What we have here is a racing game that isn't from a particularly well known company and contains no familiar character's whatsoever. Releasing games like this is becoming less and less favourable for developers in today's industry; gamers are more willing to part with their cash when names like Sonic or Mario are on the box. What people need to realise though, is that games like this aren't always bad games, far from it in fact.
If you could bear to put down your Mario Kart Advance for a few minutes you might just find yourself surprised by what is on offer here. Everything you would expect from a top-down 2D racer is present and accounted for along with a whole host of nice features to spice things up as well. Starting with arguably the most important feature of any game, the gameplay is quite simply exquisite. Simple, yet deviously addictive is the name of the game here. Seeing as though the GBA has a rather limited range of buttons to choose from, that is to be expected really. A is accelerate, B is the break and the D-pad is used for steering, certainly not going to win any awards for complexity that's for sure, but it's the finesse with which it is implemented that makes the game such a joy to play. Combine this with some brilliantly designed tracks and you're onto a winning formula. Courses range in difficulty and this is clearly shown by the number of stars that are displayed before you begin each race. The balance of difficulty between tracks has been well thought out, and players will have no problem getting used to the controls early on before progressing onto the four and five star difficulty levels later on.
What makes the courses so enjoyable to traverse is the variety between them. The very early levels will be of little challenge, even to those who are completely new to the game; they can be easily navigated by merely holding down A and steering. However as players progress, the tracks will become noticeably more intricate and troublesome. Thankfully this is never a problem as a quick tap of the brakes allows your car to swerve around corners with the utmost of ease. Of course with a control system as balanced as this the game needs those more difficult levels to keep things interesting, which is where some of the games more interesting features come into play. Just when you think you've got the hang of the game something new is thrown into the mix, this could be in the form of shortcuts on the map or other diversionary obstacles such as oil truck leakages and great jumps off hills. As with many racing games, learning a track off by heart will significantly improve the chances of finishing in a high position. Never has this been truer then with Racing Gears Advance, if your opponents know a shortcut you don't then you may as well consider yourself beaten before the green light has even flashed.
Of course no racing game would be complete without annoying computer controlled opponents. Annoying not because they cheat but rather due to the A.I posing a real threat to you, especially if you don't know how to combat that threat. This is where knowing the tracks off my heart comes in very handy, provided that many of your foe's will know all the shortcuts by default and you will have to discover them for yourself. Now up to this point you wouldn't have been blamed for thinking this is quite a serious game, far more Gran Turismo then Mario Kart, but now we find out just why it is in rather the middle of those two. Basically what we have here is a set of James Bonds-esque cars, only James has left them parked in your garage. Each player has access to a wealth of weaponry upgrades that must be purchased before each race, including rockets, oil slicks, could of smog for limiting others visibility and much more besides. Each of these has a limit on how many times you can use them depending on how much of your funds you allocated for them before the race.
Money is earned by completing races and beating other competitors, however there is more to it then that. You won't be able to spend all your money on weapons, to be truly successfully in your races you will have to plan your spending far more carefully. Upgrades for you car can also be bought; these are permanent whereas weapons are only available for one race/course. Last but not least you must also repair you car every so often, in fact if you are quite a rough driver it could be very often indeed. If you don't your performance will be severely hindered in that your car will slow down and eventually just explode in your face, not good. All of this adds quite a tactical element to proceedings, something that is rarely apparent in most racing titles and is quite refreshing to see for a change. There is a great deal of freedom in so much as you can spend your winnings on whatever you want, but after a while it will become clear that certain things NEED to be bought in order to progress further into the game.
Just to top things off, the game looks and sounds very nice as well. Each track is different from the last and all are presented very nicely with lush surroundings ranging from forests and rivers to dry desserts. There are also different weather conditions to play in, the default being sunny allowing for a clear view of everything on the screen, but for the more adventurous player hazardous options like rain that obscure visibility dramatically can also be selected. Even with all seven opponents on the screen at the same time all using weapons and driving like crazy there wont be any slowdown whatsoever. Sound effects are straight out of the arcade, classic 3,2,1 countdown in a robotic voice as well as skid and explosions SFX, you know the drill. Background music is perfectly acceptable as well, with a strong drum and bass theme running throughout to keep the tension running high and some funky tunes to go over the top that add variety ensuring things never get dull. There's nothing particularly special so you can leave your headphones be, but at no point will you feel the need to turn the volume down that's for sure.
One of, if not the most appealing factor of the game. Controlling your car is just a great experience, never glitchy, and rarely does what you don't want it too, excellent.
Nice looking locations and scenery, with some tasty animations thrown in as well. Not spectacular, but certainly not bad either.
Same as above really nothing outstanding but everything plods along nicely. Some of the tunes build tensions very nicely which in perfectly with the overall feel of the game.
25 tracks to unlock, 12 cars/characters to play as, each of which can be upgraded throughout. Topped off with 4 player multiplayer and you could well find this locked into your GBA for some time to come.
A very nice surprise this one, on the surface just a well presented racing game with a very intuitive control system, but underneath its hiding a great deal of possible customisation and replay value. A must for fans of top-down racing games, and certainly newcomers could do worse then to give it a look as well.