Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Retrospective: Shox (Ps2)

Back to business with the blog now after a few days of taking it easy. No idea still on the missing posts but luckily Andi archives his posts so I was able to repost it for him yesterday. I stopped doing that when I got the blogger app on my phone but I'm considering going back to the old way of writing up & saving via Wordpad and just copying it to Blogger in case it happens again. So whats today? Well I thought Id do something different. Last night I finished up Yakuza 3 & did a little bit more of Majin (might have a review for that on Sunday) but there was still a bit of time before I was gonna hit the sack so I fired up the Ps2 and jumped on an old favourite that I'm going to look at today. The game I'm going to look at isn't an eastern title, but it is Niche. I don't know of anyone else who's played it at least but its one that should be looked at if arcade fun is your forte - Shox

Story (Wikipedia)
What story? This is a racing game after all and unlike other titles in the EAsports BIG range, it has no discernible characters to attach to itself for any kind of story to develop. Wait! EA sports!? Whats going on here!?? If the mention of that is leaving you to gasp, then you obviously have not played any of the EAsports BIG range and have no idea what they entail. Except maybe you've played SSX Tricky, you trendy gamer you. While some of the BIG range was popular (SSX/NFL Street etc) most were only enjoyed by those that like the OTT arcade action. In a way the BIG range carved its own niche with titles like Shox, Freekstyle etc and I'm a big fan of those more niche titles that were released. Today's is probably the most unknown of all the games in the BIG range. I guess I should explain why it was so damn good...
 With this being a BIG title, the gameplay is firmly in the arcade camp. The handling is fairly tight and responsive while also being loose enough for those cool looking powerslides around corners once you master that technique. Courses are also well designed and come in a few different guises, Arid/Jungle/Ice, which provides a slightly different level of control over your vehicle. The cars (there are 24 in total spread across 4 classes) themselves also feature varying stats, Acceleration/Speed/Steering/Stability, so choosing the right one can sometimes be key. Sounds like your typical arcade racer so far? Where it comes into its own is its other facets of gameplay like Shox Zones & Gambling. The Shox zones are the games headline feature. Its basically a reward system based on checkpoints. Once you hit the first checkpoint, a bar at the bottom will gradually start to decrease through Gold, Silver and Bronze. If your fast enough to make it to the next checkpoint before the bar runs out of gold, you get more money with less being earned depending on how much longer you take. Getting a gold in all 3 sections within a track will net you the ShoXwave. Once activated a 'warped' effect will be unleashed just ahead of you and catching it before you hit the next checkpoint will earn you some big money. If you can keep riding the wave before each checkpoint so it doesn't dissipate, you can net some BIG $ in a race. Getting all 3 golds also unlocks a night variation of the track, doing this in a particular car for the track will also net you a boosted version of a car in your current class. What are you to do with all this money then? Buy cars! OR, maybe gamble for them? The gambling feature is another not seen in many other games that, while a little unfair at times, is great if you manage to win as it costs a fraction of what it does to buy the car. You pay a fee and are then plonked onto a short segment of the track to face-off against the car you want. The unfair aspect comes from the fact they get a head start!, but if you lose the fee is halved next time you try. These few extra features really add to the game and give it an addictiveness. 4 player split-screen is also thrown into the mix for those with multitaps. Hell, you can even split one controller between 2 people and do 4 players with only 2 controllers! How good is that?
The graphics are top-notch for the time, even still looking decent now. The tracks have a nice variety in there textures, which are also fairly well detailed, and the tracks are also populated with objects too. Hot air balloons float in the sky, Birds fly out of your way, Spectators cheer trackside, Helicopters fly low kicking dust towards you and all manner of other instances serve to distract you. The cars themselves are really well detailed and feature some of the best reflection mapping Id seen at the time. There is also real-time damage and all manner of dirt is kicked up by your car, also gradually builds up on your vehicle of choice too. When finishing a Shox zone the firework effect looks nice an the ShoX wave itself blurs your screen, dimming all noise so all you hear is a heartbeat. Nice SFX then. All of this is wrapped up in the usual BIG theme. Menus are clear & colourful and a pumping techno soundtrack accompanies the races, of course theres an announcer too. The announcer divides opinion somewhat. While most reviews state their annoyance, I find it to be really good. I think they forgot that, even though its a rally game, its first and foremost an arcade racer so its to be expected that an announcer will be present. Theres also a female announcer to add variety. The most surprising thing about this game on a technical level is that it runs at a rock solid 60FPS. It. Never. Drops. A. Frame. In keeping a stable framerate it ensures maximum responsiveness and a great sense of speed, even while everything looks so good. Why cant developers manage that these days? The only blemish is the odd moment of pop-in with background objects. While you'll probably not notice it when blazing around the tracks or riding the ShoXwave, it is there if you go looking for it.
I still find this game to be awesome. When it comes to arcade rally games, Its the best one from the last gen. I even prefer it to Sega Rally 2 on the Dreamcast (I could never get to grips with the change in how the game controlled compared to the original on the Saturn) It isn't really a difficult game to find. You should be able to pick it up very cheap from EBay easily enough, although if you come across it in the shops It can be had for about £1/£2. If your a fan of arcade racers or yearn for some pick up & play fun, this will fit the bill. While it was developed in the west (in the UK I believe) it almost feels like your playing a Sega Rally or Ridge Racer at times. Even though its not an Otaku game in a literal sense, it does seem to have the heart to be regarded as a comrade by those Japanese arcade racers of yesteryear. Give it a try, You wont be disappointed

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