Time Trials, or try your hand at a Tournament, which
is the main mode of the game (and new to the PS2 version). The Tournament is
essentially just a set of normal races tied together.
There are also ACME Events, which are races with some twists in the rules.
Some might have objects falling from the sky or feature constantly spawning
weapons. They’re a bit more entertaining than the normal races. But regardless
of the mode, your job is to finish first in order to collect ACME Tokens, which
can then be used to purchase new characters and other game secrets.
The initial set of racers include major Looney Tunes players like Bugs, Daffy,
Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam and Wile E. Coyote. Though you can unlock more, it
doesn’t really seem to matter much which one you choose, as the differences
between the racers is negligible. Some have slightly better turning or slightly
faster speeds, but it doesn’t outline this anywhere in the game or instruction
booklet. Seems like an odd thing to leave out…how
For that matter, there’s no specialization in the karts (or in this case ‘ships’)
that the racers ride. Instead, you collect respawning ACME boxes that litter
each track. In each ACME box is a random ACME gag, which include things like
falling anvils and pianos, portable holes, disintegrator pistols, Kablooey rockets
and, of course, the extendable boxing glove.
The gags are cute, but they’re not very well balanced. The falling items like
anvils essentially auto target racers all over the course and are very, very
hard to avoid, while the boxing glove is sort of a useless item that only comes
in handy if you’re very close to an opponent, and even then all it does is sock
’em in the mouth and push ’em around a little. It seems totally random which
gags come up – the more powerful ones aren’t more rare to make up for their
The hallmark of a great kart racer is great track design. Space Race,
sadly, doesn’t make the cut. Though the levels are in touch with their toon
roots and the heavily animated backgrounds are attractive and keep things looking
lively, the actual track layouts are bland and linear. A few tracks have one
shortcut, but aside from that it’s just straightforward laps over and over again.
After games overflowing with hidden shortcuts and extras like the ancient Mario
Kart 64, it’s really hard to enjoy racing on such straight tracks.
fact, the game will actually stop you from creating your own shortcuts should
you get some lucky air. You might turbo boost off an incline, shoot into the
air and find yourself flying over a big section of the track. But rather than
let you land and take a commanding lead, the game considers this the same as
falling off the track and penalizes you by resetting you back on the track.
Plus, they didn’t take advantage of the animated backgrounds because you never
really interact with them. Looney Tunes is all about cartoon gimmickry – how
about letting the players alter the course a bit to ‘cheat’ in order to win?
Slap a sign to make it spin around and lead other racers the wrong way. Grab
the road and aim it towards a boulder so that racers slam into it. Paint a fake
tunnel on the wall. Anything to make it more cartoony.
At least the game looks pretty good. The characters are all 3D modeled and move with nice fluidity. Though the framerate occasionally hiccups when there are many racers onscreen at once, it’s usually solid. The backgrounds are full of pep, with goofy animations peppering each course. The game holds up well in multiplayer splitscreen.
Unfortunately, the characters don’t sound half as good as they look, which is a big bummer for Looney Tunes fans. To the developer’s credit, they did hire the official replacements to deceased legend Mel Blanc, but it just doesn’t work so well. You want to hear the classic Bugs voice, not an imitation, and it’s difficult getting used to the change. I suppose very young gamers who haven’t seen any classic Bugs Bunny cartoons won’t mind, but those poor souls should probably be watching those old cartoons instead of playing this game, anyway.
They try to make up for the lack of original talent by including classic one-liners,
but they didn’t put in nearly enough for each racer. The result is an audio
experience more repetitive than Robin Hood
The same could be said for Space Race in general. The linear track
design and lack of depth leads to a somewhat boring kart racer that will mainly
appeal to young gamers or Looney Tunes fanatics. And that’s