Reviewed: August 1, 2005
Released: July 12, 2005
I have to admit that I am a big fan of both the classic Herbie movies (the ones with Dean Jones), and Lindsay Lohan (Mean Girls is an awesome flick), but somehow putting these two stars together just never seemed right. Disney was obviously out of new material so they decided to salvage the white little VW bug and try to sell it with Lohan’s currently celebrity status and obvious appeal to the Disney demographic.
Despite what Disney would have you believe Herbie: Fully Loaded pretty much tanked at the box office, so I had little hope for a video game inspired by the movie, even though racing games are pretty hard to mess up these days. But the banner on the box touting the included movie poster didn’t help ease my concerns.
Herbie is about as basic as it gets when it comes to racing. You have a Story mode that takes you through 8 different courses that vary slightly in scenery and even less slightly in difficulty. Between each race you get a couple of digitized stills from the movie, usually words of encouragement before a race and congratulations after a win. When you win each track it becomes unlocked for Free Race mode.
Then you have the Championship mode which lets you choose from one of three difficulty levels, none of which are terribly challenging, and race the tracks in sequence sans the movie stills. Keep winning to continue or return to the menu if you lose.
The tracks are generally simple and short, much like designs you would find in the old Pole Position game, and the gameplay is about that simple as well. Races can be 3-5 laps depending on your chosen difficulty, but with lap times almost always under a minute each no race takes more than 3-5 minutes to finish.
Controls are simple yet functional. You steer with the D-pad while the A button accelerates and the B button brakes and backs you up when you spinout. The left and right triggers activate the various power-ups you can collect along the track during the race.
Power-ups come in four types, each with a unique color star you must run over to collect. Yellow is the most popular and will spin Herbie around 180-degrees and give you a 3-5 second burst of turbo. Driving in reverse was surprising and challenging the first few times but once you get the hang of it, it becomes fairly routine.
The Red star will cause Herbie to open his hood and spit out his spare tire at anyone directly ahead, knocking them off the track. This can be trickier than it sounds. Green stars give Herbie the ability to jump over obstacles like oil slicks or even another car if you are going fast enough. Finally, the Blue star gives Herbie a big boost in speed complete with movie-style wheelie.
Fully Loaded actually gives you the freedom to drive off the track, which rather surprised me. Normally games like this put up invisible barriers to keep you on the pavement. Here, you are free to explore alternate paths and shortcuts, perhaps down a sidewalk or through a parking lot; however, if you get stuck in the grass or dirt Herbie slows to a crawl and cars will fly past you.
Herbie also has attitude, which supposedly has a subtle impact on his performance. If Herbie is in the lead his icon in the upper-right corner will bounce happily and he will drive better than if he is losing. Frankly, I never saw the difference, but then again, it wasn’t very often I wasn’t in the lead.
The AI for the other racers is fairly simplistic but it does manage to get slightly challenging on the Extreme level, but only in the sense that you are forced to actually use the power-ups, whereas in the other races clean driving is all that’s required to win.
The graphics for Herbie are quite diverse. You have an excellent VW car model, both for the rear-view you play from and the front fender perspective for Herbie’s attitude indicator. This sharp crisp 3D car model is contrasted by some colorful yet terribly blocky NASCAR opponents.
The HUD is clean and simple and kept to the borders. A mini-map of the track shows where you are in relation to the pack and upcoming turns are indicated by arrows at the top of the screen. Lap and position information as well as a speedometer occupy the lower corners and your currently equipped power-up is shown at the top.
The tracks use the GBA “Mode 7” 3D graphics for some above-average details and impressive draw distance. There is a surprisingly amount of detail on some of the tracks (like the amusement park) and the GBA scrolls and moves these elements around smoothly with a very fluid framerate that makes driving Herbie a breeze. The textures themselves are a bit bland. Desert sand, pavement, and grass all look alike, only different colors.
Between races you get the obligatory images from the movie that feature plenty of headshots for Lindsay and other stills with Herbie and supporting cast members. These are good quality for what they are and will certainly appeal to Lohan fans or fans of the film.
Music is boring and repetitive with only a few tracks that repeat endlessly throughout all the races. Thankfully, you’ll finish the game long before you actually go insane from the soundtrack.
Sound effects are simple and consist mainly of an endless engine purr that sounds more like a weed-eater and not the charming "putt…putt…putt" of a VW engine. The power-ups have some unique sounds that mix things up and there are some simple sounds for bumping into other cars.
There is no speech whatsoever, which really surprised me. Given the brevity of most of Lindsay’s lines (in text overlay) I would have thought the GBA cartridge could have fit a few sound samples, either original or ripped from the movie.
I completed the Story mode in less than 20 minutes and all three difficulties on the Championship mode in less than another 90. The game can be a bit brutal, especially for younger gamers, since it forces you to finish in first place or restart the game. Ouch!
Thankfully, it’s not that hard to win the races once you learn the track designs and the few gameplay and power-up quirks. Younger kids might get a day or two of casual gaming out of Herbie, but for anyone else, this won’t be staying in your GBA longer than a few hours.
And where is my multiplayer? This is a racing game and I thought GBA-link cable support was practically required for these kind of games. When the core game has less than an hour of original content, multiplayer could have easily saved this title.
Even the included poster wasn’t that impressive since it’s not an actual photo of Lindsay but rather that stylish filtered image from the CD soundtrack cover. Then again, the game and the poster are much more likely to appeal to a 10-14 year old girl rather than an adult male.
Herbie: Fully Loaded is destined to get lumped into that growing genre of failed movie-licensed games. It’s not that Herbie is a bad game; it’s just way too simple and way too short to hold your interest, and your money could be better spent on any of several other GBA games out there, racing or otherwise.