Written By Shaun McCracken

Acclaim and Climax may have had good intentions when they decided to create Speed Kings. Seeing how great Burnout 2 was, especially in it's fast-paced breakneck arcade design, why not try to re-create that formula again, this time using motorcycles. It looks like the two may have gotten ahead of themselves, because there's some key features not in Speed Kings that made Burnout fun. It's a far from terrible game, but when you look at the big picture when you're done with this, then looking at Burnout 2, you realize that they missed quite a few elements.

The one thing we should get out of the way is that while Speed Kings is quite similar to Burnout and Burnout 2, it's not done by the same developer. I've read many people posting in those "reader reviews" saying that SK was done by the Burnout developers. Nope, Criterion Games did Burnout, and Climax did this. Right there should give you a reason why this game is a bit lacking. Even though Acclaim was the publisher for both, each had a different developer. After playing this game, I think Criterion could have done much better.

Okay, seeing how I've been saying that SK is similar to Burnout, lets see why. Both feature fast, arcade paced racing. Both encourage dangerous driving. Both have a boost feature. Both have some detailed crashes (Burnout 2 does it better). But that's where it ends. I think the only thing different between the two is the type of vehicle you drive. Here, you drive on speed bikes, which you now have to deal with a new handling scheme. Racing in SK is not as easy as it was in Burnout, but not task-inducing. You will have to time your braking and turning much sooner to get around corners. You can't just drift or slide through them. The boosting, while somewhat similar in design, is not just as well implemented here as it was in Burnout 2. In Burnout 2, you can link your boosts, or "Burnouts" to keep the speed going. In SK, you can't, since your "Powerband" relies on stunts that need to be executed, and it's a bit hard to do when you're speeding. Also, if you succeed in using all of your boost without crashing, you don't get a refill (in Burnout 2, your meter fills halfway, and with skillful driving during the boost, it will fill the rest of the way for a whole new boost). That's also one of the other problems with the boost system in this game. You can't get anything by driving on the wrong side of the road or sliding, you need to do tricks. That's a bit tough to do when you hit an area without much straight parts of road.

If it's not enough that Climax "borrowed" many elements from Burnout, they also took something from ATV2, which was released five months before this game. In SK, you can kick opponents off their bikes, which can fill up your boost meter a little. But you may be doing it more often to starve off the AI, as they almost ask to be knocked off when they approach you. Say if you're in first, then the AI opponent in second tries to get ahead of you. He'll do that, but then it seems like the opponent comes back to you. That's not the only weird AI oddity about the game. The traffic, which you would think be out of the way, can be erratic. On one course, there was one car that cut me off, then started swerving all over the road. What the hell was that about? Finally, the games "events", such as rock slides or a semi in the middle of the road, are scripted, not random. That means on the same course, on the same lap and the same place, that one particular event will happen. Why not make it happen randomly, so you don't expect it?

The visuals confuse me a bit here. Why is it that ATV2 had some fairly nice graphics, textures and frame rate, and here it's a jumbled mess? Some courses do look nice, but some have bright color or even pastel color schemes and blurry textures. Then there's the frame rate, which chugs when there are too many opponents on screen. A game like this should run fine without frame rate problems on the Gamecube, especially when some objects seem blocky and the texture resolutions remain pretty low. The frame rate is better in time trial modes, where there is no traffic or opponents, but why should it only happen in that instance? If the frame rate problems weren't enough, there's also quite a bit of flickering in the shadows. I can't figure out why Climax, which has done pretty well with the graphics in MotoGP 2 for the X-Box, crapped out here. They know they could do better, so why didn't they?

The audio is a mixed bag. The sound effects are adequate, but the music sucks. Some courses have some pretty weak music, I'm talking elevator music for crying out loud. Was a licensed soundtrack too much to ask for? As for the sound effects, the motorcycles can be a bit irritating after awhile, since they sound pretty loud.

Final Thought

I wanted to really like Speed Kings. I was hoping for something as good as Burnout 2. But, I suppose I had high expectations. It's not a terrible game, but I was able to pick out so many instances in the game where it made Burnout 2 so much better. But then I realize that there are hardly any racing games of this type on the system. On the Gamecube, if a racer involves motorcycles, it's usually dirt bikes for off road racing. But we really have nothing with speed bikes. I would say if you're desperate for something like that, then perhaps Speed Kings isn't a bad way to go. But if you own a PS2 or an X-Box, then you do have other choices. This game could have been a lot worse, but it could have also been a lot better.




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Speed Kings is not even a decent ripoff of the Burnout games, which were also published by Acclaim. Why was this even made?

Wiping out on a motorcycle


Burnout 2: Point Of Impact

Burnout 3: Takedown

Burnout Revenge

Moto GP 3 (Xbox Version)

2003-2006 SPM

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