Review by Arcade Perfect

"Playing Mad Dash Racing is a great alternative to running a marathon, with absolutely no need to worry about shin splints or dehydration."

Perhaps you heard the one about the tortoise and the hare. You know--the silly fable that alleged the slow and dopey tortoise beat out the quick and egotistical hare in a long-drawn-out race. Yeah, whatever. While you cannot re-create this storied race in Mad Dash Racing, the game lets you race, on foot, against a variety of zany creatures through several exotic locales.

Mad Dash Racing is not the first console game to feature characters racing on foot. (Remember Running Wild for the PlayStation and Sonic R for the Saturn, games of the half-forgotten 32-bit era?) However, it does wrap the racing around a storyline, involving a short, devious wizard named Hex, who has plans for world domination. Hex assembles a motley crew of racers, under the guise of a galactic race, to fetch him the several red meteor chunks needed for his maniacal scheme. The deceitful wizard promises to award the winner with his magical scepter, but his foreboding voice hints otherwise.

If you ever played a kart racer, such as Mario Kart or Crash Team Racing, you will be familiar with the gameplay in Mad Dash Racing because it follows the kart-racing formula closely, only without the karts. In other words, the racing relies greatly on turbo boosts, power-ups, and special attacks. There are two basic modes in Mad Dash Racing: the single-player, story-driven Adventure mode and the multiplayer Versus mode, which lets you and up to three of your friends race together via a split screen. Adventure mode has a fair amount of replay value, including special challenges to unlock extras, but Mad Dash Racing ultimately carries more worth as a multiplayer game.

The nine initial characters have different abilities, skills, and personalities. In addition, each character belongs to one of the following families of racers: bashers, gliders, and dashers. Bashers can smash through barriers, gliders can soar through the air, and dashers can execute turbo boosts. Collecting 10 green meteors during a race transforms your character into a Tribrid, giving you access to all three skills. This is an important element of Mad Dash Racing, as the tracks in the game contain several sections that are inaccessible to certain characters in their natural state.

Becoming a Tribrid, or tri-dexterous, gives you the upper hand during a race, letting you explore sections and shortcuts of a track you normally could not. Using special skills drains your energy, however, so you must collect Hex-A-Cola power-ups to stay fueled. You can also do stunts (spins and rail grinds) to increase your energy and earn some turbo.

Attacking opponents is a big part of the game and may help you squeak by with a win. Each character has a unique special attack, and a variety of power-ups, like guided chicken missiles (huh?) and blob bombs, let you inflict punishment on the other racers. Furthermore, you can trigger traps and open special routes by running over red buttons--an especially important element during boss races. Courses are laden with hazards and platforms, putting your jumping skills to the test.

One of the biggest problems with Mad Dash Racing is it relies a bit too heavily on power-ups and pickups, even more so than your average kart racer. Winning races usually depends on how well you collect stuff rather than on how well you race. Moreover, the AI is often unforgiving. Your computerized competitors do not let you hold the lead for long and seem to recover more quickly from attacks than you do. Also, there are instances when you stick to the environment and take cheap shots from the troublesome natives who populate each world. These things make the racing more frustrating than it should be. The controls are a bit problematic, too, since you must occasionally swirl the left or right analog stick to perform certain tasks, such as swimming, spinning, and climbing.

Visually, Mad Dash Racing is colorful and well varied, with quirky character designs, lovely environments, and flashy special effects. Characters include an ill-tempered hog, a gladiator-esque lion, a spastic weasel, a wrench-carrying broad, and more. Each world is massive and has its own look and set of animated background objects. Beautiful lighting effects, sharp textures, and zero draw-in help create astonishing sights. Unfortunately, the frame rate has a difficult time maintaining consistency, most notably during multiplayer action. While the game does not have any dramatic slowdown, noticeable frame-rate stutters tend to disrupt the action and detract from the game's overall look. The Xbox is clearly capable of running Mad Dash Racing at a locked frame rate--with some extra graphical tricks, to boot--so it's disappointing seeing drops in the frame rate.

On the audio side, if you like electronica, you will love the music in Mad Dash Racing, featuring head-bobbing tracks by Crystal Method, Fatboy Slim, Meat Beat Manifesto, Propellerheads, and others. Although you cannot use your own music, you can customize the playlist to suit your taste. Sound effects are crisp and cartoony, with plenty of oomph, separation, and directionality emanating from the powerful Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. The initially comical voice-overs, by Willow Wray and Billy West (of Ren & Stimpy fame), lose their luster quickly, however.

All in all, Mad Dash Racing serves as a great weekend excursion but does not entertain much beyond that, unless you enjoy split-screen multiplayer gaming. Even then, the game's multiplayer mode suffers from an unstable frame rate and cannot compare with the multiplayer modes found in other, more recent Xbox games. Still, considering this was an Xbox launch title--and a relatively unsuccessful one--it can quite easily be had for around 10 bucks, and it's well worth that.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 01/17/04

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