Tokyo Xtreme Racer was the first game I played when I got home from picking up my Dreamcast on 9/9/99. Leading up to the launch, I was blown away by the screen shots from the magazines (remember when we got gaming news from magazines?). I browsed gaming forums for nuggets of game play impressions from those lucky enough to have an imported Dreamcast and the game. But alas, after returning from Best Buy on 9/9/99, the game was finally mine. Did it live up to my high expectations?
Tokyo Xtreme Racer, known as Shutokou Battle in Japan, focuses on the illegal street racing on the Shuto Expressway in Tokyo, Japan. While street racing games are the norm now, this game came out 2 years prior to The Fast and the Furious changed our view on cars forever.
Instead of racing on race tracks, the action takes place on Route C1, an 8.9 mile loop of highway. And instead of having a set section of road to race on, you get to race wherever you want, whenever you want. When you are ready to race someone, you flash your brights, and the race is on.
During the race, you and your opponent each have a life bar at the top of the screen. As you pull away from your opponent, their life bar starts depleting, the bigger your lead, the faster it drains. Once it has been completely depleted, you win the battle and receive money. This is my favorite part about Tokyo Xtreme Racer, each time you challenge a racer, it's a completely different experience. No race will be the same distance nor the same time. I've literally had 4 mile races with opponents as we would each struggle with different sections of road, passing each other a few times.
When you first start the game, you have 25,000 CP and get to choose from some of the slower vehicles in the game (Toyota Corolla [AE86], Nissan Silvia S13 and S14, Nissan 240SX, Honda Civic, and Acura Integra). Depending on how much money is left over after you first purchase, you can also buy some upgrades for your whip. You are then dropped into the CI Loop with around 7 fresh rivals wondering around awaiting your challenge.
As you defeat rivals, you earn money (CP) which can then be used to upgrade your ride. The upgrades includes Engine, Suspension, Transmission, Chassis, Muffler, Wheels, and Aero. As you earn money throughout the game, you need to be constantly leveling up each aspect of your vehicle. As you level up your parts, new options open up in the settings to adjust gear ratios, ride hide, spring and dampers stiffness, and brake balance.
The opponents in Tokyo Xtreme Racer are divided into gangs. After defeating all of the rivals in a gang, the leader will challenge you to a race. After defeating him (or her), new rivals will start appearing when you head back out to the highway. On the left hand side of the screen is the map, with little dots blinking around the loop. The light blue dots are new rivals you have not encountered, the purple dots are rivals you have lost to, and the yellow dots are defeated rivals.
After defeating enough rivals, one of the bosses will challenge you, known as the 4 Devas. The 4 Devas are the cream of the crop, featuring the best cars in the game, as well as the best artificial intelligence. After defeating all 4 Devas, the credits roll, but allude to more challenges. This is where the second half of the game starts. It's about this point you need to purchase a new car.
The remaining cars are: Toyota MR2, Toyota Supra, Toyota Altezza (where the clear "Altezza" after market tail lights originated from), Toyota Crown Mark II, Nissan Skyline (R32, R33, and R34), Nissan 300ZX, Nissan Cedric, Acura NSX, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo (III and V), Mazda RX-7 (2nd and 3rd gen), Subaru Impreza, and Mitsubishi Eclipse (3rd and 4th gen). Additionally, there are a few unlockable cars including the Honda S2000, Nissan Silvia S15, and Porsche 930.
The controls are a bit slippery, and it's easy to smash into the walls. As you increase speed, the controls actually get tighter and it's easier to maneuver through the traffic. The upgrades also make a big difference with the cars handling, as you would expect. Thankfully, Tokyo Xtreme Racer doesn't punish you too bad, hitting the wall only scrubs about 10 mph off your speed.
What really made Tokyo Xtreme Racer so special back in the day were the graphics. Genki was obviously proud of their game engine, the disc for the game has what appears to be a speedometer pointing to 60, but upon closer inspection, it states FPS (frame per second) rather than MPH. Today, it still looks terrific. The sense of speed is convincing, especially as the game progresses and you start reach 160 and 170 miles and hour. When four cars are on the screen at once, the frame rate does drop, but it isn't terribly frequent.
Also excellent are the textures around the track. They still look sharp and detailed. Some of the early Dreamcast game's textures haven't aged as well, looking muddy and blurry. What hasn't aged as well are the car models themselves. They look a bit blocky today, though it's still obvious what each car is supposed to be. The faked effects, like reflection affects, light streaking, and lens flares still hold up well, even though they aren't real time.
The music sounds well enough, though the same songs repeat over and over between when you are driving around, and when you are actually in a race. Strangely, the replays is where all the unique music tracks are. All of the Japanese J-pop tracks complete with Japanese lyrics are still here. It's too bad this stuff isn't played while you are actually racing as most gamers will never hear any of it.
This was my favorite racing game of all time, until 2005 when Project Gotham Racing 3 was released on the Xbox 360. Looking back, Tokyo Xtreme Racer isn't as great as it once was. The car models are weak and the controls are unique to say the least. But the game is still a blast. Each race is a unique challenge, the sense of speed is sensational, and the games difficulty ramps up at the perfect pace. The fact that they are still making Tokyo Xtreme Racer games, most recently Import Tuner Challenge on the 360, is a testament to how awesome this franchise is.
Overall, Tokyo Xtreme Racer is a great game. The game's sense of speed is excellent, and the game play is exciting. The music still holds up well, and cars like the Mazda RX-7, Toyota Supra, and Acura NSX will never get old. This title doesn't blow me away like it used to, but it's still great fun. Recommended.
Graphics 8/10 - Great sense of speed
Sound 6/10 - Fun Japanese music
Game play 8/10 - Interesting battle system
Overall 8/10 - Fun, if flawed, racing game