Tuesday, March 31, 2009

I AM The Legend, Baby!

Wow. I just started to really get into playing Tokyo Xtreme Racer Drift 2 (Kaido Battle: Touge no Densetsu)... and this is just a kickass game.

I know I need to get over my frustration with Blazing Lazers and just finish the damn thing, but it'll be hard while I've got this one going on. Drift 2 is not a new game in terms of release date, and I actually bought the Japanese version quite some time ago, but by the time I was ready to play it, news of the English one was out, so I waited. I got into Racing Battle: C1 Grand Prix and then got stuck trying to find all the 'wanderer' character cars in THAT game when I bought the English Drift 2.

So blah blah blah, long time 'til I started this game that I should've started (and finished) a long time ago. This game just reminds me of why I love GOOD video games (or books or movies)-- immersion. And I pretty much go through this every time I start a new Genki racing game. These games are not well-loved by the critics. They are very kvlt, especially in English-speaking countries, most players totally dismissing them as not enough of a simulation, or not up to Gran Turismo or Forza graphic levels. Or having 'skatey' controls. Missing the point of the games one and all.

Genki games have COLOR. Gran Turismo is pretty, and realistic (for a medium that can't actually grant you the physical feedback of being in a real car), but has shite for driver AI and is the driest, most plot-bare game world you can imagine. The other end of the spectrum is the Pro Race Driver series and they are perhaps TOO story-oriented, tracking you pretty linearly through an adventure game-style plot, but with cars instead of guns or items, and races instead of fights. Games from the Genki Racing Project have a world. Opponents with names, identities, and driving styles. They communicate with you. You have to go find them sometimes... or wait when they get off work, or when they agree with the weather. The controls are slippery in some sense, but nothing I've found that is particularly difficult to get used to, and it actually enhances what upgrading your car will do for you. If you want your car to control just like it would in some other racing game, some effort and the right parts and settings will get it there. And it usually doesn't take very long. Genki racers aren't about grueling your way through 500 of the same goshdamn race for peanuts at a time. There is some repetition, but you get different styles of course, variable weather, different victory conditions AND a staggering number of individual opponents. The game has a constant flow of goals for you to reach. Not just 'man I gotta win this race 61 more times and I can get that Skyline R34'. You are always in a state of wanting to see what comes next, whether it is a new track to be unlocked, a new gang of drivers to defeat, or just wanting to get on the ingame BBS to read the trash talk or cries of defeat from your rivals. Reading what defeated drivers say to you when you walk up to them at a later date in Drift 2 is worth the price of admission, re: 'You spanked me so bad last time, I don't even want to talk to you, yo.' or 'It's the drift god! I'm not worthy!'.

The best entertainment experiences are about immersion. This whole world in each Genki game comes at the cost of the most detailed cars or most realistic physics. It is a compromise or a balance. I don't know if I'd characterise these as arcade racers so much as sort of 'idealised'. While the controls may seem odd at first, you can adjust so much (including your controller's sensitivity typically), that once you get used to it, the number of cars, parts, tracks, track conditions and all of that put it squarely back into 'simulating' what it would be like to be a highway or mountain pass street racer. If someone is a fan of Initial D or another racing manga getting these games is like dropping yourself into the comics. Especially the Kaido Battle games, since those are based in the mountain passes like Takumi's adventures. And of course Genki includes all sorts of nods to Initial D.

I've recently joined up with a message board for fans of Genki racing games. I guess there are just enough of us to create an online goober space. I'm inspired to find those last few wanderers in Racing Battle, and maybe someone at that forum can help me.

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