Reviewed: August 24, 2003
Reviewed by: Jason Porter
Released: August 4, 2003
The kart-racing scene has been in a slump for a while now. Nintendo's long-anticipated MarioKart: Double Dash is not out yet. Chocobo Racing is old hat, the Shrek game was awful and nobody really cared about the characters in Crash Team Racing. What's a fan to do?
Enter Freaky Flyers, an innovative, multi-platform release developed by Point of View and published by Midway. This game puts you in the cockpit as one of dozens of unlockable pilots flying in a zany combat race at locations across the world. One part kart racer, one part Road Rash and one part classic cartoon, Freaky Flyers is a breath of fresh air for the kart racing faithful and the genre in general.
This game features several play modes, fourteen main characters (nine of whom must be unlocked during play), even more hidden characters and one or two-player options. Expansive secret-filled courses, a multitude of sub-goals for each course, several challenging mini-games and plenty of cartoony cutscenes round out this double disc GameCube offering.
Freaky Flyers has three basic modes of play, all of which are fun to play and offer a unique experience from the others. Adventure mode lets players pick from one of the five characters initially available and play through his or her story as you win increasingly difficult races and complete mini-games. As the story progresses, you're rewarded with extra characters and courses.
Players can also engage in a dogfight, which requires two players. You and an opponent set a time limit, the number of kills needed to win and have at it.
Finally, race mode can be played either alone or with a second player. Before the race, you can turn AI-controlled competitors on or off. Turning them off is a great way to explore the multiple routes through each course and learn how to complete the sub-goals, which can drastically enhance your chances of winning in a competitive race.
The courses are filled with all sorts of distractions and things to do. As usual, players can collect random power-ups, most of which are at least somewhat useful. What sets this game apart as far as power-ups is that they are hardly the only way to damage your fellow flyers. Your plane (or robot, or magic carpet) comes equipped with a machine gun that can be fired at competitors, obstacles and targets. And yes, you can destroy other planes as well as be destroyed yourself. A destroyed plane is not removed from the race, but it loses a lot of valuable time getting set back on the course.
It's hard to describe how Freaky Flyers plays, since there isn't anything with which to adequately compare it. It's a kart racer, but one of a very different stripe from the norm. The courses are huge, since racing in an airplane requires not only accelerating and turning, but also diving and rising through the air. This means that the controls have to work in three dimensions, not just two as in most racers. Learning to perform barrel rolls and nosedives is just as important as holding down the gas button. The developers have done an admirable job making the controls relatively intuitive and fun to use, but it still takes some time to get a handle on them.
Maybe it's because this is a different type of game, but the learning curve in general is steep and unforgiving. Only one course and five flyers are available to you at the start, and unlocking more requires playing through the Adventure mode. Beating an adventure is very, very, very hard. There are no difficulty settings, so you have to sink or swim right away, which may turn some people off to this title. The mini-games in particular can be frustrating beyond belief. However, while the challenge is huge it's not insurmountable. With each level completed you really do get a lot better at handling your racer. There's a real sense of accomplishment in this that you just don't get from an easier game.
In summary, Freaky Flyers may be a little too difficult for casual gamers to get into, which is too bad. Hardcore and hobbyist gamers, though, should love the balanced challenge it offers.
Freaky Flyers uses traditional polygonal graphics, rather than the cel-shading becoming popular with cartoon-inspired games these days. The in-game models look like they have fairly low polygon counts, but great use of textures keeps it looking good. This title is proof that a game can use polygons and still feel like an animated feature in motion. During play, everything is bright and sharp, with absolutely no draw-in. The sheer number of particles and/or individual moving objects on the game screen at any given time makes this an impressive feat. Each cleverly themed level is realized down to the smallest detail. Monkeys sit on rocks, cows stampede and log rollers do their thing. Even the machine gun bullets you fire can be distinctly made out from the others at surprisingly long distances.
Artistically, this game is inspired. Freaky Flyers takes a direct cue from the best American cartoons, with over-the-top character designs and some really bizarre things going on at the sidelines. Since you'll generally be watching the back of your flyer's head during play, Point of View has added beautiful and hilarious CG cutscenes to better show off the characters. These cutscenes use clean lines and eye-popping colors and, since they don't try to be "realistic," they'll probably still look good five or six years from now.
I did have one serious complaint about the graphics, though. At times, there was so much visual noise on the screen that I became completely disoriented! On a small TV screen, the levels become dense and cluttered. In two-player mode, things only get worse. Without a really large television, two players isn't really an option.
First, the bad: the title theme is just plain awful. I found myself muting the television until I could get into the menu screens just to avoid hearing even one second of it. This was a bad move on the developer's part, since it's the first song players will hear and it might make them wary of the rest of the game. Fortunately, I can't find anything else to complain about here. Freaky Flyers, overall, is top-notch in the sound department.
Since the game is designed to feel like playing a cartoon, voice acting is all-important. I'm happy to report that it may very well be the best thing about the game. You'll really feel like you're watching a professionally produced cartoon - that's how good these actors are. Nothing sounds forced or unsure. Best of all, each flyer has five or six lines they can speak during gameplay, rather than just within the cutscenes. This adds even more flavor to the gaming experience.
The soundtrack (minus that hideous title piece) is perfect as well. To begin with, there's lots of music - no recycled themes here. More importantly, though, almost all of the music is good - REALLY good. The instrumental pieces are well fit to each level, and there are even a few tracks with vocals. These songs, generally set to the mini-games, are my favorites. There are numbers dealing with farting banditos and flying monkeys. What more could anyone ask for?
Finally, the sound effects are sweet. Planes make whooshing, zooming noises worthy of Freaky Flyers' cartoon pedigree and the power-ups all sound cool when used. There's also ambient noise in this game, a rarity for a kart racer and a welcome addition. Mermaids laugh, sirens wail and the Hatfields and McCoys trade some really weird insults as your character flies overhead. All this adds up to an aurally stunning game.
Racing games, while usually rated decently in this department, rarely have more than a moderate amount of replay value before they become dull. Freaky Flyers is one of a handful of exceptions. Even for a dedicated gamer, playing through a single Adventure mode should take at least eight solid hours. Then there's the question of unlocking the dozens of characters... and then you'll have all of their adventure modes to play through. The hilarity of the cutscenes will make it worth your while even when you've gotten the elements of play down to an exact science. Adding races and dogfights to the mix doesn't hurt. Neither does a menu to access unlocked mini-games.
However, it's important to note that there is no three- or four-player option in this game. Since it's basically a kart racer, this lessens its value somewhat, even with the understanding that a four-player split screen race would be a visual nightmare. There's just nothing like playing this sort of game with three human opponents racing against you.
Overall, Freaky Flyers will keep most gamers happily occupied for months on end. This is due both to the number of characters available to be unlocked, and to the at times nigh-impossible difficulty of the game. Giving the characters stories within the game not only lends them more life than most racing game characters, it gives players a good reason to keep going until you've seen them all. The soundtrack and voice acting are superb, the graphics are a blast and the gameplay is innovative and relatively intuitive. The bottom line? If you're up for a tough new challenge and a genuinely funny game, Freaky Flyers is guaranteed to satisfy.