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Review by: Jonathan Hynes
Published: July 8, 2003
While Acclaim would undoubtedly argue that Speed Kings is entirely independent from their other popular racing franchise, Burnout, the similarities between the two are undeniable. From near-identical gameplay mechanics to a familiar graphics engine, it would seem that the success of the Burnout series has prompted a new line of extreme racing titles. Speed Kings tackles the world of motorcycles, but instead of confining itself to time-based heats, the game allows for and even encourages the use of death-defying stunts. Yet even though everything looks fine and well on paper, there are a number of hurtles that must first be overcome if this title is to be successful.
There are several single-player challenges that you would expect from a racer of this sort, including competitions against one or more opponents, as well as a trick attack mode, which is pretty self-explanatory. It’s in the meets, however, where most of your time will be spent. A meet consists of three races, after which points are awarded based upon your final position. Of course, a certain number of points must be attained before you’re allowed to move onto the next meet. Your progress unlocks new bikes and tracks, while complete victory opens up the Grand Prix mode, a circuit that can consist of up to 40 races.
You’ll need to choose your motorcycle before each race, and though just five are available initially, successfully completing single-player meets will soon open up many more. Each bike has its own series of statistics that determine its overall effectiveness, including top speed, acceleration, handling and braking. Different tracks require different motorcycles, so you’ll want to find a bike that handles well for those winding courses, and a faster one for the straighter tracks.
The game features a wide selection of stunts that can be executed to progress through the trick attack mode, complete respect challenges (as discussed later), or to build your powerband meter. The more basic stunts, such as wheelies and endos are relatively easy to pull off, requiring just a push of the control stick backward or forward, respectively. However, the more complicated tricks use the left trigger in conjunction with other buttons to make your task just a little bit more difficult. Maneuvers like the surfing wheelie and handstand fall into this category, and though they may require a little more effort to execute, the end result is much more satisfying.
Another, far more risky trick is called a “ding,” which involves actual contact with other traffic. The objective is to touch, or come extremely close to, another moving vehicle without causing a crash. These near misses are probably the most difficult stunt to pull off, but also the most rewarding when it comes to your powerband bar. The powerband is, essentially, a boost meter that fills as you pull off various tricks and dings. Once full, the gauge can be activated using the Z-button, resulting in a huge burst of speed that can easily shift the momentum of a race.
Respect challenges are bonus objectives that, if successfully completed, will unlock special bikes not available otherwise. Only the single races and meets features these tests, and they always come in groups of three per track. Some are relatively easy, often consisting of nothing more than a wheelie or stoppie. However, seemingly simple tasks such as maintaining a wheelie for 1000 feet may seem like a piece of cake, but are truly hellish when the track layout and traffic are taken into account.
Not content with fast-paced racing trickery, the developers felt that it would be helpful if the player had the ability to settle any rivalries with a couple of underhanded sneak attacks. Pressing the X-button while adjacent to another rider, you can reach over and knock them off of their bike. This can be quite handy when races are close, since it is very difficult to recover once you have fallen off your motorcycle. For those with a little more guts, the bike itself can even be used as a weapon, and quite an effective one at that. Combining the X-button attack with the slide will allow your bike to temporarily function as a lethal bowling ball, eliminating anything in your path. As an added bonus, not only will these strikes set opponents back, but they’ll also add to your powerband meter.
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