Jimmie Johnson's Anything With an Engine
Wii | Autumn Games / Isopod Labs / Konami | 1-4 Players (local multiplayer) | Out Now (North America)
Controller Compatibility: Wii Remote and Nunchuk; Wii Remote (sideways); Classic Controller; Wii Wheel
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21st December 2011; By KnucklesSonic8
Jimmie Johnson's Anything With An Engine is split up into three gameplay modes. In Career Mode, players go through five main cups, with three more to be unlocked as you progress. Each tournament takes nearly half an hour to complete, consisting of six individual events followed by a boss race against Jimmie Johnson. Along the way, you'll have one set of points used to measure your position and rank while the other relates more to your skill and the different techniques you use mid-race. If you would like to just jump in and race without getting into theatrics, you can head to the one-player Single Event mode or go to Splitscreen mode for multiplayer bouts. Aside from that, there's also a Garage where you can view driver bios and trophies.
The game has user-friendly controls that players can tinker around with under the Options menu. With the standard control setup of using the Wii Remote in a horizontal format, players use tilt to steer their vehicles left and right, with the 2 Button being used for acceleration and 1 for braking. Also, pressing the 2 Button twice will apply a Turbo when you have boost power available. While turning corners, you can hold Down on the D-Pad to powerslide, which is useful for abrupt turns, but can slow you down over time. As for the other buttons on the D-Pad, Left and Right are used for side-rams while Up is used for firing missiles. And finally, the A Button is used to plant mines.
The button placement is good for the most part, and all of the above details are relevant with or without the Wii Wheel attached. With more attention, they could've ironed out the menu navigation which has you pressing Up and Down on the Wii Remote (while its sideways) to scroll through a vertical setup. Offering a variety of different control options, the game presents other schemes besides this default setup. However, playing with the Nunchuk and Wii Remote combo feels a little weird with the way they have the button configuration set up. And while the setup of the Classic Controller fares a little better, using the default scheme is ultimately the best way to play this game.
So what exactly does Jimmie Johnson's Anything But An Engine do that differs from other kart-racing games? Well, there's quite a bit to consider, actually. For starters, there's a greater emphasis here on vehicular combat, and with that comes a more strategic format of kart racing. The game tries to keep things simple in the kinds of items it makes available to players by having only missiles and mines. What's cool about the weapon use here is that you won't be able to use either of these at the start of the race. In fact, side-ramming and the use of Turbo's will also be disabled initially. To unlock these for use, players need to earn votes from the audience, done principally by driving over yellow and green lights situated on the track. Once these basic abilities have been enabled, you can earn upgrades for each of them by powersliding, climbing the ranks and by using offensive tactics.
I actually really liked the idea of having the audience vote in to unlock these abilities as it treats weapon use as something to be earned, not something that's given right up front. Almost like respect. Continuing on the theme of audience involvement, racers who are lagging behind will be granted a favor by having an area on the track that is normally closed off become available for their temporary access. Also adding to the unpredictability of races are Gotcha Traps, activated by driving over The Big Red Button found in each track. This will initiate a special event specific to that track, like having a mechanical dragon breathe fire or having water rush out of large pipes. Pitstops also play a role in the gameplay structure as well. By pressing the B Button rapidly during these moments, not only will you be given the normal repairs, but you'll also have your ammo supply replenished. And while vote upgrades can produce similar effects, this element in addition to the semi-fast nature of the Pitstops make them worthy inclusions in the overall gameplay mix. All of the above makes it so that people in last place can still get in the top three, not through luck of the draw, but through skillful item use. So with this clearly in mind, it can definitely be said that there are some great ideas here.
The HUD that's present during races is laid out in a fairly organized manner. On the top left of the screen, you have your vehicle's damage meter, with weapon icons just above it representing how much ammo you have available or how much time you have to wait out before you can use a side-ram or a Turbo once more. Along the bottom, you have your lap and position display as well as the game clock. On the right side of the screen, there's a bar that measures the number of votes you have in relation to upcoming upgrade unlocks. And finally, down at the bottom right, there are badges representing achievements you've made during that race, like Longest Powerslide. When these achievements first come in, they are shown at the top of the screen in yellow text, which admittedly can get a bit distracting when you've made a bunch of accomplishments within a short time frame.
As for the types of events you'll encounter, there's quite a bit of variety beyond your usual races. First, there's Time Attack, a single-lap time trial where you race against Jimmie's best time, with his best route indicated on the track as a blue-coloured path. In Matador, there are two goals on either end of the track, with three racers going in one direction while the other three head the opposite way. As you can imagine, this can create some mayhem as you're often caught off guard by surprise attacks and the like. Survival is exactly how it sounds, with a timer continually counting down until only one racer remains. And finally, in Endurance, you go for eight or more laps on a given track aiming for the most number of points through your usual methods of offense. I actually didn't mind the length of the endurance races because there was never a dull moment. However, the Duel Events, where you had to face Jimmie himself, were the least enjoyable of all because of the cheap, rubberband AI.
With a purpose I can only imagine was to give the game a distinctive sense of personality, Anything With An Engine features a really strange case of characters. The thrifty and smack-talking Bargain Nana, the costume-wearing Couch Potato (at least, I think it's a costume), as well as a golfer named Silverspoon are but some of the figures included in the twelve-character roster.
Both the vehicles and the types of attacks used by each of the characters accurately reflects what they'd like to be known for. So for example, Couch Potato drives around on a pimped-out recliner, using pizzas as his choice of missiles. With a few exceptions, each person's set of taunts is also closely linked with the perhaps stereotypical reputation they've made for themselves. So for the construction worker, Cinderblock, his utterances often reference his line of work. Lines like "No overtime for you!" and... "Where's my union rep?" Seriously? It's embarrassing to hear these clips emitting from your television, especially in the presence of others.
You would hope that the announcers are a bit more "normal", but even they fit into the game's mold. The two announcers, Buzz and Jessica, provide commentary on a regular basis as things happen during a race. Thankfully, I didn't find them too repetitive, but I did have issues with the things they were actually saying. Nearly everytime I heard Buzz say "And the grandstands go wild!", there was no cheering taking place in the background. Also, I know they probably didn't want to go through the trouble of recording clips with each character in mind, but it feels impersonal to hear them refer to you as "the driver" all the time. Additionally, I felt the female announcer was trying too hard with comments like "A jump like that takes your breath away!" To add insult to injury, the team (or more accurately, Jimmie) saw the need to include suggestive humor between these two announcers. Many times Buzz makes passes at Jessica, but instead of being something to smirk at, it just makes you crange. What's that, Jessica? I have the ability to tune you and Buzz out completely? Thank goodness.
Okay, so the announcers aren't up to snuff either... but at least Jimmie can play it off as a cool, collected guy. Right? Well... his clips don't sound great at all, and both with his use of language and the tone he uses, I often got the impression that he was angry while racing. That may have been the kind of feeling he tried to channel when creating the voice clips for his character, but they just don't work well. Clearly, in all of these related aspects, more work could have been done to give the game that extra level of polish that it lacks.
This brings me to my next point: level design. All 13 tracks are set in the same setting, with the interior of a stadium serving as a backdrop. But the track layouts do have different thematic elements that are present on the different paths. Most of the time, this comes in the form of cardboard cut-outs of pedestrians, buildings, animals and other scenery to throw you off or result in penalties. Pedestrians is one thing, but when large tidal waves start sliding in from the sides of a track to block you, then you have to start wondering if it really is a wise use of aesthetics or if it's just a way to mask some kind of inadequacy on the part of the developers.
More than just being silly, though, I felt as though the game was trying to convey a sort of feeling that it was taking you on a trip around the world. This was especially evident in the India- and medieval-themed stages. But when tracks like Dino Safari feel less thematic and more thrown together with random cutouts, the purpose gets lost. Not to mention, there are stages like Castle Crash that feature sub-par design. Evidently, while the team has tried to make the environments less generic and more unique to the game itself, there are cracks in the level design that affect how they are seen by the average player.
Because of that emphasis on combat more than the racing component, the game actually reminded me of Twisted Metal when I came away from it, which can be taken as a compliment. The sheer craziness of the gameplay is enough to grasp your attention initially, but whether you decide to stick with it or not is a bit doubtful. To be honest, I don't think this all comes together in one solid package.
While things aren't like this all the time, it feels like there's too much going on in some places, to the point that it interferes with your ability to really sink your teeth into it. The, shall we say, "insecure" nature of some of the mechanics where you can't get too close to people without getting rammed or having a surprise mine attack, may very well be a turn-off to some. And while it is explored in a creative way, the combat aspect feels messy. It's hard to accuse the game of being boring, but for the reasons stated above, it's not right to describe the game as fun either.
One of the other problems I have with this game is that I feel it doesn't know who it's trying to appeal to. I mean, it's definitely not hardcore racing fans who are usually on the lookout for new, worthwhile titles. Most would likely write this off almost immediately. I'm pretty sure it's not for kids either, not just because of the use of language and the suggestive themes, but also because the nature of the game feels so out there. I think kids would feel a lot more comfortable sticking to what they already know and love -- I think it's safe to assume that would be Mario Kart. I think the developers were aiming for something that would appeal to everyone, but it seems like there just isn't a core group who will enjoy this game.
I found the presentation was just okay. Anyone who plays on a smaller TV will find some of the text hard to read, and aside from the special effects, the visuals are merely decent. As far as music, I found there was a slight variety, with generic-sounding rock music for one track and country-style instruments used for others. Nothing really stuck out to me, though. In speaking about the game's camera system, whenever your character is hit by an attack, a rival car explodes, someone presses The Big Red Button, or other crazy stuff is happening within the vicinity, the screen will become quite shaky. Prolonged episodes will prove to be headache-inducing, so while there may not be any glitchy instances, the camera does prove to be a valid reason for complaint.
A more serious cause for concern stems from the game's framerate, which is known to bounce around quite a bit. In particular, the framerate inconsistencies developed from a nuisance to an outright flaw on the Route 99 and Castle Crash tracks. It gets pretty bad at times, especially when there's a lot going on nearby and you have achievements flowing in one after the other for a few seconds. This is something that definitely should have been ironed out.
In terms of additional content, Career Mode gives you three difficulty settings to play on, allowing you to switch things up as you go along to something more suitable. But aside from that, I've covered everything else there is to see. I imagine if an online component were to be included in the Wii version of this game, the framerate issues would be just like what's seen offline -- and then some! Still, I think it would've made this game a little more replayable had it been included.
In all honesty, Jimmie Johnson's Anything With An Engine is a tough game to recommend. Between the technical flaws and gameplay execution that could use much improvement, this is definitely the type of game you should wait on until it sinks into bargain buy status. Because while some may appreciate the ideas that are presented here with the combat system, others will likely find the game messy to the point of disappointment. It's unique approach is definitely on the right track towards a memorable racing experience, but in its current state, it's just not there yet.
18/30 - Okay/Average
Gameplay 7/10 - Presents unique ideas, strange characters, good controls, feels a bit messy in its execution, various track gimmicks, mixed track design
Presentation 5/10 - Decent visuals, somewhat varied music, camera shakes can be headache-inducing, framerate issues, cringeworthy voice clips
Enjoyment 3/5 - Not everything comes together well, Duel events aren't fun, interest-grabbing combat elements, could've been stronger with more polish
Extra Content 3/5 - Lacks online capabilities, 13 tracks in all, multiple cups to complete, three difficulty settings for solo play, multiple unlockables
Equivalent to a score of 60% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System