reviews\ Feb 24, 2002 at 7:00 pm

Smashing Drive - GC - Review

To the uninformed gamer, Smashing Drive may look like Namco's answer to Crazy Taxi.  The booklet describes Smashing Drive as being a game where you "live a day in the life of a frantic city cab driver working for 24 hours straight.  On each shift, your mission is to drive your fare to the destination in as short a time as possible using every advantage you can get."  With a premise like that, I expected this to be an open-ended driving game.  Smashing Drive is nothing like Crazy Taxi though.  In fact, it's not even a driving game, but rather a crazy racing game with lots of smashing, bashing and crashing.  It's like 18 Wheeler Pro Trucker with taxicabs. 

As with Sega's classic racer, Smashing Drive has several checkpoints that must be hit to gain extra time.  If you run out of time before delivering one of your fares, you'll be forced to re-start all the way at the beginning of the shift.  However, if you were successful in delivering at least one fare, you will be able to continue your game from that point even after the time runs out.  During each shift, your computer-controlled opponent will do anything he can to win.  You must deliver your fare before your opponent delivers his fare to conquer the level.  If he beats you, it's still possible to finish the level, but it will not have been completed yet.

Your damage meter is listed on the top right corner of the screen.  If you crash into too many vehicles or objects, your taxi may catch on fire!  The fire will drain your damage meter much faster, so it's important to find a repair power-up to put out the flame and fix any damage.  There are five other power-ups in Smashing Drive: Turbo Boost, Glider, 4X4, Cutter and Crash. The Turbo Boost is a standard power-up in arcade racing games, and it is by far the most important item you'll find in Smashing Drive.  More often than not, a Turbo Boost is the deciding factor in a close race, especially one where you are running low on time.  Several of the Turbo Boosts have been placed on the left side of the road, forcing you to drive towards oncoming traffic to get them.

The Glider power-up allows you to "glide" longer, which makes it easier to reach all of the power-ups in the air.  Crash and 4X4 are strength-enhancing power-ups.  There isn't much of a difference between the two, except that one allows you to drive over (and crush) every vehicle in sight, while the other allows you to ram every vehicle without losing much speed.  These power-ups work great as shields, but they have a timed damage meter.  That meter will last for a short while, but large portions of it are depleted if you run into something.  I often avoid hitting other vehicles and try to save the power-ups for collisions that cannot be avoided.

Lastly, there's the Cutter power-up, which appears somewhere on the road just before you hit a train or a trailer truck.  The saw blades will cut right through the steel on the back of the truck, allowing you to pass right through.  Hitting a truck without the cutter will cause damage to your taxi and slow the vehicle down a bit.

I'm glad that Namco chose to make the A and B buttons the default gas and brake functions.  I like the shape of the GameCube controller a lot, but having to hold down either the L or R button for a long period of time is a torture that no gamer should have to suffer through.  Maybe it isn't a problem for someone with really small hands, but my hands are quite a bit larger than the 'Cube's controller.  Analog sensitivity or not, the L and R buttons work horribly with racing games.  For those of you who disagree with me (assuming such a person exists), Smashing Drive gives you the option to configure the controls in any way you want.

The graphics are clean (i.e., there isn't any pixelation), but they aren't anything to write home about.  Playing Smashing Drive after Wreckless: The Yakuza Missions is like playing Daytona USA after playing Gran Turismo 3; there is no comparison between the games' visuals.  I know that there are more important things than a game's appearance, but if we're going to use that argument, then why should anyone ever buy a new game console?  Gamers buy new consoles free three reasons: (1) they want new, innovative gaming experiences (2) they want to play the sequels to all of their favorite games and (3) they want better graphics.  Smashing Drive does not meet any of the criteria.  It's not innovative, it's not a sequel and the graphics are below the quality of Crazy Taxi, a driving game that's nearly four years old.  When Namco ported Tekken Tag Tournament to the PlayStation 2, they enhanced the graphics tremendously by adding thousands of extra polygons.  All of the characters were fully rendered and much more detailed than any fighter on the market at the time.  But Smashing Drive was merely "ported" to the GameCube.  No enhancements were made to the visuals.  This game is dated even by Dreamcast standards.

As good as Smashing Drive is, it doesn't have the kind of lasting appeal that makes a good racing game great.  This is a rarity for a Namco game.  Most of their games are packed with replay value (see: Tekken Advance, Klonoa: Door to Phantomile and Tekken 4).  I had fun playing Smashing Drive and I still am enjoying it, but it's way too short.  If the replay value were higher, length may not have been an issue.  The two-player mode is pretty good, but it doesn't extend the replay value any further.  I know that Soul Calibur 2 is headed to the 'Cube, but as Namco's first (and only) exclusive GameCube release, I expected something more.  I recommend it as a rental, but I wouldn't buy it until the price drops to twenty bucks.

Reviewer's Scoring Details


Gameplay: 7
If there is one aspect of game development where Namco never fails, it’s the gameplay.  However, this is an arcade game, and arcade games are almost always short.  I’d rather spend $10 playing it at GameWorks than $50 to own it.

Graphics: 4.5 
GameCube is the second-most powerful console on the market, with stunning games like Resident Evil due for release this spring.  All of the 'Cube's power is wasted here though.  Blocky vehicles, poor explosions and mediocre level design are unacceptable on a next-gen console.

Sound: 6
Smashing Drive's sound effects are nothing new and the music isn't either.  It's better than techno, but that's not saying much.

Difficulty: 6
It won't take you more than a day or two to finish Smashing Drive.  The short time limit adds to the challenge of the game, but not enough to keep a hardcore gamer from beating it quickly.

Concept: 5 
Aside from the fact that taxis are involved, Smashing Drive is an experience that's all too familiar.  How many racing games can you name that involve check points, power-ups and crowded city streets?

Multiplayer: 6
I think it's strange that the GameCube has four controller ports, yet most of the games can only be played by one or two people.

Overall: 6.5
With very few exclusive GameCube titles to choose from, Smashing Drive may seem like a diamond in the rough for some gamers.  But a game worth a score of 6.5 cannot be upgraded to an 8 or a 9 just because there isn't much else to play.  I enjoyed it and I'm sure that you will too, but it gets old after a while.

Above Average

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