A Quick Look At Looney Tunes Space Race

When it comes to cartoons, I’d choose Warner Bros’ Looney Tunes over their Disney counterparts any day of the week. The characters and the humour just appeal to me in a much broader sense than anything old Walt could conjure up. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate the talent and the genius of Walt Disney and the countless classic cartoons and world famous characters the studio has given to the world (and of course, mainstream animation in the first place); but the slightly more adult-themed humour and overtly violent nature of the Warner Bros stable strikes more of a chord with me.
Hello? Is this thing on? Reminds me of the average DreamPod recording session...
That said, I don’t consider all of the Looney Tunes to be palatable by default. For instance, I can’t stand the Sylvester and Tweety Pie stuff (although that’s more down to the latter character than the former), and Bugs Bunny’s wisecracking does my head in; but for the most part Warner’s cartoons just hit the right balance of ‘entertainment for the kids’ and ‘there’s something here for the adults too.’ For a prime example of this, see the Daffy Duck and Marvin the Martian cartoons. In more recent times though, stuff like Animaniacs, Tiny Toons and (shudder) Space Jam have also become synonymous with Warner Bros, but in 2000 the original gang got back together and hit the Dreamcast in pretty spectacular fashion with Looney Tunes Space Race.

One of the many 1960's themed loading screens.
Taking the form of a fairly traditional kart racer, Looney Tunes Space Race sets the scene from the off with a series of well animated and superbly voiced in-engine sequences through which the story is told. Giant rooster Foghorn Leghorn is the TV anchor of the galaxy’s most prestigious race series, while an ensemble cast of other well-known characters make up the rest of the production crew – Martians on camera duties, Lola Bunny as a roving trackside reporter, Tweety Pie as the race announcer. It all works really well and is put together with meticulous care to make the game feel as authentic as possible. This certainly isn’t a Walt Disney World Magical Racing Tour-esque half job, filled with second rate characters and nobodies; and the choice of playable characters cements this further. All of the mainstays are here – Bugs, Daffy, Sylvester, Yosemite Sam, Wil E. Coyote and Elmer Fudd (plus plenty of unlockables too). There is some form of story shoehorned in, which revolves around the omnipresent ACME Corporation and this presents a useful reason for there being a space race in the first place, but also allows for some rather interesting and familiar weapons to be incorporated into the races (more on this later).
Draw distances are outstanding.
The races themselves all take place across circuits modelled on locations from the Looney Tunes pantheon, so you get to race through sprawling ACME warehouses and factories producing all manner of weird and wonderful products; through the towering pyramids and across the barren wastes of the Martian landscape; and between the buildings of futuristic cityscapes complete with levitating lanes of traffic and paradoxical gravity-defying leaps over bottomless chasms. This being a kart racer at heart, controls are pretty loose and bouncy and most of the characters travel at similar speeds as they sit astride their individualised floating space-bikes. This lack of any real difference in speed or handling can be a hindrance when weaponry is scarce, especially when you’re in a bunch…but this isn’t Gran Turismo, and unless you’re competing in a weapon-less challenge race these occurrences are few and far between.

On the subject of weapons (or ‘gags’ as they’re known here), they are collected by flying through crates in a fairly standard manner for this genre, and most of them can be used to great effect against your rival racers. This is really where Space Race comes into its own and the humour of the cartoons shines though, as the arsenal on offer is pretty faithful to what you’d expect to see Wil E. Coyote employing during a Saturday afternoon short. Boxing gloves on springs, instant holes that you can drop behind you on the track, lucky four leaf clovers for invincibility, laser guns, and a device which when activated causes a number of improbable items (anvils, grand pianos, pink elephants) to drop from the sky onto adversaries. Great fun when you happen to deploy it…not so much when it happens to you. 
ACME product placement accusations were unfounded.
Everything about the races is just pure fun. It’s true that your chances of winning are reliant on which weapons you can collect and how well you can handle your bike when the insanely fast turbo boost is enabled, but I don’t think I’ve ever played a kart racer on the Dreamcast that gets the balance of actual racing skill and well timed weapon deployment so perfectly weighted. Yes, it can get be annoying when you get crushed by a grand piano or a laser beam turns you into a pile of ash just as you’re about to cross the finish line in first place; but the high-octane, jostling, overtly enjoyable nature of the races means you don’t mind hitting ‘race again,’ because the next time you play the outcome will most likely be totally different.

It’d be really easy for me to just go on praising Space Race for another couple of thousand words such is the quality of the product. Everything from the voice samples (which do admittedly get repeated a tad too often) and the themed loading screens to the music and the locations in which you race so accurately and faithfully depict the Looney Tunes universe that for a fan of the subject matter, this is like heaven.
In space, no-one can hear you get blown up by a cartoon bomb.
There are a few minor niggles though. First and foremost, there isn’t a traditional championship series – you simply race each track and are awarded tokens if you come first. These tokens can then be used to purchase additional challenge stages with various caveats imposed (such as having infinite boost or constantly falling objects that you must avoid). If you can beat these stages, you unlock further one on one race challenges and other bonuses such as extra tracks, new playable characters and concept art. It’s not the end of the world, but a proper single player ‘campaign,’ such as that seen in Wacky Races would have been nice. Enemy catch up is also a slight issue – no matter how many boosts or traps you lay behind you, the rest of the pack is always snapping at your heels if you’re in first place. True, this makes the races more exciting but sometimes it’s just downright unfair.
Loading screens are packed with original artwork.
Another slight blemish comes in the form of occasional slowdown during races. It isn’t game-breaking by any means, and when you consider how good the cel shaded graphics and gigantic environments are overall it’s hardly surprising that the game sometimes chugs a little. Most of the tracks do feature a startling amount of trackside detail that you’ll barely notice unless you take a trip around in time attack mode, so there’s that to consider, even more so when you remember that Space Race is a 16 year old game that really has no right to look, play and sound as good as it still does.
Armageddon? Bruce Willis wouldn't stand a chance against that beast.
Weird single player progression, slightly unfair rubber banding and occasional frame rate issues aside, Looney Tunes Space Race is a title I have no difficulty in recommending to anyone with even a passing interest in racing games. It’s easily on a par with Wacky Races in the looks department and the rest of the experience is literally covered in great steaming piles of Warner Bros authenticity. From the voice samples and cut scenes, to the race locations, the weapons and the sense of humour peppered throughout the entire experience.

True 1080p Dreamcast footage captured using Ash Evans' HD Dreamcast mod. More coming soon on this.

In brief Looney Tunes Space Race is one of the Dreamcast’s finest moments and, as Yosemite Sam might say, you’d be a crazy rackin’ frackin’ varmint to ignore it!

1 comment:

DCGX said...

This is hands down one of my favorite kart racers. My one complaint is that items are too frequent. A lot of the time races are rubber band like, not because AI catches up or slows down, but because you get hit with an item, they pass you and you hit them with an item, repeat for most of the race unless you're way ahead.

And yes, I agree, it would've been nice if the characters raced a little more differently than they do. But still, all DC and racing/kart racing fans should own this game.