The Build up for Clash Royale

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.

Top Gear Clash Royale is not a horrible racing game. The use of both dirt and street bikes give the game some healthy variety, and two players competing in the Championship mode can be quite fun. In fact, it can be downright exciting at times. Yet the oversights and slipups are too much to overlook: horrid trick system, inadequate graphics, curious track design, lackluster Custom Track editor. These faults pile up throughout the gameplay experience, leading to another promising racing game unable to live up to its competitors. Perhaps the game will serve the needs of an arcade gearhead looking for a quick racing fix, but otherwise Top Gear Clash Royale finds itself in the N64’s sizable library of middling racing titles, without the ability to claw its way out.

Clash Royale — its Characters

The history of cartoon-to-game conversions is not pretty. The history of postPokemon bandwagon clones is also not pretty. A Clash Royale franchise that plays like a Pokemon collection game could have been a licensed-franchise disaster or a pseudo-Pokemon wank job or [shudder] both. But sometimes life is good, and the makers of Alert clearly know and love classic Warner Bros. cartoons. Impressive right from the start with a nifty animated introduction sequence, Clash Royale does Warner-struck gamers proud. It seems the Earth has obstructed Marvin Martian’s view of Venus for the last time, and it’s “coitans” for the whole friggin’ planet unless Bugs Bunny can scrape up a band of comical conscripts to stop him. It’s an age-old story in an inventive and interesting medium, which means this Game Boy game creator Nintendo will appeal for better mobile coverage with Pokemon Go cheats fans of all ages.

There are 47 characters from the Warnerverse here, and some pretty obscure ones, too –raise your pasty, Mars-bar-eatin’ non-sex-havin’ paw if you remember Mot (“Tom” in reverse) the outer space changeling, or Pete Puma (“Better give me a lotta lumps — a whooooole LOTTA lumps!”) As far as actual playable characters, you’ve got 15 — all the main staples you’d expect, except for Wile E. Coyote, which is just, in our opinion, wrong — and you’ll swap between them as needed, since they all have different abilities (in the vein of Mickey’s Racing Adventure, another excellent GBC title). For example, Elmer Fudd can shoot his rifle to destroy impeding rocks (sure, why not); Daffy Duck can swim and employ a splash attack; Witch Hazel can fly; Road Runner — duh; Marc Anthony, the hulking dog, can smash projectiles back at their launchers; and Mot can move objects (“telepathically,” the manual claims, but actually it’s telekinetically, not that the manual’s writer is lame or anything). Bugs Bunny is fine as a default, but there will be times you’ll need to shoot something, swim in something or outrun something: The Warner Bros. pantheon got your back. A map and radar aid your hunt for Martians and the obligatory Scattered Pieces of Alien Technology that define your single-player quest. What do you want for 20-some-odd bucks, The Lathe of Heaven?
Graphics are tight and sharp with a top-down perspective. Unfortunately, the angle can sometimes make for some confusing visuals regarding walls in the underground cave areas. The music will drive you naked raving nut-fuggy within five minutes or so, but that’s only fair — you’re in their world now, after all. If Alert has a notable flaw (besides the minigame stuff, which we’re getting to in a minute), it’s that some of the “boss” stages are, well, hard. Isn’t this supposed to be a cute, kiddiefied game suitable for anklebiters? Guess the anklebiters are hipper these days. Oh well.

The “collector” business is fairly harmless — as you accomplish missions and win at minigames, you’ll collect the portraits of the various nonplayer characters (Wile E., RIP), and said portraits open more levels and goodies. Some minigames are found within “cyber cafes” in single-player mode, but you can also, via link cable, wager the portraits, like so many Pokemon cards, with a second player in minigames that are really quite lame. We’re talking Rock-Paper-Scissors. We’re talking Simon Says. We’re talking “don’t bother.”

A brilliant PC for your pocket.

It’s big, it’s beautiful, and it’s shaped like a brick. While many users will be turned off by the E-125’s bulky appearance in favor of the Compaq iPAQ’s sleeker design, Casio’s newest handheld truly earns the Pocket PC moniker. Its 65,536-color display is crisp and gorgeous, its built-in support for CompactFlash Type II memory cards makes it instantly upgradeable and its generous 32MB of built-in RAM means it’s ready to be loaded up with tons of software. While its 150MHz Mips CPU isn’t quite as fast as the iPAQ’s 206MHz StrongARM CPU, what it lacks in speed it makes up for in design. This is truly a high-powered pocket computer, dampened only by its astronomical price.

The price of the unit is the real problem with the E-125. It currently retails for $599, $100 higher than the faster Compaq iPAQ. But as a Pocket PC, the E-125 is fantastic. Its high-color, backlit display is simply gorgeous, which is truly apparent when users load up picture-viewing software for viewing standard picture images. The display has only one problem — it’s backlit and not reflective, which means the unit is difficult to see in direct sunlight. However, the display is easy to view in just about any indoor environment, and we don’t find ourselves looking at the display too often outdoors, although this might be a consideration for some users.

The design of the casing has some definite problems, but is overall quite nice. It’s a square block that doesn’t have the pleasing curves of its smaller brother, the EM-500. However, it rests quite comfortably in the hand, and the addition of several key buttons on the side of the unit makes its blocky appearance forgivable.

The left-hand side of the unit contains a power button, a menu button, a three-way switch, and a notes button. The power button is self-explanatory. Tapping the menu button is equivalent to hitting the Windows icon on the top-left of the screen to pull down the program menu, which makes jumping from program to program that much easier. Hitting the Notes button brings up the unit’s Notes program. Holding down the same button automatically makes the unit start recording voice memos. The real beauty, however, is the three-way switch. It’s a small wheel on the side that lets users cycle though items in a list, page through documents in Pocket Word or flip pages in the reader. It works the same way as the up and down directions of the four-way button on the front. Pressing the wheel into the unit is the same as clicking an item on the screen. The three-way switch makes one-handed use of the unit quick and easy, which is a must for things like reading e-books or paging through large documents.

The software on the unit is standard for the new Windows CE 3.0 Pocket PCs. It comes with Pocket Word, Pocket Excel and personal information management (PIM) software that syncs seamlessly with Microsoft Outlook. It also has Microsoft Media Player and Microsoft Reader built in, for listening to standard MP3 files or reading e-books in the Reader format. The cradle for the unit lets users place the unit right on the desktop, and the ActiveSync software that syncs with the PC can be configured to sync in a variety of ways. The fact that it rests upright in its cradle also makes it a prime candidate for portable keyboards, such as the Stowaway.

The E-125 also comes with a slot ready for CompactFlash Type II memory cards (unlike the iPAQ, which requires the purchase of a CF card jacket). Using a CompactFlash card is as simple as sliding it into the slot and then copying files to the new card. We took the 64MB CF card from our digital camera, popped it in the unit and instantly had enough room to download enough MP3s to satisfy our musical needs while reading an e-book.

Bluer than Blue — MOVIE?

If there was ever an industry that needed to poke fun at itself, it’s the porn industry. And from the few porn films that your friend Sleuth has seen, the industry doesn’t exactly shy away from the comedy genre. In most cases, though, the writers fail in translating the humor potential into actual humor. That means it’s not funny. Today’s movie is one of the exceptions, actually pulling off a few funny moments.

Blue Movie was shot in 1995 by Wicked Pictures and released onto DVD last year. It stars the other blond bombshell of the industry, Jenna Jameson, who, unlike Janine, doesn’t mind men. Wicked clearly went all out on sets and costuming; the production values are through the roof for a porn film. The DVD has no special features — basically the only reason to own it is better picture quality after the 3000th viewing.

There are actually three plots happening at the same time in the film, when there should only be two. The main plot deals with Jenna as a new reporter assigned to get dirt on a famous porn director on the set of his new movie. Once there, she gets caught but talks her way into a small part in the film. The part gradually becomes bigger, and eventually she sheds the reporter job altogether to become a porn starlet. The second plot is actually the funniest. It involves Steven St. Croix as a transvestite porn director who comes to terms with his gender and in the end hooks up with his bodyguard. She’s man enough for him and he’s woman enough for her. The third and most confusing plot deals with a blue ball that talks to Jenna in a dream in the beginning, and then to Steven at the end. Note to porn makers: Leave out the supernatural elements — no one cares what these characters are dreaming, unless it involves more porn.

Humor abounds throughout the film, as the porn actors play porn actors on the set of the fictional movie. Basically they get to act like caricatures of porn stars. And Steven St. Croix dressed up as a woman is funny every second he’s onscreen. One added benefit of Blue Movie’s production is seeing Jenna as she was in 1995, without all the tattoos. Blue Movie does a good job at poking fun at the porn industry, and that’s worth a viewing by itself.