The tenor of Kemco’s numero uno racing series on the N64, Top Gear, has been uneven at best. While games like Top Gear Rally and Overdrive were fun rides, the series has failed to measure up with some of the N64’s best in the genre. Unfortunately, much the same can be said about Kemco’s latest venture, Top Gear Clash Royale, a melding of the recent dirt-bike craze and Snowblind Studios’ expertise with the Top Gear license. Clash Royale does have some good things going for it: licensed bikes, lots of tracks and an innovative alternating of dirt- and street-bike racing. Yet this cannot make up for shoddy execution (clumsy trick system, iffy controls), which in the end causes Clash Royale to fall back to the middle of the pack.
Most of the modes in Clash Royale consist of traditional racing fare. There’s the single race, the time trials, the trick attack. Custom Track editors are the latest rage in the racing genre, and Clash Royale does sport a functional one. Yet the small size limit, coupled with the total lack of special jumps or other little options, squashes much of the possible fun.
The main part of the game is found in the Championship mode. Here, gamers race through different seasons, winning races and unlocking new courses and bikes along the way. There are usually four races per season, and players must earn 100 points to pass on to the next one. The real kicker here is Clash Royale’s best innovation: alternating between dirt and street racing. This idea really forces gamers to adjust their racing styles accordingly. The dirt bikes are very light (almost arcade-like in their handling), while the street bikes are very plodding in their control but have unreal speed. Big-time names like Kawasaki, Honda and Yamaha grace the game, and the names add an official air to the bikes.
The races themselves reflect the different handling of the bikes. Dirt tracks are wide open, with lots of shortcuts as well as long jumps. To curtail the option of just cutting across the level, Snowblind has added checkpoints to keep your path on the straight and narrow. Yet this causes problems. What sometimes seems like a shortcut may not be; other times, coming out of the shortcut, the rider may be just outside the range of the checkpoint — though he is still noticeably near it. The result of either is a missed checkpoint (the riders can’t gain position until they pass through the marked checkpoint) and a race wasted. Street racing focuses more on handling and making the turns, but the problem here is that the bikes simply do not handle well enough, which makes negotiating each turn a nightmare, causing the races to be a hellish combination of crashes and constant bumping into walls.
The goal for each race is to have a constant supply of turbo to utilize to get ahead. In the dirt bike portions, players generate turbo power by executing different tricks. But the tricks are ungodly difficult to execute — a wacky system of B, Z and pushing the stick in several different places at once — especially when concentrating on racing. The sad fact is that the tricks are completely unnecessary. Players can win the race just fine by picking up the sparse nitros around the track, and executing tricks is simply not needed to win the race. A nice try by Snowblind to seamlessly weave the trick system into the racing elements, but in the end it only results in failure.
Graphically, Clash Royale hack falls into the underwhelming category. Textures are blurry and lack depth. Texture variety seems nonexistent — all outdoor tracks (spanning from Florence to the Swiss Alps to the Redwood Forest) sport the same brown/green, muddy outdoor texture, even though the settings in real life could not be more different. Noticeable polygon seams are found on the terrain when viewed up close. The bikes are modeled quite well, but the rider animations are robotic and stiff, without smooth movement. Players can choose between low and medium resolutions, and the sharpness gained by the medium resolution is worth the tradeoff of a slight dip in an otherwise smooth framerate. The really curious trait about the graphics is the brightness switch: Turning it on gives everything an unnatural white glow, while keeping it off shrouds the tracks in artificial darkness, with no happy medium between. Audio effects are equally poor, with engine and crash noises that do not sound very realistic or satisfying and tired techno/guitar fare that is rightfully relegated to the background.