Thursday, March 20, 2014

F1 Race Stars: Powered Up Edition (Wii U eShop) Review

F1 Race Stars is a game that excited me when I saw the first screens and gameplay footage of it. I said to myself, "Phil, this game is obviously for you. It's cute, it's charming, the track design looks great, and it reminds you heavily of Mario Kart." I finally was able to try out the game on the Wii U with F1 Race Stars: Powered Up Edition. Disappointment would be an understatement towards my feelings of this game. Here's my review.

A Losing Formula

F1 Race Stars originally released on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC in retail form way back at the end of 2012. Fast forward to the present and the game has found its way to the Wii U, albeit in simply a digital format. "Powered Up Edition" might be the Wii U version's subtitle, but there is nothing at all powered up about this version. In fact, it's more like "Powered Down", as online multiplayer has been completely taken away. That's not the worst of F1 Race Stars: Powered Up Edition's problems, however. Like being at the top of a hill, things simply go downhill from here.

Right away when you start F1 Race Stars you will be welcomed by an insanely cute exterior. Real F1 race car drivers appear in cartoon form, and at the start of each race they pop their heads out of their karts like jack-in-the-boxes, point their fingers at one another in succession, wink at each other, and put their racing helmets on in a variety of wacky ways. 

"Let's have some cappuccino after
the race, hey, babe?"
The track design is pretty nice, each of the fifteen being based off of a particular country. Of course, stereotypes and generalizations are used liberally to associate obstacles and environments with their given country, but each track has its own distinct flair that distinguishes it from others. China has you driving atop its Great Wall, Italy has you racing through Coliseum-like ruins, and Germany has you speeding through the twists and turns of a castle. 

The tracks are certainly nice to look at,
and many are even fun to race on.
F1 Race Stars uses the Formula One license is some neat ways. For instance, like Formula One vehicles, there is no drifting to be found. Instead, you must carefully and skillfully take corners, applying the brake when necessary. It's finding the most adequate racing line that will prove advantageous in races. There's also slipstreaming, a popular element of racing. 

The KERS function is used on certain turns where there is a blue and white striped pattern on the track. In these sections, all you need to do is stay in the zone, and alternate between pressing and releasing the accelerator to build up energy in your engine. Once you've exited the KERS area, you receive a boost of some form depending on how many times you pressed and released the accelerator (up to three times max). This is pretty useless, however, as the CPU seldom ever doesn't get the maximum amount of boost. KERS is a nice idea in concept, but it's nowhere near as satisfying as screeching around a corner at full speed.

Speeding through the Italian countryside.
Of course, a cartoony kart racer wouldn't be much fun without items to throw a wrench in a racer's plans to win. F1 Race Stars comes with a wide variety of items, but the majority of these simply are generic forms of what can be found in the Mario Kart series. For instance, the red item serves as a homing missile much like Mario Kart's red shell. Yellow items shoot forward or backward, bouncing off walls until it disappears or hits a player. Blue items create bubbles that rest on the track, temporarily putting anyone who touches them inside a bubble. There are some interesting ideas with the item. Okay, well one. The safety car item unleashes a car that stays in front of the first place racer, keeping their maximum speed lower than normal. 

Having the names of racers clutter
the screen can really mess you over.
Each time you are hit by an item, your race car becomes damaged. Each hit makes you car slower and slower. Thankfully, playing to the idea of the game being set in a colorful and whimsical version of the F1 series, there are usually two pit stops to ride through to instantly fix up your vehicle. Usually these pit stops make the player go out of the way a little bit, and since the tracks are so long, it can be quite a while until you are able to reach these sight for sore eyes spots. 

These signs indicate an upcoming pit stop.
Tracks feature plenty of shortcuts to be found. However, the ones that pretty much break the game are the ones requiring a key to unlock a door somewhere on the track. The key is always in a place that is off the beaten path, but the subsequent locked door opens up and reveals a massive shortcut. This would be fine if it weren't for the key easily being picked up by the computer before you even get a chance to be close to it. The CPU will seemingly always get the key and always take the shortcut, easily separating itself from the rest of the pack. Then it's a game of catch-up for the rest of the race, and you'll be lucky if you ever see that computer racer again.

However, what damns F1 Race Stars the most-- any version of the game, mind you, and not just the Wii U port-- is the game's immensely frustrating and severely uneven difficulty. For a game that obviously is meant to appeal to children with its bright colors and cartoon visuals, F1 Race Stars uses its pleasant and welcoming visuals to mask its intense hatred for the player. 

Yeah... inviting visuals...
That's how they getcha'!
What do I mean by this? Well, for one, it really feels like you have little control over whether you cross the finish line in first place or not. You can race with the exact same skill and ability in one race and end up first, while another the same parameters of skill are in place and you get sixth. It truly feels random whether you're going to win or not, and I don't mean in a Mario Kart item way either. Don't be surprised when you're in first place and suddenly two CPU drivers pass you, yet you don't even see them do so. Throw in the "joy" of constantly being bombarded with the mostly stale items F1 Race Stars possesses, and you have an incredibly aggravating kart experience. Playing with friends and family locally (the Wii U version has no online for some stupid reason) sort of alleviates some of the burden, but F1 Race Stars is still a frustrating game all the same.

I'll take the low road,
you take the high road.
Up to four players can participate in the Career mode, which offers over 20 combinations of tracks to be raced one after the other, usually in groups of two to four. Since as stated there's only 15 tracks, there's a lot of repetition here, even when the developers throw in unique challenges like trying to keep your fuel gauge elevated by driving through gas tanks. It all adds up to a mode that feels like padding to make the game feel more complete than it actually is.

Powered Up Edition has multiplayer,
but nothing of the online variety...
I really wanted to like F1 Race Stars: Powered Up Edition, but the game ultimately did its best to tick me off and annoy me at every step of the way. When you don't feel like you have any control at all in the fate of winning or losing, you're probably playing a poor kart racer. The AI is cheap, the items are generic as all get out, and several design decisions leave me completely puzzled. F1 Race Stars: Powered Up Edition isn't worth the $30 asking price on the eShop. I would go so far as to say it's not worth it at half price either, unless you have masochistic tendencies, then go at it. If F1 Race Stars: Powered Up Edition was participating in a race, the entire field would lap it. If you absolutely can't wait until Mario Kart 8 to release at the end of May, do yourself a favor and play Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, and if you've already done that, do it again. It'd be a much better choice than this game.

[SPC Says: 3.5/10]

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