Reviewed: October 16, 2006
Released: September 27, 2006
Call it what you will. With a new and cleverly disguised name, the fact remains, this is Tokyo Xtreme Racer. I was first introduced to this series back on the Sega Dreamcast. It brought something new to the racing genre and was something a little different from the norm for driving fans. Offering slick graphics for the time and a sudo-vehicular combat system, it was actually a pretty cool game and I really got into it, but my initial addiction and enjoyment of that title and its many sequels quickly faded away, mainly for reasons that still exist in todayís Import Tuner Challenge.
I canít say that Iím surprised to see this series rear itís ugly head once again. After all, while street racing wasnít all that popular at the time of the Dreamcast, films like The Fast and the Furious really brought the Japanese street racing scene a lot of recognition and popularity. Now sporty Japanese cars with their flashy neon and eye-popping graphics are all the rage in gaming. So much so, that even the successful Need for Speed series has followed suit to some degree, starting with the NFS: Underground.
So it comes to no surprise that Tokyo ExtrÖ. err, I mean Import Tuner Challenge has hit the market on the shiny new Xbox 360 console. With the promise of deep car customization and a slick Toyota Supra on the front cover, chances are Genki / Ubisoft will score a few sales simply by accident. Still, this isnít to say the Tokyo Xtreme Racer was ever a horrible game; it just wasnít anything truly special when compared to its racing peers. I guess that for me, this release was more about satisfying my curiosity than anything else. Knowing full well the gameís true historical credentials, I wanted to see of any of my old complaints had been addressed in this new rendition. Letís find out whatís new, or rather, whatís the same with the 360ís Import Tuner Challenge.
The first thing I noticed about Import Tuner Challenge right out of the gate was that it finally had officially licensed vehicles. No longer was I forced to drive around in plain, decidedly unrealistic looking cars that were completely devoid of company decals and emblems. Nope, this game has real cars, no more fictitious, non-existent replicas that were obviously designed to look and handle like their real-world counterparts, but just werenít. These are actual cars by real-world manufacturers such as Toyota, Nissan and Mazda. Thereís a plus right there, the game was off to a good start. While it's unfortunate that the number of cars choices is limited to about 20, thatís not necessarily a bad thing since youíll likely spend so much time and money trying to create that one perfect street race, that in the end you might only own a couple.
Thatís where car customization comes in. As I mentioned, you may only come to own a handful of cars, simply because the cost and work needed to completely upgrade only one of them could take hours upon hours. Everything from engine, transmission and suspension upgrades can be done. These modifications can be tweaked extensively, with gear ratios and spring adjustments. Wheel toe and camber can also be altered, the skies the limits. Adding to the great customization choices, the cars all feel great. Theyíre different from one another in regards to their weight and they all change their performance and handling characteristics with each new mod that you tack on. The driving and the physics of the vehicles are very well done to say the least.
Once youíve meddled with the performance side of your sweet new ride, there are the visuals. Neon, dash gauges, vinyl graphics, scissor doors, you name it, you could spend hours changing your car and tons of money doing it Ė and some of it, like the cars can be done with real-world manufacturer parts.
While this stuff is all great, itís the playing of the game thatís the real sore spot. Sure the concept behind the racing is unique, but itís the extensive repetition of it all and the eventual boredom that you will remember most. The game starts off with one big looping track. Eventually with a little luck and a lot of wins, some more sections become available, but in the end youíll drive down the same stretches of road over and over again. Yaaa, being able to drive at night or midnight and daybreak is great, but these are ultimately just different variations of black.
The racing itself involves either challenging other racers on the street or within the numerous parking areas. On the track, by pressing a button you can flash your headlight and inform other drivers of your desire to race. This is where the game differs from other racers. Rather than race to a finish line, each driver has a life bar, not unlike a fighting game. When a racer takes the lead, the rivals life gauge begins to drain, the farther you get ahead, the quicker it goes down until eventually someone losses. This can take seconds and other times minutes depending on one carís superiority over the other. One also needs to keep in mind that hitting the walls or other cars on the road also causes damage and also contributes towards the draining on your life. Win the race, win some money then move on to another race. Lather, rinse and repeat.
Thatís the main problem with this game, the racing gets very repetitious, itís can be fun, but then driving the same roads again and again doesnít help the situation. The game is long with hundred of racers out there to challenge, but in the end, whoís going to want to?
Thankfully the game has an online mode, offering this racer a few more positive points in its favour. You can challenge other people with your slick ride just like in the career. Just make sure you have a great car or the online community is liable to leave you in the dust. Itís a fun place to race, but be prepared to have a little trouble finding others to compete against.
In addition to the online mode there are time trials, of which there are only a handful, but theyíre worth doing if you like achievement points. There is also a free roam mode, but this is kind of redundant since itís the same boring roads youíll have driven endlessly in your career.
Of all the racing games on this system, this one is easily the worst looking one of the lot. The cars look great on the menus screens, but once your tires hit the pavement, youíre beautiful car looks well, a lot less beautiful. If youíre anything like me, youíll hardly ever see your car anyway. While I normally prefer the rear view, so I can actually see my car, in Import Tuner the view is all wrong and your own wheels block your view of the road. This problem pretty much forced me to choose one of the 2 other views, either inside the car or mounted on the hood like a strapped down and recently bagged deer.
The visual presentation when challenging drivers in the parking area also sucks, as the game doesnít even bother with 3D modelled opponents, choosing instead to use un-animated line drawings that have no facial features or characters to them what so ever. Itís all very plain and very unimpressive.
Pretty much all the visuals of this game hurt. The track doesnít look particularly good, the lame sparks that fly off when you hit a wall are a joke, the crash animations are pretty much non-existent and the blurry vision used when you kick in the nitrous offers almost no sense of speed, not to mention the fact that it makes it really hard to see where youíre going. Import Tuner is just a very simple and crude game graphically. Unfortunately, itís nowhere close to being a showpiece of your consoleís powers.
The roar of the engines, the hissing of injected nitrous oxide and the whine of turbo chargers, this is where the great sound ends and well, everything thatís left begins.
The music, like the gameplay is repetitive. The same tune plays constantly as you cruise around and a different tune plays every time you challenge someone to a race. Thatís pretty much it. While there are a few other snippets of music here and there, get those custom soundtracks ready, because youíre going to need them.
A lengthy single player mode, but how many people are going to have the tenacity to complete it? Truth be told, I canít imagine buying this game at full price and being pleased with my decision in the end. Thereís just not enough here. Itís another great example of a bargain game, you just need to wait for it to fall into those bins.
At last we have some licensed vehicles, which is great. They can be customized and modified until youíre blue in the face, so tuners are going to love this aspect of the game. Are they going to want too? Well thatís debatable since youíll drive the same tracks so much you wonít even know your own neighbourhood streets as well. Not to mention that getting your car to the desired level of performance will require you to earn a mountain of money and engage in hundreds of dull races.
Some better graphics and sound, along with more track diversity could have gone a long way towards making this title a must have for race fans. If you love car modifications and canít get enough of it, then my recommendation is to wait for Forza 2, since that one is likely to deliver all the good. Graphics, gameplay, tuning options, online play, the whole kit'n caboodle. Import Tuner Challenge, like I said earlier, underneath the new name itís still Tokyo Xtreme Racer. Maybe next time Genki should change the game and not just the title.