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TOCA Touring Car Championship (GB)

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      04.07.2010 17:26
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      Not the best GBC racing game, but an enjoyable blast once in a while

      TOCA Touring Car Championship was a superb game on the PC in 1997, one of the first racing games since the all-conquering Grand Prix 2 that I really found satisfying. That being so, of course I was very interested when it was ported across to the Game Boy Color - even if that was something like three years later! In the event, it wasn't too bad a transfer, though it perhaps just failed to touch the heights of its older cousins, even allowing for the miniature handheld console's much more limited hardware.

      Despite the much later release date, the GBC version of TOCA stays true to its roots in being based on the 1997 season of the British Touring Car Championship. Motorsport fans will probably recall that this was the heyday of the series, at the height of the "Super Touring" boom in which cars based on two-litre family saloons and hatchbacks fought wheel-banging, door-handle-scraping battles on circuits around the UK, piloted by drivers who high quality BBC TV coverage made household names. It was, in short, a thrilling series, and an excellent base for a game.

      This is a fully licensed game, which means that there's no messing around with mocked-up names: the tracks are the likes of the lovely Donington (before its ill-fated F1 bid brought it to the brink of doom), the super-fast Thruxton and the tricky, technical Snetterton. There are eight cars from the likes of Honda, Ford and Renault - as well as Audi's ground-breaking four-wheel-drive monster. And though drivers' names are shown only as initials, they are correct as well: "PR" is Ford's Paul Radisich, while "DW" signifies ex-F1 driver Derek Warwick, who in 1997 was having a brief spin in the Vauxhall team. I always prefer real names, so this is a definite plus.

      The really major difference from the PC version of TOCA is the driving view. The computer game gave you several camera options, including one of the earliest really good in-cockpit views. On the GBC, however, the makers seem to have decided that following suit would either be beyond the little console (though there *are* in-car Game Boy racers available) or, perhaps more likely, that the tiny screen would simply not have the room to display sufficient detail for accurate driving. As such, you look down on the action from above, Micro Machines style. This is a really major change, and gives the game a much more arcadey feel than the semi-realistic PC original had.

      TOCA's graphics are not bad at all, given the severe limitations imposed by the hardware. The car's colour schemes are extremely basic compared with the computer version, but the underlying look is all right, and - perhaps more importantly - it's quite easy to tell cars apart on the track. There's a pretty decent amount of detail there, too, with cones, corner markers and gravel traps all present and correct; you can even send cones flying if you career into them! Sound is rather more basic, and as usual shows just how tricky it is to get an even vaguely realistic engine note from simple 8-bit hardware. It's okay, but nothing more than that. I'm not a big fan of the menu music, which I find unexciting and actually quite forgettable.

      Obviously with a Game Boy game it would be silly to expect incredibly accurate driving physics, and you don't get them. They're not as good even as on some other GB titles, such as the very old yet underrated F1 simulation game Nigel Mansell's World Championship. The feel is by no means disastrous, though, and this is not a game that you are going to do very well in if you adopt the pure arcade approach of keeping your (virtual) foot flat to the floor at all times; those gravel traps really do slow you down a lot. In keeping with the BTCC ethos, you can bang against other cars a bit without any penalty other than being slowed down, though you only see your distance from the next car at the end of each lap, which averages about a minute and a half.

      Something that hasn't changed from the PC version is the nice amount of choice you are given. Races vary from three to 18 laps in length - and 18 really does take it out of you - and as well as the choice of car and track, you are also able to select a wet race option. This is something which was by no means always present in racing games a decade ago, and though it's hardly complex it does add an extra dimension once you have mastered the circuits in the dry. There are also extra bits and pieces which can only be unlocked once you have completed various tasks, though as usual there are cheats around on the internet...

      The GBC port of TOCA Touring Car Championship is not really as involving as its progenitors on other formats, but given the machine that the programmers had to play with I think they did a reasonable job. The change in view is a shame in some ways as I've always felt that in-car views immerse you in the action best, but it changes rather than ruins the game's atmosphere, and it remains a tricky but achievable challenge to win on Hard difficulty rather than being a complete impossibility. You will need to put in some practice to succeed consistently, but I think on the whole it's worth a try.

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