Game Over Online ~ Hot Wheels: Slot Car Racing

GameOver Game Reviews - Hot Wheels: Slot Car Racing (c) Mattel Interactive, Reviewed by - Rorschach

Game & Publisher Hot Wheels: Slot Car Racing (c) Mattel Interactive
System Requirements Windows, Pentium 166, 16MB Ram, 4x CD-ROM
Overall Rating 42%
Date Published Friday, December 1st, 2000 at 05:00 PM

Divider Left By: Rorschach Divider Right

"Remind me again why I used to like playing with slot cars?"

Before I get down to brass tacks and begin my upcoming insightful and thought-provoking review of Hot Wheels: Slot Car Racing, I have to add a few quickie comments about my last review, Ski Resort Tycoon. I was away last week enjoying a turkey day apart from the hustle and bustle of the gaming scene, and my mailbox literally filled up with people telling me that I was incorrect in my observation that ski resort workers in Ski Resort Tycoon could not be grabbed and moved in the same manner as park workers in Rollercoaster Tycoon. They are right, I was wrong. You can, for example, grab a ski patrol guy and drop him near an injured person on the slopes. Doesn't change the fact that they're dumb as dirt in their search routine for injured skiers, but it does let you at least cut down on the number of injured people on your slopes dying of hypothermia, which I'm all for. I'm not certain how I missed it. In my defense, I have no defense, and throw myself upon the mercy of Angelina Jolie. She can be a stern mistress, that one. Ahhh yessss. Where was I again? Oh yeah, the other thing people wrote to me about was to ask why I hadn't mentioned the steep system requirements for Ski Resort Tycoon. I had kind of tacked a mental post-it note in my head to that effect while I was writing the review, and then apparently lost track of it while I was ranting about how much Ski Resort Tycoon is like Rollercoaster Tycoon's retarded half brother. Anyway, Ski Resort Tycoon does require a system with some serious horsepower to play it. Even on my P3-500 it gets a little sluggish as the mountain fills up, and I have no idea why because all the little skiers and the very simple economic model I wouldn't think could be that difficult to process. But there it is, yet another reason not to buy it. On the island of mediocre games, Ski Resort Tycoon rules with a snow-crusted fist.

Slot Cars on the other hand - what to say about that one (which is, after all, the reason you tuned in here)? When I was a kid, just after the invention of electricity but before the invention of any videogames whatsoever, even pong, slot cars were pretty cool. What was cool about them? I haven't the slightest idea. We used to have bottle rocket fights and hang posters of Farrah Faucett Majors on our walls and listen to Supertramp, and we thought all that was cool too, so clearly our cool detection circuitry wasn't all it was cracked up to be. But slot cars are especially a mystery. You put the car in the slot, and mash the controller down with your thumb and the car runs around the track. Yipee. I'm not even talking about loops and jumps - those came later. What the hell was I on? I remember right after I got my slot car set I built the largest layout the set allowed (like a figure 8 with an extra circle on one end). The set came with a counter and each time the car ran by it a little switch in the slot was flipped and the counter would count down. I challenged a friend to a 1000 lap race (which took some doing because the counter only went up to 100), and off we went. It took over 4 hours to complete and the wall transformer got really hot, and the hand controllers got sweaty and started to smell like something was burning inside them, but I won. The little steel pads that contacted the wires on the track to power his car wore off at about lap 850, and I was home free to the checkered flag (I should add that the motor in my car seized up during my victory lap). Sure, it's more wholesome entertainment than jabbing yourself in the eye with a pointed stick, but what's the point?

I continued to dump my allowance into more cars and more track, and then came the granddaddy of them all - the slotless race track. Your car could change lanes, and there was a ghost car that sort of drove around behaving like a one-man traffic jam. Now that was cool. Way cooler than Farrah (who had been replaced with Valerie Bertinelli) and Supertramp (as only Billy Joel would then grace my genuine diamond stylus). We were still admittedly having bottle rocket fights, though there was a rumor that Jimmy's second cousin dated a girl whose brother lost an eye doing just that - maybe that made it even cooler. I never got a set of slotless slot cars though, as pong and the Atari 2600 came along. Can you even buy slot cars of any variety anymore? If I were a conscientious game reviewer, I'd stop by a toy store and find out. Turns out I'm not, and I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

What I do know is that you can buy is a videogame of slotless slot cars, from Mattel no less - seller of fine die cast Hot Wheels cars made in Hong Kong years before exploiting underpaid overseas workers became vogue. It comes with 8 tracks, a track construction kit, and a selection of cars rated by speed and a sort of ubiquitous 'performance' whose effect is not quite clear. Pick the fastest car you can. You race around the track against other cars controlled by the computer (or, I believe people in multiplayer, which I didn't try). Win the race and unlock the next track and a new car. Fail to win the race and you're stuck racing that track over and over again until your thumb cramps. That's pretty much it. There's no damage model for the cars, no economics in buying, trading, or repairing them, and no driver career or anything like that. Force the joystick (or controller of your choice) as far forward as it will go and hope to come in first. As with slotless slot cars, you can change lanes, mostly to avoid things on the track, but also to pass, and to bump other cars off the track. A car bumped off the track appears again where it was bumped off. The rules for which car loses when bumping are a little unclear. Most of the time the car in front wins and the car in back is pushed off the track - so you go from side to side to bump off cars that try and pass you. I have, however, bumped a car off the track from behind and had it done to me, so I dunno. Maybe it's somehow related to the 'performance' rating.

Multimedia-wise the game is OK - lots of colored lighting and stuff, jazzy sound effects. The 8 tracks are varied in environment and road hazards, and the videogame does allow you to have tracks and obstacles you can't have with a real slot car set. Still, not enough to keep you playing, and I can safely say that in an hour I played all I ever wanted to. The track construction kit is as well insufficiently engrossing. I made up a track or two, and I'd had enough. Maybe this game is meant for young kids, the kind of kids who still have bottle rocket fights on a lazy, summer afternoon. The kind of kids who would buy real live slot cars if they were still sold, which they might be. When considering the game from that perspective, I can't help but feel there is a fundamental mismatch between the excitement level of this game and the skill level necessary to win the races and unlock the later tracks. What I mean is that my nephew, who is 6, might like the game, but would quickly become frustrated because he would get stuck unable to win some track; he's still mastering Legos, which require no hand-eye coordination or reflexes at all. Meanwhile my other nephew, who is 11, could easily beat the game, but wouldn't have any interest to; he's busy playing Goldeneye on N64.

So, there you have it. Too simple for adults, too difficult for children; I can't think of an audience that would find slot cars enough fun to play for any length of time.

[ 10/50 ] Gameplay
[ 07/10 ] Graphics
[ 06/10 ] Sound
[ 02/10 ] Replay Factor
[ 09/10 ] Bugs
[ 08/10 ] Controls


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