You might have relegated your PlayStation 2 to your cousin's dusty basement years ago. But if you never played Tokyo Xtreme Racer Zero when it was new, I bet you'll eBay it after this Classic Racing Game Review hits your nostalgia button.
TXRZ was the first racing game I ever committed real hours to, and for that reason alone it will always hold a special place in my heart. But after giving it another try after years of forgetting it existed, I realized a lot of the game's charm was still strong. The graphics are primitive by today's standards, but the game has it where it counts– the cars still look pretty good and lighting effects, to my philistine eyes, are still impressive.
Sure, the game gets repetitive after a few go-arounds, but you'll have to hang it up after a few minutes of the grainy tire-screech sound effects and wacky music anyway.
The game feels decidedly foreign, one might even call it "JDM". Races are referred to as "battles", fought to the beat of a relentless retro-nime soundtrack (think Adventures Of Mega Man about 50 BPM faster).
As you make your way through you earn nicknames that are supposedly based on your driving style, though I seriously doubt much telemetry is involved. The handles always sound like David Bowie songs i.e. "Star Gravedigger", "Late Night Cinderella", or my favorite; "Love Knuckle".
Pretty much every pre-2001 Japanese car anyone had ever used as a tuning base is featured. You'll find all your favorite Nissans, Hondas, Mazdas, Toyotas, Subarus, and Mitsubishis in several trim levels. Also a 911 and a Viper. Every vehicle looks familiar but a Jalopnik reader would probably notice inconsistencies that I can only assume were added to avoid copyright infringement, as none of the cars were licensed. The designers got around the names by simply using the chassis code of the car they'd virtually copied.
Customization freedom is vast, with plenty of performance upgrades, aero parts, and stickers. Actually, you can only pick one sticker at a time, from a selection of Hello Kitty-looking caricatures, the game studio's logo, or an HKS logo. Why they decided to go for that license but no others, we'll never know.
Not the best even in 2001, but good enough to be easily redeemed by fun factor. Light reflection and tire smoke were visible, pop-in was particularly the makes itself known when you pass the same two "traffic" vehicles for the hundredth time.
Car settings could be dialed in minutely, from steering speed to gear ratios. But no matter where you set the dials, driving the car usual felt more like guiding a hockey puck over ice. No vehicle damage; crashing into traffic at 150 MPH was more of an inconvenience than a crisis. Horsepower benefits from modifications were ridiculous.
What Was Great
• Massive selection of "realistic-enough" cars that were highly customizable. You could even name them!
• You could activate the directional blinkers, hazards, and horn. All pointless in the game, but neat.
• Motral Kombat/Street Fighter-esque "health bar" based on time in first place an interesting twist on racing game scoring.
• Save your game on one of those giant 8 MB PS2 thumb-drives and have multiplayer races at your friend's place with your respective cars customized in your single-player campaign.
What Was Weak
• Having to shlep all over Tokyo to race against certain cars could be annoying, as was the nearly constant "tire screeching" sound effect that was surely borrowed from a first-gen NES sound board.
• In order to ascend to the next "level" of upgrades, you had to rack up a certain amount of mileage in your current car— which translated to hours of orbiting digital Tokyo bumping into the same delivery truck listening to that godforsaken soundtrack... though I learned later this could be circumvented by putting the car on "autopilot", which one could do by not clicking "resume" after a race was complete.
• Not much variance in the places you could drive.