This is an arcade-styled racer with a platform ‘feel’. You play one of 3 beach bums in a quest to win the heart of a beach babe. The lasses, of various ethnic backgrounds, are all suitably stacked and large-eyed. They are only impressed by cars and money, which means you have to drive a beach buggy around in a stunt stylee, collecting jewels and cash in order to win their favours. Sounds a bit desperate to me.
Each arena forces you to race around pulling stunts and picking up goodies against the clock. Classic platform pick-ups like time freezes, giant gold coins and points multipliers hover in mid-air for you to smash into. As well as the pick-ups some super stunts can make your air-time slower, longer and higher, which gives you more time to pull tricks. The mission critical pick-ups, however, are the giant diamonds.
Diamonds can be seen in various odd places, some incredibly easy to get to, and others in odd-ball locations. At first they seem inaccessible, and only as you learn about the course does it become apparent. Although there are few levels in total, each level has some depth – it doesn’t open up straight away.
In a standard progression for this sort of game, you are rewarded by unlocking new arenas. Each one has a minimum point threshold which is set high enough to be interesting – impossible to reach at first, but looking more achievable with every round. The game difficulty, in fact, is in the sweet spot just short of frustration: unreachable areas can be a*aulted, schemed against, conquered. But once the diamond-collecting is done, the trick-styling can tire, especially since the stunts are pretty bland.
Stunts are mostly combinations of rolls, loops, twists and spins, and that’s it. They rarely live up to their mighty names, like Tsunami and Volcano. Given the well-animated drivers, who can be seen yanking on the steering wheel and looking back to reverse, it’s a shame they are forgotten when it’s time to do a stunt.
The courses are quite engaging, offering a few good run-ups, rich seams where you can rack up many combo points, and treacherous bits that will drop you in the sea or force you to make a long recovery to the same ground. The time limit can seem a bit harsh when this happens.
The buggies, to my surprise, react quickly to keyboard input. Turning is tight enough to swivel around an icecream planted in the sand. The only problem on a keyboard is you can’t mash too many keys at once, which is a handicap for a game that demands combos.
The “babes” demand combos, too, as well as gold and gems. Your chosen babe will watch over you inside a giant gold ring, upon which will appear the diamonds you collect. As you attempt and fail to grab some air and land a trick, the buxom babe will lean out of her observation hole, then shrink back and act out “despair”. They all sound like female impersonators, and annoying ones at that. As you buzz around trying to gather the goods, they may screech “I want DIAMONDS!” in a grating falsetto. It’s about as sexy as a beached whale.
The sound mix on the whole is a bit rough. The engine noise is OK and each buggy has a distinctive timbre, but when your rider yells and whoops it sounds like somebody cut in very loudly.
How does Beach King behave on lower spec machines? Not too badly. Specs slightly better than the minimum give you a few slow-downs but acceptable resolutions. The voice samples slow things down the most, which is another black mark against them. It’s probably best to stick with 1Ghz or higher.
The graphics shouldn’t be too processor-heavy, and at first glance could be mistaken for a cleaned up N64 game. This has as much to do with the general styling as the individual graphical elements. It looks retro, both purposefully and not. Textures are off-the-peg material, and the edges of the arenas are primitive and mucky, with big grainy brown patches stretching all around. Generally the lighting is a bright, blanket wash-out. Coloured, transparent tyre tracks trace through the air after a stunt, then fade away. I wasn’t sure if they were there by design, but they do add to the garish, cartoony feeling.
The cars’ handling also feels “fun” rather than realistic, but the physics are more than acceptable. Navigating over the arena, you’ll find most surfaces are fairly blocky and angular, but the ramps, spirals and launch pads are wide enough and properly designed for keyboard stunt driving.
This game, in all fairness, deserves to be played with a game pad and on a console. In fact a PS2 version is also being released. Beach King on the PC does an OK job of bringing the spirit of living-room gaming to the beige box of bits. Yet the one thing a PC can offer more readily – multiplayer gaming over LAN or web – is criminally neglected. Multiplayer may have added a lot more to the game depth, and the amount of time you’re likely to spend playing it.
As to how derivative it is – well, it is, very. But no matter how much it has lifted from other games, Beach King Stunt Racer has true beach bum spirit; it wants to get by on the bare minimum and take it easy. At the same time it wants you to lower your expectations, relax and have a little fun. A little fun is exactly what it delivers.