Lego Racers

Developer: High Voltage Software
Publisher: Lego Media
Released: October 12 1999
Regions: NA, PAL
Genre: Racing
Multiplayer: 1-2 players
Cart Size: 16MB / 128Mb
Saving: Controller Pak
Rumble Pak?: Yes
Expansion Pak? No
- Required? No
All the fun of those overpriced sets without Traveller's Tales involved.

Back in an age when Lego didn't have those weird curved pieces and instead had imaginative and memorable themes, video games were still in the midst of awkwardness caused by that abrupt shift to the third dimension. It was during this time (late 90s) that Lego began dipping it's toe into the video game market. The decision behind this was simple; kids like Lego and video games, so a Lego video game would probably sell too. A perfectly fine idea, all things considered. Unfortunately, to make a long story short, Lego's early games didn't have a lasting appeal and it would take several years before Lego became a mainstay in video games, thanks to Traveller's Tales.

That is to say though, Lego's initial games were in no way bad. They were all in some way intended for kids but were otherwise competently programmed. Lego Racers, being one of their more creative releases, was the only Lego game to see the Nintendo 64. The rest were only available on PC or PlayStation. By 1999, the N64 was already becoming rather old news. So even when Lego Racers was released on N64, it didn't stir much excitement. Did the N64's weakening market make Lego decide to not port another game to it? Or perhaps less than expected sales on a high input cost? It's hard to say.

Like any good licensed product, Lego Racers quite eagerly utilizes themes and graphics from all over their contemporary product line. The venerable classics like Pirates, Space, Adventurers and Castle: Fright Knights all make an appearance with tracks, characters and car sets. If it was a lego set in 1999, it'd be in Lego Racers somewhere.

To start off describing Lego Racers, it's a kart racer very much in vein of Mario Kart, Diddy Kong Racing and Crash Team Racing. To summarize shortly, its plot is about Rocket Racer growing tired of his current opponents, so with the help of Veronica Voltage, they collect the galaxy's best racers across time for a big tournament. This is where the custom-created player character comes in. All you have to do is place first in six Circuit Races which consist of four race tracks each - half of which are just mirrored, resulting in only 12 different courses - and finally beat Rocket Racer on his own unique track, to complete the game. Each circuit race you place first in rewards you with a car set from each circuit's respective boss, such as Captain Redbeard, King Kahuka, Basil the Batlord, Johnny Thunder, Baron Von Barron, Gypsy Moth and lastly, Rocket Racer himself. For extra credit, you go through Time Race, finishing first in every track of the first three circuits, to unlock an extra car set.

As far as kart racers go, Lego Racers was designed with some originality in mind, but not so much as to make it unintentionall fall flat on it's face. Instead of having "item boxes" like in Mario Kart 64 and Crash Team Racing, Lego Racers employed the use of colored bricks. Red for attack, Blue for shields, Green for speed boost and Yellow for road hazards. To spice things up a bit, white bricks allow racers to upgrade a colored brick, with four power levels in total. This design choice has it's ups and downs. Mainly, while it makes the game a bit easier to play for kids because it's more straight forward than a complete randomization, but on the other hand it allows for one-sided competition because it's easy to pick up the best bricks and leave the rest for the other racers. That isn't exactly a winning quality in kids games.

What really sets Lego Racers apart from its competition and contemporaries though, is its driver and car builder. That was the game's biggest advertised feature, as a matter of fact. Just like with real Lego Sets, you can make a custom driver and car using lots of familiar faces, hats, clothing, chassis styles, plain and stylized bricks. Not to mention a driver's license to top everything off with your name on it (or more appropriately, your car's title).

Concerning the graphics quality of Lego Racers, being most likely developed with PlayStation in mind with the PC and N64 ports an afterthought, it's not really that impressive on the N64, especially without the FMV cutscene, which had to be replaced with a somewhat less exciting one made using the game's engine. Nope, the graphics are nothing extraordinary, but thankfully it's not worse than the PSX version. They're a bit more cleaned up comparatively speaking, but nothing tops the PC version for absolute clarity.

The sound on the other hand, still manages to be quite good despite the lack of CD media on the N64. From casual listening it really isn't any different from the PSX or PC versions. What little voice there is in the game is still present on the N64 version. The tracks themselves are very goofy and decidedly cookie cutter, which fits with the Lego branding just fine.

About the controls however, they aren't quite as good as the sound, graphics or even gameplay mechanics. This roughness though, is experienced in all the 3D versions of Lego Racers, not just on the N64. It's a bit hard to describe without having experienced the game, but for some odd reason, Lego Racers doesn't seem to have been developed with analog contol, despite it being released well after the Dual Shock's debut on the PSX. When you move left or right, no matter how smooth you move the N64 control stick, the kart tends to jerk around, making precise movement a bit tricky. With practice, it isn't too bad, but to be honest, there really is no excuse for the lack of true analog control in any port of the game (except the GBC port, obviously).

Overall, Lego Racers is a good, but not great, game. It looks and sounds nice, has somewhat stiff control at times and is one of the better ports of the game. Lego Racers is effectively a middle ground title, partly due to it's branding. However, without it's Lego theme, it's best features wouldn't have made sense. So for better or for worse, Lego Racers is definitely worth checking out. It's one of the more inventive kart racers on the system, but doesn't quite have that polish that Mario Kart and Diddy Kong Racing have.

Presentation: 8.0
Faithfully re-creates the authentic Lego experience with the driver and kart builder, as well as the multi-color brick "item box" system.

Graphics: 6.5
Not the N64's best, directly due to it's PSX origins. Compared to it's kin, it survives the transistion rather well.

Sound: 7.0
The music perfectly suits the game and even has a few voice clips tacked on. Sounds pretty much the same as its CD-ROM ports.

Gameplay: 7.5
Introduces some unique ideas to the kart racer genre, but lacks a bit of that polish its alternatives have. Controls can be a bit stiff at times.

Lasting Appeal: 7.0
Offers decent replay value, thanks to it's kart builder and rounded selection of tracks. Doesn't quite have the iconic appeal of its contemporaries though.

Overall: 7.2

Written by Aaron Wilcott
April 22 2012