“ Developer: Visual Impact / Publisher: Micro¦ds / Genre: Driving & Racing „
** Background **
Most gamers will have a particular genre they have more time for than others. It might be platformers, simulations or beat 'em ups, but in my case it's racing and driving games. I like motorsport a great deal in real life, which helps, but I also enjoy the generally less linear design of racing games when it comes to playing them electronically. I tend to prefer the "purer" racing games, with the actual driving most important and things like power-ups and checkpoints absent or at least sidelined, but from time to time I like a change and a more arcadey experience.
Such a game is the Game Boy Color title Halloween Racer. This is perhaps a rather obscure game when set among the big-name driving titles such as TOCA, Colin McRae Rally or the Micro Machines series, but sometimes you can turn up a hidden gem this way. It was released in 1999 on the Microïds label, and can broadly be placed into the "kart" subgenre: there's little realism, and a strong arcade feel takes precedence over any depth of simulation. As Super Mario Kart proved on the SNES, this can be done superbly even on an older console, but here...?
'Fraid not. Halloween Racer has proved to be a game that I've only played about half a dozen times in all the time I've had it, and I would find it hard to recommend it to anyone. It's not *atrocious*, but it is uninspired, uninvolving and unmemorable. In short, it's rather boring, and you'll probably come away from it thinking that you could have found something rather more rewarding to do with your time. In this case, its obscurity is probably deserved.
** Gameplay **
You have the choice of Championship or Practice modes, though a rudimentary career structure is imposed, meaning that you have no choice but to start on Rookie level. This is a problem in itself, as for anyone who's played a racing game in the last 20 years Rookie is much too easy to present the slightest challenge. You can easily win races by keeping the accelerator button pressed at all times and not worrying about the occasional collision or spin. You have to win on Rookie to get access to Advanced, and then go through it all again to get Expert. Experienced drivers will only then really have much of a challenge.
This is a checkpoint-based game, at least in theory. I qualify the statement because the time limits for the checkpoints are ridiculously generous: think of Out Run on "Super Easy" and add a bit. I frequently found myself completely forgetting that the time limit was even there; there's really no point in it as you have to try quite hard not to make the end of the race. If you win, as you surely will, your "celebration" consists of a two-frame animation of a spindly wave. Gawsh.
As you race, you will come across various things on the track. For example, a lightning bolt will speed you up and diamonds will give you extra points. There are also hazards: whirlwinds to spin you around and snails to slow you down. These are not terribly imaginative, and there isn't a huge range of them. (And what have snails got to do with Halloween anyway? Are they vampire snails or what? On Rookie you have plenty of time to think about these things. Whether that's a good idea or not is quite another matter.)
Practice mode is, frankly, mind-bendingly dull. Yes, you can choose the track you wish to drive on, but you can't set how many laps you want to do, or make any adjustments to your vehicle, or indeed do anything other than pootle around the circuit and see how long it takes. Since it's possible to go nearly all the way without taking your "foot" off the gas, your first decent lap will probably not be broken much, if at all, thus making this mode a waste of time once you've learned each circuit's layout.
** Presentation **
To give Halloween Racer its due, the graphics are reasonable. I found the first level ("Vulcan") annoyingly dark, but the rich dark reds and purples were quite attractive. The "Mine" level, on the other hand, is out in the bright open air despite its name! Each race is introduced with a screen of a pirate skeleton waving a starting pistol, which is quite fun. In the races themselves, you get a pumpkin on your dashboard (your guess is as good as mine) and some small and pixellated mummies and the like.
If you like to hear engine noises in your racing games, you'll hate this one, as there aren't any. Your craft hovers along (reasonable enough when it's a broomstick!) but the only continuous sound is a rather by-the-numbers effort that gives the impression it was rejected for the Castlevania gig and has never really got over it. There is the odd bleep and ping as you pick up power-ups and diamonds, but that's as far as it goes in the sonic department. Even the Game Boy can do better than that.
** Buying and verdict **
Halloween Racer is a common game, and is easily found at a low price; the briefest of looks at eBay just now turned up two, both available for well under a fiver. They don't seem to be attracting much interest, and frankly I'm not surprised. This is pretty much the essence of a two-star game: it works and isn't a complete car crash (har har hardee har) but it's completely outclassed by so many other driving games for the same platform that there really is little point in my recommending it to anyone but absolute completists.
"Halloween Racer" is a video game released for the Gameboy Color console in 1999 by Microids. It is a racing genre game with various characters, such as witches, of the Halloween holiday being implemented. In the United States, the game received a rating of "E" by the ESRB panel which deemed it suitable for all ages.
I feel it necessary to note that the gameplay of this title is slow; far too slow to be considered a true racing challenge. The pace of play is comparable to a standard Chess match where much thought is being given to the next move. The same sort of "thought lag" is offered to the player in Halloween Racer, allowing great time in preparing for a sharp twist or turn which are often few and far between. The course design is similar throughout but does feature various background and scene changes to offer some variety to the player. There are two modes of play to choose from including a practice and championship mode, with the player being required to complete the "rookie" championship before progressing to the "advanced" championship which unlocks new courses and characters. Each race is timed through the use of checkpoints but I did not find myself requiring the need to check my on-screen timer to ensure I was racing at a "fast enough" pace to make the next checkpoint.
Unlike poor gameplay, both the graphics and soundtrack of this title are well designed and implemented. The game is presented from a trailing camera view which focuses on the player's character of choice. The background scenes of this racing title offer differentiation between each course and make for a generally pleasing visual experience. The sound also is befitting of a "Halloween" themed title with spooky compositions accompanying each race.
Overall, Halloween Racer is difficult to suggest as appealing. The game is far too easy to complete due to the slower pace in which it is presented. It is possible that this could be seen as appealing as a more seasonal game towards October 31.
I thought I'd treat myself to Halloween Racer, a single-player checkpoint racer for the Game Boy Color, but the game - what a terrible trick it turned out to be!
Halloween Racer isn't a game that's exactly brimming with ideas. While the courses do cover a number of themes, their differences are aesthetic. Of the initial three racers two are witches, and though there are others to unlock - bringing the tally to at least twice as many - I had wondered if the likes of Dracula and Frankenstein would turn up. Still, you would do well to find much in terms of variation amongst those present.
There are two modes of play, with the Practice looking green and lonely next to the Championship which, with only as many as six other competitors, still makes for a rather deserted racing event. The racing itself is simple - the lightning bolt being the only collectible providing something other than a strict points boost. There was also the potion as well, but I couldn't figure out what the purpose of the blinking was.
Unfortunately the difficulty settings are not immediately available (unless you have the magic password), so you're left to tackle Championship on Rookie. While this does prolong play time, it's unnecessary - it's just too easy. The pace of the races, whilst not snail-like, is still slow enough for serious questions to be asked of your interest. On reaching the next level of difficulty (Advanced), the number of tracks will be upped, but not so much the challenge.
The actual challenge of Halloween Racer lies in making it to the first checkpoint, because thereafter the time limits are not so tight, but only on Expert will you begin to notice, which by then is already at least 23 races too late. But for anyone who plays video games it should still be plain sailing at this stage.
I guess a highlight is the smooth scrolling, even if the game runs at too slow a speed to stretch itself, and the track is often of a single colour. The collision parameters between racers however are not right, but the depth problem is something which you can work around. The backgrounds are decent, the animation appears fluid and as for the audio, the music feels fitting of the game's Halloween theme, but do nothing to drive what pace the game has. Sound effects are well limited, with there being nothing to suggest on-going racing, with those non-hovering characters still being subject to the silence which accompanies those hovering.
On the face of it, it's not too horrible a game, but such is the lack of difficulty it can only become an exercise in endurance. Inexperienced gamers might find something here, but past the make-up, too easy is too easy, and even if you wanted a near-effortless game to beat as means of an ego-boost, you'd be better off looking past this bare-bones racer.