Road Trip Adventure
This caught us completely by surprise. The premise of RTA is that the president of wherever has decided that he's fed up with his job, and will hand over the presidency to whoever can win the World Grand Prix and then beat him in a final race for the prize. What this boils down to is a trek across an enormous world map entering races on a variety of wacky tracks, attempting to come at least sixth in every single race once per "licence", of which there are three.
The car handled like a filled skip in the first race, but we managed to pull second place and were completely unimpressed; the AI was on rails, the simpleton graphics wouldn't make a PSone flinch, and we'd get more of a sense of speed from riding on the back of a drunken tortoise with arthritis. So far, so every other 'wacky' and 'zany' mediocre racer ever. We headed back to the garage and selected the "Drive around town" option, and this is the point at which our expectations were turned completely on their head. Road Trip Adventure is more complex than we could have possibly imagined.
Going for a drive around the boxy cartoonish town was reminiscent of the similar sections in Seek and Destroy (same developer), yet the towns exhibited far more features than we'd anticipated. We started coming across photo shops offering to take your car's picture against local scenery, a coffee shop offering us sponsorship, little collectible items dotted about town - just loads of... stuff! We found a wallet behind a bush in the car park of the first town's radio station, which we ignored. Later, as we were browsing the options screen we found a stamps book, which outlines specific errands and tasks that you can undertake to fill your stamps book up - the returning of the wallet we found to the local police station was one such errand.
You'll also find money dotted about the landscape which you can combine with your race winnings to buy new parts and paint jobs for your car, and upgrades are naturally essentially for you to start winning subsequent races. Getting to these races means a hefty drive between cities, and by hefty we mean at least five minutes along the freeway. The travelling between locations is completely seamless - remarkable when you consider the sheer size of the map and the number of locations you'll visit.
After a while, the races themselves became superficial, and instead we were more interested in exploring the possibilities of the cities and chatting to some of the bizarre locals. Take our mate Goro for example: "The bridge to the North is Island Bridge, but my name is better." Quite. Rewards for your willingness to explore come in the shape of about twenty mini-games, like car soccer. The owner of the stadium hasn't had his ball delivered though, so a quick trip to the sports store to pick up the ball and deliver it means the stadium's open for business. But you'll need a team if you want a proper game - cue your attempts to woo some fellow drivers over to your side.
What really won us over was when we stumbled across a real estate shop that offered us a garage for free in return for advertising their business on the side of the car. Once we'd moved in we couldn't help but grin at the options: Redecorate, E-mail, Play a game... we don't want to get your hopes up too high, but we started feeling like this was some kind of large scale, low-budget Animal Crossing with cars for characters. Now now, don't jump to conclusions, it's not anywhere near as compelling or luxurious as Nintendo's cult classic but the comparison is there to draw, however faint.
Had the driving sections been implemented with more style, with some decent handling and proper competitive AI in place, and were the graphics a great deal more polished, then we could have been scoring Road Trip Adventure a lot higher, probably even giving it its own review. However, as much of an attractive prospect as this will be to collect-o-maniacs, it feels like the sort of niche game that wouldn’t achieve mass acceptance, and perhaps would have looked quite comfortable on Eidos' Fresh Games label before that whole concept was completely screwed up. Frankly, on the PS2, you can do a lot worse with titles that cost three times as much as Road Trip Adventure.