Speed Kings
System: X-Box
Publisher: Acclaim   
Developer: Climax
Released: June 2003
Genre: Shooter
Capabilities: Memory Unit, Steering Wheel controller

Review Written: June 18, 2003

***************Gruel's 300th Review*******************

So far, only MotoGP has brought motorcycle racing on the Xbox, but now Acclaim’s Speed Kings takes it in a whole new direction. Instead of sim-heavy races found in THQ’s racer, this one takes it to the city streets with the intense races through traffic much like Acclaim’s other racing title, Burnout. Just imagine this as a videogame form of this years movie, Biker Boyz and you should get the idea. Interesting enough, Acclaim has Climax as the development team, who just happened to be the same people behind THQ’s MotoGP. Let’s see how this new racer stacks up.

If you happened to play the Xbox MotoGP titles you’re in luck because it’ll be a breeze to get the hang of the controls in here since both titles share the same developers. There are a few new elements of gameplay introduced into the extreme racing in Speed Kings. First off, tricks can be done by holding the L trigger and pressing a quick button sequence to perform stunts like a handstand or surfing. Next up is a nifty move called “powerdown” which is done with a flick of the Y button which allows you to slide your bike under obstacles such as semis and fallen trees. Performing tricks and powerdowns increases the “powerband” meter, once topped off it can be used with a press of the white button to unleash a nitrous boost to send a cycle topping speeds of 200mph.

So as you can see there are enough elements to distinguish Speed Kings from just another MotoGP. However, there was one thing I wish the developers would’ve implemented into gameplay, and that would be to do wheelies over vehicles. Instead, I just end up crashing into them if I try such a feat. It was a blast doing it in Road Rash 64 and I’ve been longing for other motorcycle racers to do it since. There are also a couple other gripes I have with this game engine. When I first read about having to avoid the police in Speed Kings I imagined cops on cycles chasing you down with their nightsticks much like in the Road Rash games, but what we get is just random cop cars in place and if you crash into them you get delayed five seconds in the race. Also, there’s a timer in races and you have to meet all the checkpoints in time so you don’t retire early. This gets quite frustrating whenever you don’t get there in time, and the whole timer aspect shouldn’t belong in motorcycle racing games period.

There are a decent amount of gameplay modes available in Speed Kings most of the good ones will require unlocking. License mode is a great tutorial which will familiarize you with the controls and get you performing tricks in no time. There’s a single race option where you can practice any course that you have unlocked. Most of the stages and bikes are unlocked in “meets” play where there are six meets, each one consisting of three races. There are optional goals to do in races called “respect tasks” which range from doing a wheelie for so many consecutive feet to not crashing at all in a race. Points are earned from completing the tasks which go towards respect bikes. Bikes can also be unlocked by getting record times on tracks in time attack mode. There is also a trick attack option where you get sets of five tricks to do in progressively decreasing time limits. Grand Prix is probably the best mode of the bunch but can only be accessed after you unlock all the bikes, it’s where up to four players can play in any race, but with no traffic and even more AI opponents against you.

Graphically, Speed Kings looks pretty damn good. All the motorcycles have crisp textures and come off looking like the real deal. The wide array of stages you race on range from the snowy mountains, to the heart of London. The levels look fantastic, and so does all the traffic you interact with. Things that plague most racers such as pop-up and fog are nonexistent. The highlight of the graphics has to be the awesome crashes that occur where you’ll see parts of your cycle flying everywhere once you collide head-on with a vehicle. Also, whenever a powerband is activated the screen does this killer blur effect to indicate your rapidly increasing speed. It is very reminiscent of whenever a street racer uses nitrous in the movie, The Fast and the Furious. As soon as you activate it you just got that feeling that Vin Diesel is looking down at you, proud as can be. 

Speed Kings would’ve been a perfect game for rock soundtrack, but I’m surprised there wasn’t any licensed music included at all since it seems to be the trend in racing games as of late. Instead there’s an original score of tunes which matches the type of stages the races are held in. There are fast paced rock riffs when blazing through the intense traffic of metropolitans, and laid back country tunes when you’re cruising through the countryside. I don’t know if the developers at Climax were teasing me or what, but the back of box boasts that Speed Kings has custom soundtracks support, but I looked high and low through every menu and couldn’t find it at all in the game. It is quite odd it’s not here considering both MotoGP titles Climax developed supported it.  

The sound effects are your usual fare, and if you played the pair of MotoGP titles, then be prepared to experience them all again here. There are a couple decent additions such as the slick effect used when activating powerbands and the crashes sound marvelous as well.  

There is a bit of stuff to unlock in Speed Kings, and you’ll be hard at it completing all the meets, earning respect points, and busting out new times so you can unlock all the bikes, stages, and extra modes of play. Split screen multiplayer is fun also, but it could’ve been much better if Acclaim would’ve included support for system link or online play via Xbox Live.  


Graphics: 8.8
Sound: 6.1
Gameplay: 7.2
Replay Value: 7.5

Overall: 7.4

The new direction of racing shown in Speed Kings is intense throughout, and while it may not have been the Road Rash I wanted it to be, it’s still quite enjoyable on its own. Lack of online options and a few annoying gameplay elements keep this title from being the next big thing, but a sequel can easily fix my gripes. If you’re a big fan of motorcycle racers (especially the MotoGP ones), then you should definitely give Speed Kings a try.

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