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Riding Spirits
Review By:  Jared Black
Developer:  Spike
Publisher:  BAM!
# of Players:  1-2
Genre:  Racing
ESRB:  Everyone
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card
Date Posted:  11-6-02

The odd thing about Gran Turismo 3's success is this: we haven't really seen any clones of it pop up after its release. Almost anytime a game meets with the kind of success GT3 has, there'll follow a slew of "me-too" titles looking to cash in. Well now we've finally got our clone in Riding Spirits, a game that basically takes the GT3 formula and places it in the world of motorcycle racing.

If you've played GT3 you know the formula here. Start out with a horribly under-powered bike, race a few races to build up a good stockpile of cash, then upgrade your bike so you can actually compete. Eventually dominate the lowest class, then move up and repeat the process all over again. It's a formula that's been tested and works, and serves a sufficient motivation to keep the player playing. Also like GT3, there is a slew of different real bikes to choose from - over 200 in fact. Basically every major manufacturer is included, such as the likes of Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, and Kawasaki. Every bike can be upgraded with a wide array of different parts to improve performance.

Actual gameplay is where the game starts to falter a bit, but not too much. Regardless of what bike is used, at first the racing will feel very sluggish and slow. Once the player starts purchasing upgrades though, the action gets faster and bikes become more responsive. So the controls aren't quite up to GT3's standard, but they're pretty close. The A.I. is almost exactly the same as GT3's, in that the racers have a pre-determined path and speed and they stick to it regardless of what's happening in the race. Stock A.I. has always been GT's main problem, and it's a big issue here as well. A total of 14 different courses are available to race on, and they range from pure oval tracks to winding street courses.

When I first started playing Riding Spirits, I was in awe of how crisp and detailed each track looked. Even at high speeds, the texture work is very nice and at times rivals that found in your average Xbox racer. Then I realized that the reason for this is the surrounding track view is extremely limited. Every track is in some way either walled off, or has close objects blocking the view distance around every turn. It's an easy trick to spot for anyone who's followed the industry for any length of time, but to the average gamer it won't matter a bit (other than perhaps the somewhat narrow course designs that result). Regardless, cheap trick or not the result is some nice looking tracks, with the only real blemish being some HEAVY aliasing in a few courses. I'm talking first-generation bleeding-eyes aliasing here.

A more minor complaint is that, in this day and age, activity around the tracks is dead. No people moving about, any background objects swaying/moving/etc., no anything. It creates a really sterile racing environment that feels somewhat weird. Additionally, crash animation is very basic, and the player quickly grows tired of seeing the same animation over and over again for very different crashes.

The soundtrack is excellent, with a number of tunes that have a heavy jazz/European feel to them. If you've ever played any non-NASCAR racing game, you know exactly what to expect here. The sound effects are decent, but extremely limited, as there's virtually no ambient sound to go along with the bikes. And like all motorcycle games the whine of the bike becomes annoying after a while.

HIGHS:

  • Follows the GT3 formula to bike upgrading, resulting in a deeper experience than most other racing games.
  • Over 200 real bikes should appease even hardcore fans.
  • The soundtrack is excellent, and the front-end menus are simple and intuitive. Whoever designed the menu system deserves a big raise.

LOWS:

  • A sterile racing experience. The A.I. is obviously pre-programmed to follow a certain path, ambient sounds are almost non-existent, and track activity is kept to a bare minimum. It's like racing in a painting.

FINAL VERDICT:

For GT3 fans looking for their next fix, Riding Spirits is an acceptable substitute that follows the formula well. Just be warned that there is almost no innovation here, and the racing experience is a somewhat empty one.

Overall Score: 6.8

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