Pimp My Ride
Superfly in the ointment.
If you ever feel the need to document all the possible uses of the word "pimp", then this otherwise dreadful MTV spin-off comes highly recommended. Over the course of the game "pimp" is used with reckless frequency as a verb, a noun and an adjective. So if you're a stone cold pimp who wants to pimp your car for some pimpy pimpin', you're in the right pimpin' place. What the game never ever does is use the word in its original intended form, so those looking for some vehicular whoring should move along.
Indeed, despite the pimpalicious excess of pimp talk, Pimp My Ride is probably the most inoffensive and benign hip hop game out there. It makes the Fresh Prince look like Professor Griff. Crotchety old farts might get in a big silly huff at the sight of perky white teenager Marcia squeaking with delight as big black rapper Xzibit proudly tells her "you officially been pimped", but for all its mock-ghetto ambience the experience has more in common with the dizzy distractions of Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball than any of the current rope-a-dope driving crop.
Oh my God! You really really like me!
Just like the TV show, Pimp My Ride is a makeover game. It's a makeover game that tries to dress up as something cool, but the core gameplay component is raising money to buy presents for people so they'll be happy and like you. In this regard, it's really no different to those dubious Japanese dating games where you spend two hours trying to discover the starsign of coy schoolgirl Sakura, so you'll know whether she'll prefer sushi or pasta when you ask her out.
You start pimping rides by choosing a "customer" from a selection of beaming, cheesy Polaroids. Each customer has their own interests and hobbies, as well as a crap car and a minimum budget for the makeover. Your first task is to raise this budget, and you do this by driving around a small and bland map. You get a small cash bonus for ramming other cars - the game's one moment of naughtiness, though as the cars fly through the air like Hot Wheels toys with no visible damage, it's a long way from the brutality of Burnout. Smashing roadside billboards and parking meters also earns you small amounts of coin, as do the numerous tokens sprinkled around the place.
To earn mo' money mo' faster you need to take part in staged events, and it's here where things start to go badly wrong. Most basic of all are Cruisin' events, where you simply drive slowly past a crowd and - if they like your ride - they holler and jiggle and you earn cash. Except their reaction has nothing to do with the car - it's triggered by your ability to press a sequence of buttons within a time limit. Provided you're not some spanner-handed pillock, it's a safe bet that you'll be able to rise to the challenge of correctly pressing five buttons in fifteen seconds. The hardest part of Cruisin', it transpires, is actually starting the event in the first place. You have to hold down the left shoulder button at the start of the crowd, but it doesn't always work. I often found myself shuffling backwards and forwards before the game deigned to let me start the task.
Whipped into shape
There are two other events, both of which offer far greater rewards. Ghost Ride The Whip involves putting your car (or "whip", as those crazy kids now call it) in gear and letting it roll forwards by itself - like a ghost! Your in-game avatar - a generic hip hop bloke that you can't define or customise - then strolls alongside and performs dance moves for the crowd. You do this by... go on, guess. That's right. Pressing buttons within a time limit. To be fair, it gets harder later on - you have to move the left stick as well. Cash prizes are awarded for the number of sequences you get right in a row, for hitting them all in a timely manner and for not fudging any of them. The sequences are scripted, and you can retry as many times as you like, so there's no reason not to walk away with all the cash - often around half of your required budget.
Then there's Hot Steppin'. The manual rather generously describes this as a "variation" on Ghost Ride The Whip. It's actually exactly the same - the car rolls along, your fella prances next to it like a numpty, and you get rewarded in the same way. The only difference is that now you have to press the A button as icons pass through a constantly narrowing marker, a task even more insultingly simple than all the other so-called challenges. Contrary to what Ice T claimed, this pimping really is easy. It's a surprise the game doesn't ask you to put brightly coloured plastic shapes through the right holes before letting you have a sit down with a biscuit to watch Balamory.
So, you've raised the budget. In fact, you've probably raised a hell of a lot more than the budget. You then get to enjoy an excruciating cutscene in which Xzibit cracks some lame jokes about the state of the car in question, before surprising the owner. The owner - always some variation on the worst American teenagers you can imagine - shrieks and jiggles and screams "OH MY GOD THIS IS LIKE SO TOTALLY FREAKIN' AWESOME!!!!" They then talk a little about their car and you're supposed to pay attention to this bit, as it allegedly gives you clues as to which areas of the car to focus on, and what sort of wacky extras they'll like.
Let's go to work
In theory, I quite like this idea. There are already too many self-consciously hip urban racing games out there, so the prospect of making the customisation the central factor, and giving you a specific customer you must satisfy, isn't - in itself - a bad one. What is bad is taking this concept and then utterly squandering it by making it virtually impossible not to satisfy the customer.
With Xzibit's meet and greet out of the way, you now have a limited time to hare around the map, visiting as many parts suppliers as you can. There's absolutely no focus on performance - it's all about appearance, so you dash about picking up new rims, a body kit, paint jobs, interiors, in-car entertainment and custom items. These custom items are where the pimpee's interests come into play, as you install outlandish and impractical gizmos in the trunk of their car. Basketball hoops, radio stations, tattoo parlours - you name it. Trouble is, the custom items on offer are all based on your current customer's preferences. There's zero chance of getting it wrong, so you simply choose the most expensive item. You then play a mini-game (yes, more timed button presses) to seal the deal. Perform well at the mini-game and the cost goes down. As you'll already have more money than you need, and as these mini-games are shockingly easy, you will never, ever, ever run out of money. Ever.
What you will run out of is time. You're working against a pretty tight deadline and success really depends on how far apart the suppliers are. You're also at the mercy of a pretty grotty navigation set-up which consists of a map that is often confusing, and sometimes plain wrong, and a basic GPS system that uses a floating green arrow to point the way to your chosen destination. Thanks to the unhelpful angle, this arrow looks more like a green oblong and, on the rare occasions when you can see which direction it's facing, there's a good chance it's decided to direct you to a nearby token or stupidly circuitous route.
Pimp my corporate-owned intellectual property
Regardless, you'll eventually hit all the suppliers and present the newly-pimped ride to its hyperactive owner. Although you rarely notice it, you're competing against a rival customisation crew and the owner has to choose between your work and theirs. Provided you went with the top of the range option each time, you'll get the win. Then you do it all again for the next customer. And the next. And the next. You'll repeat the same insipid process sixteen times in fact, until you get your hands on Xzibit's ride.
Essentially a series of annoying cutscenes interspersed with button-mashing mini-games, the mindlessly shallow gameplay is ample excuse to avoid Pimp My Ride, but there's more. "Yo, what's takin' you so long?" yelps your host every time the timer ticks down. Well, Mr. Zibit, thanks for asking. What's taking me so long is the fact that simply controlling your ride down streets crowded with mindless traffic can be a hair-tearing experience thanks to loose steering and sloppy handling. A slightly high kerb can stop you dead in your tracks, and it's the sort of game where the car sort of slips and slides around obstacles if you just keep pressing the accelerator. It looks stupid, but is quicker than the sluggish reverse gear. There are nitro boosts that can be used to get you from one supplier to another in a hurry but all these really do is transform your car into an uncontrollable soapy brick of destruction, and usually leave you miles off course and facing the wrong way.
And there's still more. Visually, it's a dog - originally developed for PS2 and PSP, and it shows. Everything has an ugly exaggerated luminosity, as if making the whole world really really shiny will somehow turn the ageing environments and vehicle designs into something worthy of a next gen platform. Grind into a wall and enormous five-foot long orange sparks explode from your car, while reflective surfaces give off blinding white blurs as if some nuclear device has been detonated off-screen. The music is equally poorly implemented, boasting a sparse handful of tracks from Xzibit's latest forgettable album of sub-DMX barking, while the overall representation of hip hop and car culture is fatally hamstrung by the safely corporate MTV association. The only mark in its favour in this department is that the amusing dance animations during the Ghost Ride The Whip and Hot Steppin' events suggests that at least someone involved had an understanding of the Bay Area "hyphy" culture but as the lumbering soundtrack doesn't reflect this, it's a predictably confused beast.
It's pretty clear that Pimp My Ride is not aimed at us. And by "us" I mean "people who have at least a basic understanding of what makes a good game". It's the equivalent of a movie like Norbit or a TV show like...well, like Pimp My Ride. Accusations of snobbery and elitism be damned, it's Pavlovian gaming for the easily amused, people who still say "shizzle my nizzle" and who'll quite happily repeat pointless tasks over and over just to see another "OH MY FREAKIN' GOD THAT IS SO TOTALLY SICK!!!" cutscene. I implore you, dear reader, don't be one of those people.