Platforms: PS2, PSP, Nintendo GC, GBA
Developer: Torus Games
Players: Supports single player and multiplayer game play
Any company looking at producing a cart game has to live in the perpetual shadow of a certain moustached Italian plumber. Mario Kart was such a wildly successful commercial instrument and a critical darling that it’s hard to think of any game even coming close to toppling it. While Shrek: Smash n’ Crash Racing may not be the ones to challenge for the crown, some may find it decent enough to at least have a shot at the podium.
Based on the ludicrously popular Dreamworks films, Shrek: Smash n’ Crash Racing attempts to lure gamers once again into the world of the ogre with a heart, the princess with a secret, the donkey with a mouth and the cat with the boots. Activision clearly knows its demographic and targets the game play, visuals and overall package exclusively to the same people who buy the DVDs and ogle the ogre.
The lush, vibrant kingdom of the Shrek universe is well represented over 18 tracks, 6 of which are open to players when they first begin the single player campaign. When it comes down to it the tracks themselves are the stars of the show. Once the excessive loading time is dealt with, players face some good level designs that honour the spirit of the movie. The Farmland track is especially notable, with a huge tornado flinging the varied vehicles miles into the air before they come racing back down through a gigantic beanstalk. Yet the standout track has to be Shrek’s home swamp, with multiple paths and short cuts providing plenty of places for the cunning gamer to pass or catch up.
True to form within the Kart genre, Activision has provided each character with his or her own distinctive vehicle in which to race. Each vehicle has different handling abilities and is designed to mesh with the character within them. Donkey, of course, rides Dragon, which is a little cumbersome to navigate but has the benefit of semi-flight. Shrek rides a gigantic mound of grass which means better handling but slower speeds. While sticking to the genre guidelines provides a safe approach to the package, a slightly more edgy design - say character tailored power-ups, would have made all the difference overall. Again four characters are available from the get-go with the promise of 8 more to be unlocked.
The power-ups that are available do add some variety to the racing itself. Various weapons or boosts are obtained by smashing (or crashing) through the multitude of crates littered about the racetrack. These pick-ups range from heat-seeking seagulls to jack-in-the-box boxing gloves. A personal favourite is the garden gnome that is disdainfully hurled ahead at fellow racers. Many of the weapons will still be present on the track laps after you first drop them, so careful placement could snare many unsuspecting opponents.
Despite the movie licence, Shrek: Smash n’ Crash Racing fails to be able to enlist the actual voices for the characters, something that would have enlivened the overall package and made some of the banal jokes a little more bearable. As your individual racers will spout out the same comment numerous times during each race, a little more comedic timing would have been appreciated. Short CG segments infrequently fill in the time between some sequences of races but loading times could have been improved to make the wait between races match the attention span of the audience a little better.
Karting games seem tailored for the party atmosphere generated by a large multi-player experience, and while Shrek: Smash n’ Crash Racing does present a multi-player option, it’s only a maximum of two players. While racing against one mate can be a blast, it seems Activision has missed a trick by its four-player exclusion. The single-player experience does offer a decent amount of challenge.
While not arriving on the back of the greatest pedigree in gaming, Shrek: Smash and Crash Racing manages to mostly overcome the poor quality of its forbearers. Good level design and some solid graphics almost surmount the lack of originality; the game should provide young gamers with enough of a distraction to last them until Shrek the third arrives with a much stronger impact at the cinema later this year.
• Some nice track design makes the package of higher quality than the usual Shrek licensed game.
• Long and frustrating loading times, lack of four-player multiplayer and inane in-game voice-overs make the game miss that little bit of polish required to better reflect the quality of the movies.