Then and Now: Infogrames Dreamcast Kart Racers

This weekly column looks at classic video games both in how they looked back in the day and how they stand up today. Though scores will be assigned, our tough review standards will be relaxed a bit for these games to give a general overview instead.

Retro Games PlusAll retro games come courtesy of Retro Games Plus, located at 1761 Post Road East in Westport, CT. If you’re in the northeastern part of the United States, please give them a look.

Everyone and their dog at some point has come out with a Mario Kart clone. We’ll let some of them slide because they’re Nintendo games (e.g. Diddy Kong Racing). Others did the same thing Nintendo did by putting their established characters into an otherwise unrelated racing game (e.g. Crash Team Racing, Sonic and SEGA All-Stars Racing). And some are just blatant copycats.

French company Infogrames, just before being sucked up by Atari, managed two separate games that maximized effective licenses for the Dreamcast. Having worked on the Test Drive series beforehand, Infogrames took two good franchises, including one that was tailor made for the genre, and made them into kart racers. Twelve years later, how do they stand up?

Wacky RacesLooney Toons: Space RaceWacky Races
Original System: Dreamcast
Developer: Infogrames
Publisher: Infogrames
Release Date: June 26, 2000

Looney Tunes: Space Race
Original System: Dreamcast
Developer: Infrogrames
Publisher: Infogrames
Release Date: November 27, 2000

HOW WERE THEY THEN: Both Wacky Races—which takes after the 70s cartoon of the same name with the same end goals—and Looney Tunes: Space Race had one thing in common outside from being kart games: they looked phenominal in 2000. Cel shading was the new graphical tweak, and it was about to explode with the release of Jet Set Radio in the same week that Wacky Races did. Infogrames used it to good effect, giving new life to such old cartoons and giving players cartoon-quality animation.

The driving mechanics of both games were solid as well, though Wacky Races suffered from a bit of slowdown at times. It seems like the same engine was used for Space Race but tuned up, so the latter game has a much more solid frame rate, though at the cost of having loading times that were long even for the era.

Both games featured a trove of unlockables. Wacky Races had three unlockable drivers, including the focus of their marketing, Dastardly and Mutley; and both games had a huge selection of tracks. But where both games excelled was in their personality. Wacky Races captured so much about what made the show fun to watch that it was almost like an episode in itself,
while Space Race was filled with classic Looney Tunes gags.

The main difference was in how the games were executed. Looney Tunes was a more Mario Kart-like game, what with weapons (“gags”) you could pick up in crates along the way and constant chaos happening all around. Wacky Races was more subdued: Players pick up to three weapons to take with them onto the track and use medallions as currency to use them, with better items and boosts being more expensive. Oftentimes, the gags were the same ones used in the actual cartoon. The racing, as a result, was often cerebral and strategic compared to the balls-to-the-wall Mario Kart/Space Race style; large groups of racers were going at the same speed, separated only by either a mistake or a well-placed weapon.

Both were good racing games in an era where they were being crapped out, but Space Race was a better game simply on the basis of better tweaks to the racing engine.

Wacky Races: B
Looney Tunes: Space Race: B+

Wacky RacesLooney Toons: Space RaceHOW ARE THEY NOW: Both games stand up remarkably well to the rigors of time. A large reason for this is because the graphics still look good even in standard definition on a HDTV because the cel-shaded look stands up beautifully. Animations are crisp, and the whole of both games look outstanding. Looney Tunes excels in particular with top class presentation.

The gameplay, as is standard for well-done kart games, also performs. The Dreamcast was a great system for these games because it was the first system with full analogue shoulder buttons, whereas the N64 and the PlayStation were stuck with digital. While not a big deal in 2012, this was huge in 1999, and these games stand up better than Mario Kart 64 and CTR for this reason. The steering on Wacky Races is somewhat sensitive, however; it’s very easy to wave in and out of traffic simply by overcorrecting.

The one area where both games fall is in the lack of options. While there is still a lot to unlock by 2012 standards, there’s really only two modes: multiplayer and single race. The single races get currency that can be used to unlock further tracks, but the lack of a Championship mode or something similar really stands out. There are also multiple modes to play in Wacky Races, but they aren’t playable until an awful lot of time has been put into unlocking them with regular races. To the games’ credit, they both support easy-to-remember password cheats that allow players to unlock whatever they want. This is far superior to what they’d do today; if these games were made in 2012, we’d have to buy these codes as DLC for $3 a pop. Still, a game like Sonic’s All-Star Racing dominates these two when it comes to things to do without taking online into account.

Still, expect hours of play without a high cost. Space Race is about $8. I took out Wacky Races before Kris at RGP could price it, but I’m willing to bet it’s the same neighbourhood price-wise. Both games are worth it, but in my estimation, Looney Toons: Space Race is the more enjoyable product. Either way, for less than $20 (and likely on a special, given the way Retro Games Plus does things), you get two games that were in many ways better than the game they were copying and far less expensive to boot.

Wacky Races: C+
Looney Tunes: Space Race: B

Christopher Bowen

About Christopher Bowen

Christopher Bowen is the Editor in Chief of Gaming Bus. Before opening Gaming Bus in May of 2011, he was the News Editor at Diehard GameFAN, a lead reporter for DailyGamesNews, and a reviewer at Not A True Ending, also contributing to VIMM, SNESZone and Scotsmanality. Outside of the industry, he is a network engineer in Norwalk, CT and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.