Hijinx in Disneyland
Ever since I reviewed Magical Racing Tour on the PlayStation I've been itching to see what a little extra time and effort could do for the Dreamcast incarnation. It's been quite a while in the coming for some reason, but now it's here.. and very little has changed. For those of you who cannot be bothered to go and read my original review (shame on you!), MRT is a racing title inspired by the Mario Kart generation. In other words the story is irrelevant to the action, the action itself is frenetic and half of the challenge is to make cunning use of the powerups and shoulder-button-jump powerslides. What is gained by adding a third dimension to the Mario Kart formula however is also lost against the often insurmountable challenge and the glitchy graphics. MRT places you in the shoes of Chip and Dale, the Chipmunks (although you can play as other Disney characters too), and unfortunately for Disneyland you have accidentally dropped some acorns into the "magic machine" that deals with the fireworks display. As such it has vomitously discharged its electrical innards and expects you to go and find them again in time for tonight's show! This is all lovingly explained to you by Mr. Jiminy Cricket, who appears in beautifully rendered cutscenes and provides hints in reconstructing the machine on the status page. We still don't understand why this collecting of pieces takes the form of a series of races against other Disneyland occupants nor why some of the races take place at night despite the "before tonight's show" emphasis. It's all in the name of fun for the children though, so we won't knock it. What we will knock however, is the graphics, sound, gameplay and challenge, in that order.
And so it was..
Our little furry friends have all been gloriously recreated and look very happy sat in their little choo-choo trains on Thunder Mountain and so-forth, but there are several issues pertaining to the graphics that trouble me still. For instance, why do certain tracks have intricately detailed and textured extras while others look like they were decorated with finger-paint? Space Mountain, one of Disney's most expensive and impressive rides has been desecrated for MRT by artists who believe space travel is visually reminiscent of two textures flashing over and over.. and on Splash Mountain too; according to those artists, waterfalls involve blue sprites that partially obscure the screen and pixels flashing at the bottom to indicate froth. Thankfully these are targetted complaints and for the most part the game looks far nicer on the Dreamcast than it did on the PlayStation, but areas like those in which the polycount isn't necessarily all that high anyway could have done with some attention, methinks. What was next? Ah, sound. Yes, tricky one this. Developers Crystal Dynamics are given full reign over possibly some of the most fluid and entertaining musical scores in the history of anything. Disney soundtracks are chock-full of memorable tunes and many of them are to be heard at Disneyland, with ambient speakers picking up from one another as the people are hurled around the rides. However, instead of preserving these musical gems, Crystal Dynamics have sliced them up into little soundbites that are played over and over again. For example, on Splash Mountain, your ears are pierced by the soothing melody of the "Zippadee-doo-da, Zippadee-ay" tune.. over and over again. The soundbite consists of the opening four lines of the song repeated throughout and eventually it gets so tedious you give up in disgust. This is the same for pretty much all of the tracks. I turned the music off after a couple of levels. Now, one area I feel it's a little unreasonable to overly criticize is the gameplay, since I have already described MRT as doing "enough to the karting genre to keep it afresh" and I admitted that "you can't help but feel endeared to it". Despite having played it a month or two ago, I still feel the same; MRT is excellent fun. The way the designers have modelled the tracks around twelve real Disneyland courses is truly commendable, even with relatively new attractions like "Dinosaur" featured. The only gameplay-related aspect of MRT I find disagreeable is the level of difficulty. The other competitors on the race track seem to outwit and outpace you quite easily, which is a disappointment, and as such the core audience of children who would lap this game up may be unable to play it.
Despite the considerable amount of work that has gone into Magical Racing Tour, it shoots itself in the foot on several counts. When I reviewed it some time ago on the PlayStation I gave it an overall rating of 8/10, pointing out that it has Disney's inimitable charm, but it was let down slightly by its difficulty level and sound issues. Further on in the year, much better alternative racers are starting to appear, and as such it's harder to recommend than it was. The graphics are definitely an improvement on the PlayStation version though, and the multiplayer is still good, harmless fun, so ultimately I'm going to give it the same rating. Check it out if you don't own the PlayStation version and have a yearning for a Mario Kart-a-like.