Road Trip

I like quirky. Games like Disgaea and Samba de Amigo entertain me on a level beyond that of mere gameplay; they provide metaentertainment, if you'll allow me to join the legion of folks who misuse that prefix. (What, I was already a member? Shush.) There are a few games that I bought strictly because of their quirkiness--Irritating Stick comes to mind--where the gameplay ended up being, er, irritating enough that it sullied the unique experience. Oddity doesn't make up for a shoddy game.

I bought Road Trip because of its quirkiness. I knew that it was really a game in the Choro Q series, and while I don't like non-futuristic racing games at all, I had heard the mysterious phrase "CarPG" used to describe the experience. What red-blooded lover of RPGs and quirkiness is capable of passing up something so strange?

Thankfully, the gameplay experience holds up to the promise of quirk.

While the term "CarPG" is perhaps more clever than correct, Road Trip is a very involving adventure game where you play as, well, a car. The goal of the game is to become President of the world; to do that you must beat the President in a one-on-one race. Of course, he won't race you until you win the world Grand Prix, and you can't race in the Grand Prix until you have a Super A racing license, and . . .

You can see where this goes.

The game is effectively broken up into two parts. There are the races themselves, which are three-lap affairs that are over quite quickly. (If you've seen people do endurance races in Gran Turismo, you'll understand why I think this is a good thing.) When you're not racing, though, you're driving around the fairly expansive island "world" where the game is set, talking to other "people," playing minigames, finding Choro Q Coins, and taking photos.

To be honest, a lot of the adventure section is "tedious" in the traditional sense. Trying to find the various photo booths, trying to find the Choro Q coins, trying to find the right vehicle to talk to--these sorts of things are what we typically call "fetch quests." For some reason, though, Road Trip makes it entertaining. Perhaps it's the fact that you're driving around like a madman instead of plodding around on foot. Maybe it's because the physics engine is so goofy that you're waiting to see how it'll react when you take that hill at 180mph. I don't know what it is, really, but I know that quests which would make me roll my eyes in another venue were fun and exciting here.

Maybe it's because of the quirkiness?

The game has issues--the physics engine is completely nutso, and you'll find yourself airborne for the slightest reason; we're not talking "hopping off the ground" airborne, but "flying fifty feet in the air" breakdowns of normality. The world is too empty. You never see other cars tooling down the four-lane highway. The various character vehicles stay in their proscribed locations, cutting donuts and the like, and you seem to be the only person with a real free will in the game. There are tons of different car parts, but most of them are strict upgrades instead of difficult decisions--the only part I ever switched around much was the tires. The difficulty curve is also very skewed; you'll find yourself tearing through the early races trivially, and then the AI starts to annihilate you at the higher racing levels unless you have the most expensive parts. Most of the minigames are easy, but some of the stamp challenges (the Volcano, for example) are exercises in frustration.

These issues do not ruin Road Trip. There is so much to do in the game; you can entertain yourself with at least twenty different minigames, you can get teammates to help you in the races (and you must if you wish to play in the Grand Prix), you can collect the aforementioned coins and photos, you can just do the races and keep upgrading your vehicles, you can try to get all the stamps . . . I'm fairly sure that you can find something to do in Road Trip no matter what mood you're in.

[I have to admit, I never gave the vehicle upgrades much thought. Since you are the car, though, it's actually a little creepy. Are you ripping your still-beating "heart" out and replacing it with a new one? Is this what humanity is going to be like in the future, with pick-n-choose body shops? Am I reading too much into this game?]

It's good to know that sometimes quirk is still king. Or should I say President?

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Last Updated: 2004.08.15