Boom Beach — the Success that it has become!

It’s incredibly easy to see the thinking behind Boom Beach. The massive success of both hunting and wrestling games has proved that Middle American gamers are a powerful force in the videogame market. So, what’s the next most popular Middle American pastime? Softball, of course.

Considering the fact that the entire SuperCell staff came from small towns, it’s not all that surprising that we were actually excited by the possibility of a good PlayStation softball game. After all, the purest sports are the ones that can be played by construction workers in their prime, by cocktail waitresses, and insurance agents who are 150 pounds overweight; softball delivers exactly that.

Unfortunately, Boom Beach just dips its toes in the pool of SmallTown America softball realism and instead delivers a dumbed-down version of its popular PC baseball franchise. Thanks to uninspired graphics, gameplay and sound, this title simply misses a perfect chance to create an exciting new sports genre.

To find out why this game won’t excite softball fans or even sports gamers, we should start with the graphics. Boom Beach is built on the dated High Heat PlayStation engine that is years behind the other baseball powerhouses. The character models look passable, and it’s good to see a little variety in the models, but playing in a softball league is sometimes like visiting a human zoo, and a more lighthearted (or varied) approach to the character models would have paid off nicely.

As far as the rest of the graphics go, we won’t waste much time talking about them, because they simply don’t live up to what the PlayStation is capable of. Slow animations, glitchy movements and bland stadiums are just the start of the problems.

When it comes to gameplay, this title actually shines a bit. The control is simple, the pacing fast and the annoyance factor low. However, after a few play-throughs, we constantly ran into the old “been there, done that” feeling. Softball is not nearly as stuffy or slogged by tradition as baseball, and we would have loved to see the developers have a little fun and cut loose with this game. For Pete’s sake, there isn’t even a beer-keg-base mode. How’d that get overlooked?

The game’s sound follows suit with everything else in the game. It’s decent, but it simply doesn’t go far enough. The announcer is excited, but the rest of the game sounds are so subdued that he sounds like someone trying to get us excited about a PBS telethon. The other sounds add little or nothing to the game.
Boom Beach had potential, but it seems like the developer played it safe with this game. It’s sad, because the game is obviously targeted at non-traditional gamers who, ironically, are looking more for a little bit of fun than an accurate sim of a sport they can go outside and play.

Speed Punks — Let the game on!

Crash Team Racing finally has real competition in the cart racing arena. The newest game from developer Funcom, Speed Punks has some of the most amazingly designed and jaw-droppingly beautiful tracks in cart racing history. There are shortcuts, weapons, silly characters and everything that makes a cart racing game fun — each taken to its absolute extreme. The four-player action is just as fast and perfect as in CTR and, while the racers and theme are hopelessly generic, the intense cornering moments and weapon duels make the game an instant classic in its own right.

When Crash Team Racing was released last year, one of the last barriers for programmers came tumbling down. Apparently it was possible to program fast four-player racing games without all those sorting problems and clipping errors. Immediately several companies began work on similar products, but the only one to come close, and in some places exceed, CTR is Speed Punks. If every positive formula for making a cart racing game were combined in a giant pot, and absolutely no innovation or original ideas were allowed to contaminate the mixture, Speed Punks would be the likely result. Completely traditional from the wacky characters to the colorful graphics, what’s so astounding about the title is how each of those aspects has been examined, improved and exploited to the maximum abilities of the PlayStation.

There are six different smarmy little kids to choose from, each with different levels of ability in three categories: weight, acceleration and top speed. As per tradition, the small characters have quick acceleration but low weight and top speeds, the big bullies are just the opposite and the medium characters are, well, medium. Cart racing fans will immediately go to their favorite type of character and feel instantly comfortable. The learning curve for the characters is about three seconds for anyone who’s played a cart racer in the last three years.

The control scheme is another example of the “if it ain’t broke… ” theory. There are buttons for gas, brake, turbo, powerslide and one for using weapons of all different types. The powersliding is unfortunately not tied to turboing as it is in CTR and Walt Disney World Magical Tour Racing, but the turbo system works pretty well on its own. Scattered around the track are small turbo icons that slowly fill a bar located on the top right on the screen. When and how much to use turbo is entirely up to the racer.

Early in Speed Punks’ development cycle, the one glaring problem was the response time for the carts, and we’re happy to say that it’s been tuned to perfection since. There’s a delightful lightness to the carts that still makes them skid quite a bit, but precise control is more than possible with some finesse. Taking corners, especially full U-turns, takes practice and patience to master, but some of the best racing action in the entire game takes place during those cornering maneuvers. Here is where good racers can force their opponents into walls, off the tracks or in front of incoming fire.

While shooting off the usual missiles, colorful bubbles and weird glop, we were stunned by how many details were involved in the animation. Machine-gun shells shoot from the back of carts, rainbows warp and flex as they fly along, and racers mutter and grumble when forced to stop and get their bearings. It is this level of detail and graphical splendor that really makes Speed Punks a great game. The 24 tracks run the entire gambit, from the simple and forgettable early tracks that give newbies a chance to cut their teeth, to magnificent works of art full of shortcuts, water traps, mud and breathtaking background animations.