Based on the title alone, I really had no idea what to expect out of Heracles Chariot Racing. The first idea I conceived was a weird hybridization of Final Furlong and Daytona USA all under the guise of Greek mythology. I didn’t really know if horse-drawn carriages would translate into an engaging interactive experience, but what Heracles Chariot Racing actually is has nothing to do with what I thought it was. Indeed, instead of something insane, we’re been given something rather safe and standard; a kart racer. Originally appearing for the European Playstation 2 market in 2007, Heracles Chariot Racing has made its way to Nintendo’s WiiWare lineup. For a downloadable service often saturated with overly simplistic time wasters or downgraded ports of Live Arcade or PSN titles, a fleshed out Playstation 2 game sounds like quite the treat – or does it?
By the Beard of Zeus!
Nine selectable characters, including the likes of our titular hero, Medusa, Poseidon, and a snake, are bound to chariots that do not require any conceivable means of propulsion. Speed, “road holding,” acceleration, and weight round out the differing statistical allotments for each character, though the differences between their stats often held little weight on the race course. Along for the ride are five unique courses, each featuring one lengthy alternate route, which bottoms out the course total to ten credibly different experiences. Bronze and Silver cups feature each course’s different arrangement in the same order, while the Gold cup plops you into the full ten course gauntlet.
Gameplay is exactly what you would expect, albeit a few minor differences from the kart racer norm. All the usual powerups, be it landmines, missiles, turbo boosts, or lighting are present (and veiled under the curtain of Greek mythos). Track design is by the book and almost never strays into anything of substance; tight turns that throw you off the edge of the course, a myriad of obstacles appear to block your path, and turbo ramps are at ever corner. A minor jump, also performed by shaking the Wiimote, join brake and acceleration, with the only bit of inspiration arriving by twisting the numb chuck in the appropriate direction when you want to make a tight turn. Why there is no GameCube or classic controller support is a mystery, but at least they didn’t try and shoehorn a full waggle control set onto the Wiimote.
A Time Trial mode is also present, but the obvious draw of the game lies with its multiplayer mode. The standard race mode is augmented by a battle mode, which, despite its bare bones nature, is still a bunch of fun when you’re playing with friends. I don’t think Chariot Racing is something I’ll ever go back to, but it’s not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon, or if you want to entertain some younger members of your family.
Given all the tools to work with here, I can’t help but feel Chariot Racing is a waste of potential. The whole game is totally by the numbers, and absolutely no part of it comes off as unique or even so much as dares to step outside its comfort zone. Cerberus throwing fireballs down Realm of Hades is cool and the whistling, ice skating birds at Stymphalian Lake add a nice touch of charm, but, mostt of the time, the game is completely devoid of personality. The mythology sort of is there and the characters have some amusing grunts and vocal cues, but it’s all ineffective at creating an absorbing experience.
It helps that the game looks reasonably impressive, at least when compared to similarly priced title on the WiiWare lineup. Chariot Racing is at its best when it’s hitting you with grand, sweeping monuments over the course of a race; be it the Pegasus wings covering the course of Mt Olympus or the aforementioned fire ball spouting Cerberus, it has the ability to impress. While the polygons remind me of late PS1/early PS2 games, the bold colors (especially on Nemean Lion) help keep the mood light and the atmosphere cheery. The music is passable – when it actually works; every race, no matter what, it would always die at the beginning on the third lap. All that was left to greet me were chariot wheel-on-pavement sound effects that may or may not have been recorded underwater. I deleted my game and redownloaded it, yet still the problem remained. That’s a tremendous oversight, and it gives credence to the suspicion that publisher just wanted to get this port out the door and onto WiiWare. Disappointing, to say the least.