Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Played: GT Advance (Gameboy Advance)

Gameboy Advance
Also On: 
Progress Type: 
About 80%-ish complete. Pushing for 100%!

Sometimes it's true that the biggest surprises come in the smallest packages. Take GT Advance: Championship Racing on the Gameboy Advance for example: was I in any way expecting a realistically-styled 3D racing game to work on the humble GBA? No way. Yet, it does. Holy crap. On balance, it's probably more of a lite arcade racer than the realistic driving game it clearly wants to be but that's still no bad thing. After all, only a fool would expect their GBA to be able to host Gran Turismo or something similar.

Let's deal with the technical side of things first: the circuits have that flat and winding Mode 7 look to them (as seen in 16bit SNES games like Super Mario Kart and F-Zero) which is actually quite nostalgiac and all you could really hope for on the GBA if you're sensible with those expectations. The game gives you rally-style pointers for the type of corner coming up next and given the extremely flat viewpoint, these are pretty much essential. More demanding tracks have lots of tight turns and U-bends to tackle so the hints are a bit of a lifeline if you fancy staying off the rough terrain or refraining from hitting a solid road edge.

Tearing up the circuit in a Civic...EK9 variant of course [/carnerd]

This may sound annoying but it's not that bad. Key to the arcade feel of the game is the drifting/power-sliding that is utterly necessary to deal with these tight corners. It's no Outrun 2 but the drifts are easy to get to grips with and satisfying to nail on a tight racing line. The necessity of these flashy, tyre murdering moves is one of the major reasons that I can't bring myself to categorise GT Advance as a 'realistic' racer or sim.

Visually the game is quite nice and - again - all that you could likely expect the GBA to deal with. There are a variety of circuit styles and surfaces as well as multiple locations and different lighting conditions (my personal favourites are the highway courses with the city at night in the background), all whizzing past at a very slick pace indeed. The cars themselves are equally impressive with all 48 licensed vehicles (Japanese manufacturers only) rendered incredibly accurately which is a bit of a feat for the little GBA. I've certainly seen far worse depictions on home consoles with stacks more power to play with! Here, all the machinery is instantly recognisable and something I can appreciate.

The music is an odd one: it has that 8-bit NES/Gameboy vibe to it which is surprising when you consider that the GBA is capable of better. Nevertheless, it's a decent arrangement of chippy beats that are endearing despite their dated sound. Like the circuit viewpoint, the music has a fuzzy nostalgiac quality that will appeal to gamers brought up on the NES, SNES or Mega Drive.

One of the easier circuits...no excuses for losing!

There are a number of niggles with GT Advance however. Crashes with other cars for example are more like fairground bumper-car clashes and will see your ride bounce violently off your rival's, incurring a serious loss of speed but - more annoyingly - frequently causing you to fly sideways into a solid wall and (sometimes) stop dead. Then there's the general confusing nature of the more complex race circuits when the hints sometimes don't (or can't) pop up swiftly enough. With all the rotating of the graphics going on to simulate a 3D world, things can sometimes blur together in the distance and the scenery can resemble a mess of pixels. It's not serious enough to be a game breaker but you do need to concentrate.

Oh and as you may expect, the CPU don't make mistakes! It would have been nice to have some random driver error on the part of the AI but perhaps there wasn't room on the cartridge to implement that level of realism...

The most irksome 'feature' of GT Advance though is the lack of battery backed-up save which means retrieving and entering awful sixteen digit passwords compromising of numbers, letters (lower and upper case!) and symbols. Having to jot down the codes for this prehistoric save system doesn't particularly lend GT Advance a portable-friendly nature but even when playing at home, it's bullshit. Obviously I grew up with games that required passwords and it was just something that we - as gamers - were familiar with and accepted...at the time. This game came out in 2001 however and worse still, the Japanese version actually HAS a battery back-up save! Apparently, THQ replaced it with the password system to save money for the US and Europe and were criticised so much that a proper save system was re-instated for the two sequels.

In summary, I'm really enjoying playing GT Advance. Yes, the password facility is a ball-ache and there are those few technical compromises but it looks great, is very fun to play and it satisfies the car enthusiast in me. Previously I'd always stayed well away from '3D' games on the GBA - especially racers - because the platform was always going to struggle to run them smoothly (and I'd read very bad things about certain examples). GT Advance however has given me a little more faith in the idea and I fully intend to explore some more 3D racers on the system...after beating this one of course!

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