RACING GEARS ADVANCE / Orbital Digital Media / Gameboy Advance

Racing Gears Advance looks and plays more like a budget PC title from the likes of Epyx or Apogee, from back in the mid-90s somewhere. This is a good thing! It's simple and fun, with a focus on really solid gameplay and good structure.

The action is seen from a 2D, overhead view, much in the style of R.C. Pro-Am and Micro Machines. You can play a championship circuit, practice by yourself on any tracks you've unlocked, or link up to go head-to-head with another human player. All modes of play start with selecting a racer, each of whom drives a different type of car, and sports a different inherent ability - one guy never spins out, another causes anyone who touches him to spin out, yet another has instant acceleration to top speed from a stop. The game also has the blessing of car manufacturers such as Dodge and Ford and features their vehicles.

The championship circuits proceed much in the style of Mario Kart - you start out with one set of five tracks, when you complete that in first place overall you get a new set. Finishing in second or third gets you some lesser bonuses, like unlocking new weapons or adding a new character to the roster.

You also earn money based on where you place in each race, and can pick up bonus cash icons that appear randomly on the track as you drive. You use these between races to get car upgrades and new tires, but you also need to repair damage you've incurred in each race, and reload weapons.

The tracks are lacking in animation but do look nice, and I suppose it keeps the game moving at a zippy clip, which is more important. There's a good variety, and you have to consider the terrain (pavement, dirt, sand, or a mix of two or three), plus the possibility of random snow or rain popping up, when equipping tires before the race. There's also semi-hidden shortcuts in each track that are enough to shave a few seconds off your time and let you make a comeback. You may also be pleased to hear that the game does not employ "rubber banding"; if you build a good lead up you get to enjoy it, but the computer will also happily dust the hell out of you too if you're in a race you aren't quite ready to handle yet.

The game is really well-designed and a great "pick up and play" title that still has a pretty good sense of progression and depth. Recommended.

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Gameplay Video