Arthur! Ready to Race Review

If you grew up in the late 90’s you almost certainly encountered Arthur, or at least its merchandise. I wouldn’t say it was massively popular but without question PBS pushed hard, and it showed. With Arthur toys abound, it was only a matter of time before video games were published. Today we’ll be looking at Arthur! Ready to Race, released in 2000 for the Sony Playstation.

Arthur! Ready to Race is an overly simplistic game aimed directly at kids. The game takes place in an impressively rendered 3D version of Elwood City. Even though it’s just a small block of town, the way it’s laid out reminds me of River City Ransom’s town portions. Other than missions and interiors this is where you’ll spend most of your short time in the game.

Players take control of the title character throughout a meager two levels of game play. Within each level there are only four missions where you’ll be tasked with collecting tomatoes for Muffy, walking through a cemetery to collect something Binky has misplaced, chasing your dog Pal and finding your baby sister Kate in the library. Upon completion of these missions Arthur is given parts to help build his dream soap box derby car. Once all of the parts have been collected you will take part in a race with the newly built car, after which you’ll redo all four missions and build a slightly more impressive car.

Building Arthur’s soap box derby car isn’t the only thing you can do, but it’s really the only goal that matters to complete the game. To needlessly flesh out missions you can also collect Bionic Bunny cards, coins to purchase a handful of additional (useless) parts for the derby car or CDs you can listen to in the candy shop. Also strewn about Elwood City you may run across lost pets and parcels to return to the pet shop and post office for a small coin reward.

To be honest I wasn’t expecting much from this game, but even so I still felt underwhelmed with how easy everything is. The only button’s you’ll be using are the D-pad and X (and circle of you buy the horn), unless you want to check the progress of your car, in which case you can press Start and the pause screen turns into a blueprint of what parts you currently have. Speaking of screens this game has a ton of loading screens, and I do mean tons. Loading times don’t take very long but almost everything has to be loaded in and that requires yet another loading screen.

I never found any of the missions to be overly complicated, rather they added arbitrary distractions in the form of collectables to throw you off a bit from the main goal. Even so you can do the missions as many times as you want, even if you’ve already completed them, if nothing more than to just collect coins to buy the aforementioned useless parts for your derby car or to go back and collect the other meaningless Bionic Bunny cards you may have missed.

The 3D environment looks really nice, as do the 3D rendered characters, especially considering this was the original Playstation. Somehow they managed to rendered round objects in this game and it still looks very impressive to me. Some of the interiors, such as the Pet shop and Post office are all prerendered and look absolutely dreadful compared to the free roaming sections. It seems as though the animated series voice actors did the voices for the game as well, which I’m sure a fan of that era of the show would be pleasantly surprised.

Throughout the game I found it a bit off putting that Arthur had to explain everything to me and that everything was overly simple. The only time I found even a little resistance was collecting tomatoes for Muffy, and that was only because some tomatoes simply wouldn’t allow themselves to be plucked from their vines. For such a simple game you would think that this bug wouldn’t be present in the release, but it is and it’s only slightly annoying. I wouldn’t say I hated the game, it’s just this game wasn’t aimed at a grumpy 35 year old man like myself.

Posted October 15th, 2018

Snap-On Presents Gearhead Garage Virtual Mechanic

Before mechanic simulation games were released annually, there was Gearhead Garage Virtual Mechanic, presented by tool giants Snap-On. As much as I really want to review this game I simply can not get it to run on any of my computers. I’ve tried 32bit Windows 7 with compatibility modes, I’ve messed around with virtual machines and nothing seems to work. Despite my inability to play through the game again and feel as though I can write an adequate review I still want to talk about the game.

Back in 2002 Walmarts weren’t all flashy super centers and my favorite Walmart, at the time, was in White Lake Michigan. Back then the electronics department was a small section in the center of the store that was stocked, sometimes overstocked, with no real sense of organization. I remember often playing the N64 display because I never owned an N64 of my own. The PC games were often just stacked up on a shelf, and some strewn about the floor. That’s where I found Gearhead Garage in a double pack with Sprint Car Racing, but it was Gearhead Garage that piqued my interested.

When I got home I installed the game and prepared to see what I had just bought. I will say that even at the time I felt the graphics were a bit dated, they didn’t look horrible but they just looked a bit dated. (I didn’t know the game was three years old at that point). In the game I took the role of a mechanic accepting jobs to repair or fully customize vehicles for customers, which I instantly loved.

The level of detail blew me away. Again the textures weren’t that great but you could take nearly everything off the vehicle in a realistic way and either repair, scrap or buy brand new replacement parts to put it all back together again. After a certain number of customers were appeased you were then able to purchase vehicles at auction to either repair and resell or to park out in the garage and show off. By today’s standards of games such as Grand Theft Auto or even Forza, Gearhead Garage wouldn’t be able to survive, but for its day there seemed to be endless fun to be had.

My only real complaint about Gearhead Garage is that I always hit a point where no matter what I did I couldn’t progress. Within the game your garage kind of ranks up and you will no longer have customers coming to you to earn money. Your only way of gaining income, and therefore unlocking further progress in the game, is to buy cars at the auction and resell them. No matter how hard I tried I could never earn enough money to progress, and so I just stopped playing the game. It wasn’t until many years later that I found out there was a patch that was suppose to help overcome this, but even after patching the game I couldn’t progress.

This many years on I still believe Gearhead Garage is an amazing game, dated graphics but still an amazing game. Oddly enough their website is still operational: There you can find out all the information about the game, download the patch and get some tips for how to play the game.

Although many people may feel the current mechanic sims are a kind of spiritual sequel or reboot of Gearhead Garage, there actually was meant to be a Game Boy Advance sequel called Gearhead Garage Adventure. In the game the player would pretty much do exactly what they did in the original, albeit this time you were given a small adventure course to race after you built a car, but sadly the game was never officially finished. Will Gearhead Garage ever see a real reboot or sequel? I highly doubt it, but at the very least I would love to see a version that works on modern PCs so I could at least play the game I loved so much again.

Posted October 8th, 2018

Peripheral Vision: Starmaster Joystick for the NES

Even though I’m not a fan of joystick controllers they keep showing up in my collection. Not that I really use them, it’s just that I like to collect peripherals for the classic consoles. Today we’ll be testing out the Starmaster joystick for the NES.

My first impression of the Starmaster was that the plastic feels cheap. It doesn’t feel like I’m going to break the joystick off or anything, but compared to the Beeshu Zinger the Starmaster just feels a bit cheaper. When it comes to turbo buttons and the flexibility of using it right and left handed, the Starmaster comes up short. Something else that comes up short is the exceedingly short cable, seemingly measured from the notoriously short Famicom controllers, rather than an NES controller.

For testing the Starmaster I used Galaxian and Super Mario Bros. The buttons were very responsive, but I did have some issues with holding right and needing to wiggle the joystick a little to reengage that direction. I must admit that a joystick really does bring something different to Galaxian and makes me enjoy it more that just a controller. As for Super Mario Bros. the joystick didn’t inhibit my ability to play, it’s just not what I’m familiar with.

To its credit, the Starmaster does have clicky inputs, which I find satisfying to use. The downfall of those clicky inputs is that they’re merely convexed pieces of metal that, once pressed, concave to finish the circuit on the board. The real problem came when I took the controller apart to fix one of these contacts and noticed they were merely taped to the board, and over the many years of this joystick’s life the tape had perished allowing the piece of metal to move.

Given how old the Starmaster is I can forgive the few problems I’ve had with it. The Starmaster may have been a good joystick for shooters back in its day, but over the years its build quality hasn’t really held up. With much better options out there I don’t see the Starmaster as being very good, unless you’re just a no frills type of person, in which case this joystick may be right up your alley.

Posted October 1st, 2018