Reviewed: January 8, 2004
Released: November 19, 2003
The Tokyo Xtreme Racer series (known as “Shutoko Battle” in Japan) has been around since 1994 when it first appeared on the Super Nintendo. Two million copies later spread across the PSOne, Dreamcast and PS2, this is one of the hottest and most un-talked about racing games in console history. For a game that receives little or no media hype in a world where racing games are plentiful, it’s surprising that the series has done as well as it has.
Tokyo Xtreme Racer 3 is the latest installment in the series and offers a racing experience unlike any other on some of the most realistic recreations of Japanese roadways in gaming history. More than 320km (200 miles) of four unique highways have been meticulously created using laser-point scanning and detailed aerial maps resulting in a game that is accurate to within 5cm.
Not enough you say. Throw in more than 15 licensed cars from Japanese, European, and American manufactures, more than 600 racing rivals, enhanced physics, and enough car tuning options to make you forget all about Gran Turismo then slap a $20 price tag on it and you have the biggest racing value for your dollar this holiday season.
If you have never played any of the Tokyo Xtreme games before then the style of racing might throw you off. Actually, you aren’t really racing but more like “dueling”. The game goes something like this. You drive around the highways and look for rival drivers that show up on the overhead map. Pull in behind them and flash your high beams and the race is on.
From here each car is given a health bar, much like a fighting game, and the person who loses all their health loses the race. Health slowly depletes when the other car is ahead of you and you can also lose larger chunks of health by hitting the wall or other cars. Since you are racing on crowded highways the racing can get tricky at times. When you defeat all the rivals in a particular section you face their gang leader. Defeating him completes that section and also unlocks the rival gang leader’s car.
And there you have it, the core gameplay in a nutshell. Of course it’s much more complicated with more than 600 rivals and plenty of car upgrades to purchase and install with your winnings. The more gadgets you install on your car the faster it goes and the better it handles. There are also plenty of visual upgrades like spoilers, skirts, decals, and other cool things to trick out your ride. You can quickly rise through the ranks of increasingly difficult competition and become the reigning champ.
One of the nicer aspects of TXR3 is the use of real cars from real manufacturers. In previous games they had to use generic names for cars that looked like real models. Now you get real names for real cars. The only downside is the cars don’t always perform like their real-world counterparts, but considering most of us have never driven half of these cars who is going to know?
Opponent AI never really seemed to vary between the rivals or even the leaders for that matter. The only thing that did change was the speed and handling of the cars they were driving and this is the only thing you really need to worry about. To this end, learning the various parts and the best way to upgrade and tune your car are critical to success.
TXR3 holds its own in the graphics department. It’s not the prettiest racer on the block but it does look better than any of the previous games in the series. The cars look great and you can customize and tweak their design with hundreds of customized parts.
Even though the tracks look great everything starts to look the same after a few hundred races. The city is divided into four sections encompassing more than 200 miles of pavement. Unfortunately, the same buildings, bridges, and civilian traffic all start to replicate. Of course, the dedicated racer will be watching the road so the scenery shouldn’t be a huge issue.
Framerate is really smooth and since the racing is always at night the draw distance is seldom an issue, although a few buildings would often spring into view if traffic were unusually heavy. Most of the time the game performed admirably and looked fantastic.
Special effects are very nice with reflections on the shiny car surfaces and wet pavement. It’s nowhere near the quality of Need for Speed Underground but it looks good in its own artistic way. There is also that signature streetlight and taillight streaking going on that gives you an uncanny sense of speed and motion.
The music is probably the worst part of this entire package unless you like unusually harsh and generic guitar rock. Given the length and repetitive nature of this game I’m guessing you will do what I did and just turn the volume down before the first hour has passed.
Sound effects basically include the whining of engines and the squealing of tires or the crunching of cars as they hit other cars or scrape the sides of the highway retaining wall. The engine noises might not be as throaty as we’ve come to expect from many racing games but the effects do mirror the high-performance whine of these street racers after you install turbo, nitro, and blowers.
I probably gave away most of the value section in the opening but to recap, 15+ cars, 200 miles of highway, 600 rivals, and only $20. Need I say more? If you can’t get your money’s worth from TXR3 then you probably shouldn’t be playing racing games.
There is also a Versus mode for two players using a split-screen. This is a great way to share this new battle-style racing with a friend and gives you some added competition outside the predictable AI.
It’s a shame that Crave is selling Tokyo Xtreme Racer 3 for only $20. While those gamers who are interested enough to track this title down will get to enjoy a great game at a great price, many casual racing fans will never see this game. Most retail outlets either won’t even bother to sell it or simply toss it in the budget bin where even new titles go when they are released at $20 or less. So rather than finding this title on the shelf next to Need for Speed Underground you’ll probably have to dig through bins filled with old copies of Turok and three years worth of outdated sports titles.
If you enjoy an interesting “battle” approach to racing and tweaking your car to the Nth degree then I encourage you to really dig for this title and add it to your permanent PS2 library. Don’t let the cheap price fool you into thinking this is a cheap game. Just enjoy the rare luxury of getting twice the game for half the price as you explore the world of Japanese street racing.