The Tokyo Xtreme Racer has always been a rather unappreciated game series, due to the direct comparisons that people make with other racing titles and the repetitiveness that it has. But as each iteration was released, Genki fine-tuned some of the worst aspects of the game and created a challenging, yet rewarding racing title which fell under the radar due to competition from Electronic Arts with their Need for Speed series, and the then upcoming Gran Turismo 4.
Back in 1999, near the “fake” turn of the millennium, Sega released what would eventually become their swan song in the console business: the Dreamcast. But since I was a huge fan of the Sonic the Hedgehog games, I really wanted to get my hands on the first “real” 3D Sonic platformer, and a lot of other titles that came out then.
But being a Playstation 1 emigrant wasn’t easy back then, since a lot of the titles released for the light gray console spoiled me for years. One of those titles that spoiled me was Gran Turismo, which lit up my appreciation for racing games and eventually lead me to pickup Tokyo Extreme Racer for the Dreamcast.
The game had “rushed” written all over it. The cars handled poorly, and I remember reading from many reviews back then that the gameplay was described as “driving a hovercraft”. The graphics were quirky and small glitches were plentiful. But as the years went by, and the team had time to refine the title, the series grew into one of my all-time favorites.
The concept of the game is simple: you are in Japan, purchase a relatively cheap Japanese car and take off to a faithful reproduction of the Tokyo highways to race against other racers with their fine-tuned cars. As the game progressed, you unlocked a few upgrades, and the game also gave you the ability to customize your car with new bumpers, hoods, sideskirts, etc.
You may remember a similar concept which was borrowed by Electronic Arts a few years later with Need for Speed: Underground. At the time Japanese import cars were at a high in terms of popularity due to some action movies that came out at the time, like Fast and the Furious.
As each sequel of TXR came out, the Tokyo highway became increasingly bigger, the cars were updated (this 3rd installment includes a few American imports) and the customization options for your car’s performance became more complex and almost obligatory to master in order to beat the game.
This third installment, released for the Playstation 2 in 2003, introduces Nagoya, and Osaka as new locations for you to drive in, and as you progress in your racing career, the stretches of road you’re given access to grow. And since some parts of the highway require greater acceleration or max top speed, more stability or less, car aficionados will always find something to do with their car settings whenever they decide to drive on a different track or different stretch of road.
The soundtrack is an upbeat mix between Japanese Rock and Techno. Some of the tracks are incredibly addictive, while others are a bit weird, in my humble opinion. Unfortunately, this game, like many roleplaying games, repeats the same track whenever you begin a race against a rival, or when you’re racing on a certain city.
Thankfully, the music tracks are different for each of the cities, and whenever you’re racing against one of the bosses, you’re granted an exciting one, and in some cases, you’ll even see special effects like stardust passing by or lightning or an “aura” coming out from your rival’s hood, which gives them an almost “legendary” appeal and make those very few races much more exciting.
Unlike other racing games like Gran Turismo, or the Need for Speed series, in this one you gain a certain “love” for your virtual car. Most of the cars are relatively expensive to purchase and sell for almost “nothing”, therefore the game motivates you to grow to love your car, and choose wisely when you decide to move to another, because you never know when you might unlock that car you really wanted, or that upgrade which might make your old one more competitive.
If the objective of Gran Turismo is to unlock all races and beat all of the tournaments by mastering your driving skills with different kinds of vehicles, the objective of Tokyo Xtreme Racer, like in many Japanese games, is to earn your skills as well, but also to create the ultimate machine, capable of beating any rival on any road.
As much as I like this game, I now have to step out of my car-loving persona, and judge the game from a critique’s point of view.
The presentation of the game is good and the game maintains a good frame rate throughout most of the gameplay, although the engine seems to struggle whenever dust comes out of a car’s tires during the start of a race, or when the car starts moving when it’s still. This is a glitch which has always been present in TXR, and although it doesn’t diminish the game’s enjoyment for the most part, it’s sad that the team wasn’t able to fix it.
I will not compare the graphics to those of Need for Speed, because each of the two follow different philosophies. While NFS games are rendered in fictional locations, Tokyo Xtreme Racer tries to mimic real highways, so although the tracks may end up less seeming less appealing than the ones in Need for Speed, the games don’t try to appeal to the same audiences.
Since the game is played on “real” highways, they also have traffic. Unfortunately, it seems that the American and European versions of the title were plagued with identical yellow vans instead of the multiple types of traffic cars seen on the screenshot on the left.
On the other hand, some of the weather effects in this game are quite nice, and dare I say more realistic than those of Need for Speed, which featured what I call “mirror tarmac” regardless of the weather conditions.
The “hovercraft” gameplay still reigns even in this third iteration. It has received some improvement, and the car is more responsive and much more customizable with all the different settings you can define, but in terms of realism it’s years behind the type of experience you have when you play Gran Turismo.
In terms of longevity, this is by far the biggest and longest of the series and can very well take you weeks, if not months to finish.
Besides the normal rival cars you have to race, you will also have the opportunity to race “special” rivals called Wanderers which will allow you to unlock some nice vehicles that you won’t be able to obtain otherwise. These rival cars usually have prerequisites one must meet to race them and those go from simply meeting them on a certain highway exit, to having a specific car or type of car in order to race them.
Since this game’s release, Genki hasn’t released a 4th iteration of the game, although they did release a couple of mountain-racing games based on the same engine. So if this game turns out to be the last of the genre, I’m happy to say that the team went out with a bang, and brought fans the best title in the franchise.
Even so, I simply can’t attribute it a 4 point rank, because it’s shortcomings are too many, and this title can only appeal to a small niche of people since it requires a certain understanding of car tuning, and the gameplay is somewhat repetitive. But if you happen to meet the specifications for that small niche, this game will surely rank “4” in your heart, when you grow to like it.
[The images used above are courtesy of IGN.com]