Preview: Wheelspin

Perhaps surprisingly, this Wii racer (to be called SpeedZone in the United States) is to be published by Bethesda and is unfortunately likely to become a blemish on their impressive track record. It is clearly inspired by the awesome Nintendo racer F-Zero and to a lesser extent Wipeout, San Francisco Rush 2049 and Rumble Racing. A very simple control layout, with the 2 button labeled as "faster" and 1 as "slower," and the usual tilting for steering. The racing is moderately fast, but any sense of speed is lost due to the sparse race tracks. Speed is relative and thusly pointless without any markers of distance or scenery to swoosh past, and bland, distant spacey environments fail to convey how fast you are traveling. The tracks themselves are interesting enough, with loop-the-loops, tunnels, ramps and mental corners providing sufficient variety and excitement to keep the player amused for a while. The handling however, is far too floaty and light, with little corrective power given to players if they make a mistake short of respawning onto the track. Moreover, the sheer number of mistakes is so large that the respawn button has been mapped to A, and races are more a case of finishing with the minimum number of screw-ups rather than wheel-to-wheel high speed racing.

There is also a rudimentary battle mode and a fairly wide range of course types and settings within which to race, as well as support for up to four players locally. Despite an obvious and respectable nod to retro speed racing games, and an overall package void of anything too shockingly bad, Wheelspin lacks the level of finesse and detail that is now expected from games. The graphics are poor, even by the Wii's standards, as are the physics. The frame-rate however, was very impressive, with the game running as smooth as Sean Connery. With a healthy range of game mode options, it would at first seem like a deep game; though I'm unconvinced that Wheelspin's menu diversity translates into gaming depth. Although I played the finished game, this is a preview, and I didn't spend too long with this title, so perhaps it would be a touch harsh to totally confine Wheelspin to the bargain bin right now. We will have to wait until 20 November (here in the EU) to see my whether early impressions are as bleak as the released game.

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