Arcade racers weren’t as fun as you remember.
Stunt Cars is an arcade racing game for WiiWare from Icon Games. Playing it takes me back to the arcade days spent in front of San Francisco Rush and Cruisin’ USA. A certain nostalgic part of me likes that feeling—all I need now is a physical wheel and accelerator and brake pedals—but the critic in me, the gamer who’s watched games evolve for more than twenty years now, realizes that arcade racing games can be frustrating. So for all its gooey nostalgia, Stunt Cars is well behind the times and ends up falling well short of greatness for it.
The biggest problem is that the game’s sense of speed is never consistent. This is due mainly to how the game indicates speed. Without a MPH indicator (which Stunt Cars could really use), the only reference as to your speed is watching the road texture fly by. There will be times where it seems like you’re suddenly going a whole lot faster than you were a second ago—very suddenly—and it’s not clear why you suddenly sped up. This causes the player to panic, which leads to braking or overcorrecting, inevitably leading you to fly off the game’s raised racetrack. Your car will be hauled back onto the road, but by the time you get there, the competition has left you in the dust, and it’s very difficult to catch back up to a lead position.
Stunt Cars also suffers from very basic controls that get in the way of an enjoyable racing experience. Your only options are brake, boost, and accelerate. Complex skills such as power-sliding and drifting are not present. Negotiating turns becomes a tedious, very carefully-wrought affair. Meanwhile, CPU-controlled cars negotiate turns without a noticeable drop in speed, so while you’re finding your line, they’re zipping past you. The game can be played with either the Wii Remote or with the Nunchuk attached. If you have one, you can plug the Remote into the Wii Wheel and use motion steering. The Wii Remote by itself doesn’t provide the best turning sensitivity given the small D-pad. The Wii Wheel’s biggest problem is consistency. Your best option is the Nunchuk for steering, which isn’t ideal, but gives the most peace of mind.
The single-player options are pretty standard: time trial, single race, and tournament. Each tournament cup consists of four races, and completing them unlocks new car types. The game is certainly more fun with more people, offering robust local split screen games, including a point-based tournament mode. Since everybody has to worry about the awkward controls, however, it feels like multiplayer games are on firmer ground than solo play, since everyone is struggling with the turning and speed, not just you.
The graphics are alright. Aside from the texture hiccups, there are some sporadic framerate problems. The cars look pretty nice, but most seem like palate swaps of each other. Some half-hearted particle effects occur when two cars hit each other. Backgrounds are colorful but feel generic. The sound suffers equally: there are a handful of catchy tunes, but they cycle far too quickly.
I suppose the final verdict is that Stunt Cars is fun if you have a room full of people who want to play a racing game that’s not called Mario Kart. Its single-player flaws are crippling and ensure that Stunt Cars remains a strictly multiplayer experience.