|System: DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Koei||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Koei||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: May 12, 2010||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-4||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Tony Capri
Monster collecting? Check. Option to play as either a boy or girl? Check. Playful setting and formulaic gameplay progression. Also check. Koei has managed to scrape together all of the core ingredients for collect-'em-all fans, but does this latest adventure for the Nintendo DS have what it takes to be "the very best"?
Make no mistake, Monster Racers lifts - lock, stock, and barrel - pretty much all of its fundamental gameplay elements from the likes of Pokémon and Dragon Quest Monsters. It's a simple role-playing game (RPG) with simple prose and zany characters. The adventure is set in the real world, with a few twists, of course; for some reason, monsters have a natural urge to race one another whenever they butt heads.
And thus, you're given your impetus to befriend new monsters, race them against wild monsters, as well as other human racers, and for good measure, there's even a nefarious team of villains you'll be forced to contend with on your way to becoming the monster-racing champion. There are, much like in your typical Pokémon game, seven champs you'll have to best, and though the developers present a more simplified overworld than what many gamers might be accustomed to in a monster-collecting RPG, there's a healthy amount of variety to experience in Monster Racers.
Your adventure begins in Star City, where you'll be acquainted with the shops and such. If there's one thing Koei really nails down tight with Monster Racers it's the game's pacing. Rather than simply bombarding players with every single gameplay mechanic from the start, new concepts and systems are doled out at a steady pace throughout the game. Unable to reach a particular area blocked off by rocks? You can rest assured you'll acquire some new item later on that will grant you access and a reason to return.
Of course, what sets Monster Racers apart from the pack of other monster battlers is, well, the battles. You're not actually pitting your pets against opponents in combat, but rather racing through 2D platforming levels. To our surprise, it's an utterly addictive formula that works almost perfectly as an RPG device.
Similar to Dragon Quest Monsters - Joker, you'll roam the world of Monster Racers via an overworld hub, and then traverse partitioned areas in real-time. For the most part, the world is broken up into dungeons and tournament coliseums, and there's a bit of wiggle room in terms of what you decide to tackle next. Most monsters specialize in certain types of terrain, making them more effective racers in specific regions of the world. Our Leefee (one of the three starter monsters), for example, can run faster on grass, which makes him an especially useful monster during the early parts of the game.
The formula is simple: explore a dungeon, race monsters and level up, and then enter a regional tournament in hopes of beating the local champ. Dungeons are varied up nicely, with some interesting and fun gameplay elements introduced each leg of the way. Wild monsters appear as small, patrolling avatars on the field, so there are no annoying random encounters. Not surprisingly, there are also other monster racers stationed throughout dungeons, and beating them in challenges usually yields some valuable item or reward. Once you engage another monster, the race begins.
Like a typical battle in your average RPG, races are bite-sized, making it easy to level up your creatures. You can carry up to three monsters at any given time, and you can trade out monsters at various town locations. There's also a vendor who can fuse monsters together to create new and unique pets, though unlike Dragon Quest Monsters - Joker, you won't know beforehand what your recipe of monsters will yield.
The racing portions of the game are fairly simple but remain fun for the duration of the adventure. When racing against wild creatures, there are two main ways to achieve victory - either by making it to the finish line first, of course, or by impressing the monster early on in the race with your superior speed. Control is similar to a typical 2D Mario game; just push forward with the D-pad to gain momentum and jump with the B button. As you continue to run, your monster's Turbo meter will fill up, and upon activating your Turbo, you'll be thrust forward, knocking out other monsters in your way. Lastly, you can befriend monsters by zapping them with the A button several times.