Denmark is famous throughout the world for two things - the Danish Pastry and LEGO. Sadly nobody has yet found a way to combine computers with the ultimate in sugar-glazed confectionery, but the gaudy little plastic building blocks have spawned a string of games over the years.
LEGO On Mars
The latest entry is LEGO Racers 2 which, as the title suggests, features LEGO guys tearing around a series of fanciful tracks in a range of bizarre looking vehicles. Indeed, if the preset vehicles on offer aren't oddball enough for you, there is a construction kit allowing you to design your own, building it up brick by brick from one of the standard chassis. It's not entirely obvious what effect (if any) the design of a vehicle has on its handling, but it's a nice touch anyway. The only disappointment is that there is no obvious way to remove a brick once you have placed it on your vehicle, so if you make a mistake you're stuck with it.
As you would expect from LEGO, the options are virtually endless. The game includes five worlds to explore, each based on one of the new fangled LEGO theme kits, and each with its own selection of unique bricks, preset vehicles and chassis to play around with. There are post vans and police cars in Sandy Bay, oldsmobiles and half-tracks on Dino Island, land speeders on Mars and skidoos in the Arctic, all leading up to the wild vehicles and gravity defying tracks of Xalax.
Little Brick Adventure
When you first load the game though you only have access to Sandy Bay; the other four worlds must be unlocked in the game's Adventure mode by earning enough gold bricks. This can be done simply by winning the four main races you will find on each of the worlds, but there is also an exploration mode which allows you to drive around the world freely.
Exploring the world allows you to chat with the people who live there to get clues which can lead you to hidden treasure or bonus games. These involve collecting a number of objects scattered around the world, and beating them within the time limit can provide additional upgrades for your vehicle, giving you more grip, stronger shields or increased engine power. The middle three worlds also have bosses which you can race against to pick up further upgrades, which will be invaluable by the time you reach Xalax and must face off against Rocket Racer himself in the great dome. And while the first and last bosses you meet are just men in very fast cars, the other two are utterly bizarre and offer their own unique challenges.
It's all very entertaining, and the animations of the characters you speak to are surprisingly emotive and full-of-life considering that they are computer renderings of little chunks of plastic. The voice acting is also superb, with a string of high-pitched gobbledegook emerging from the characters as they talk to you and subtitles providing a translation in your chosen language. The only real downside to the Adventure mode is that I completed the whole thing in six hours, unlocking all of the tracks and more than half of the bonus games, and picking up 32 of the game's 35 gold bricks in the process.
Run Forrest, Run
Luckily then there are plenty of other options to keep you busy once the main Adventure is over. For starters there is the inevitable Arcade mode, allowing you to race in a full field of eight cars on any of the game's 24 tracks that you have unlocked.
This is fairly amusing in its own right, although the AI racers don't always put up much of a fight. They seem to have problems getting themselves unstuck after becoming wedged between barriers or vanishing off the track, and even get lost occasionally in some of the maze-like courses. The AI hasn't really mastered the use of the power-ups which are included in the game either, and you can often see drivers firing these off seemingly at random, with chunky nuclear missiles and bouncing bombs whizzing past in all directions.
Power-ups are in plentiful supply though, and can make or break your race. Slamming a rocket into the rear fender of the vehicle in front can send it flying into the air thanks to the mushy physics, as well as removing some of its LEGO bricks courtesy of the fully destructible nature of the vehicles. In extreme cases entire cars can disintegrate in a cloud of particles and little primary coloured plastic bricks, leaving the poor driver running along on foot towards the pit lane. Absolutely priceless.
The Phantom Racer
A Time Attack mode is also included, which pits you against yourself as you try to set a new lap record. Rather than simply telling you the time you need to beat though, LEGO Racers 2 actually renders a phantom car representing the current fastest lap. This races around the track with you, allowing you to see at a glance where you are gaining and losing time on any particular run.
Trying to shave off those extra few tenths of a second and to improve your consistency is surpisingly enjoyable, although as your car is permanently boosted in Time Attack mode you can't really extend the knowledge of the tracks you pick up here to the other modes, where you will be travelling somewhat slower. Still, it's a nice feature that helps give the game some much-needed longevity.
The tracks themselves provide plenty of variety, from the hill climbs, narrow streets and beaches of Sandy Bay to the wild loop-the-loops, force fields and vertigo-inducing mid-air turns of Xalax. There are spiral ramps to race your way up and down, dinosaurs to dodge, rivers to splash across, an ice-bound ship to navigate your way through and non-linear sections where the tracks open up into a maze of intertwining passages.
It's all a far cry from the mundane tracks of more realistic racing games, and although the physics and handling aren't as satisfying as in more adult-oriented games and you can complete many of the tracks without having to hit the brakes at all, the game can still be challenging in its own way. At the end of the day it's really aimed at kids, but there is enough here to keep older gamers entertained for a while too.