Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A Second Look @ Ferrari Challenge Trofeo Pirelli (Wii)

(Images taken from IGN/GameSpy, because I couldn't find any good pics anywhere else.)

Years from now, when the Nintendo Wii is looked back upon, it may be remembered for at least one thing: the insane amount of shovelware that was forced upon it during its life cycle. Carnival games, mini-games, cart racers, horse simulators, fashion design games... baby simulators... (shivers). It should, for those of us who have seen it, call to mind the scene in Back To The Future Part II where Marty uses an arcade game's light gun expertly only to have one of the kids exclaim that its a baby's toy. The Wii was not treated very kindly due to some companies developing games for quick cash as though it was just a toy. So once in a blue moon a game came along that should have caused people to take notice of the system. Its also known that the Wii isn't a hardcore gamer's console, that much is obvious, so to find a sim racer that's both competent and has depth is something very rare and unexpected. Something that Ferrari Challenge Trofeo Pirelli has and does well. It may not be the same high quality title that was released for the PS3 at the same time, but what it does given the system's limitations goes above and beyond being labeled as a toy.

Featuring the six game modes of Quick Race, Arcade, Challenge, Trophy, Time Trial, and a Tutorial, which takes you around Ferrari's personal test track of Fiorano Circuit, there is more than 60 hours of gameplay for a sim racing enthusiast to take on. Quick Race allows you to jump in and test your mettle against AI opponents on a track and a car of your choice. Arcade is a long bout through four tracks with four different levels of difficulty; quitting out of this mode will restart you from the very beginning. Challenge takes you on a world tour through three international championships using the F430 for the entire duration. Trophy is the same as Challenge but you can select your own car instead. Credits are earned at the end of each race, regardless of mode while the cars are unlocked by completing events in the Challenge and Trophy Modes. There are a multitude of cars through Ferrari's 60+ year history so any enthusiast will appreciate the wide variety of Italian Stallions to choose from.
Instead of laps, each race is timed. This time can be adjusted in the options but after a 15-minute race, plus qualifying lap times, that can feel like enough for one sitting. There are only 14 tracks to choose from and the locales are from all over the world with recognizable names such as Silverstone, Paul Ricard, and Mugello. Sim racing fans will have no problems navigating the familiar turns on most of these.

Control is important when it comes to racing games and you would think that the Wiimote alone isn't very accommodating. With just the Wiimote, you can use either the tilt gestures or the d-pad to steer. This doesn't handicap the game at all and at first may be frustrating to control but after a few laps you'll find yourself getting used to the tilt method. Using the nunchuk may be the better option as it can feel more familiar to another console's controller. Weather has a great effect on gameplay as it can reduce your speed and make you lose up to an entire lap's worth of time; where normally you could push your car's limits of braking and steering, you have to remember that slick roads do play a part.
The Wii is also known for catering to arcade racing games, or those that don't use real world physics. The game can be adjusted to suit an arcade gamer's first time with a sim game up to a professional level of aptitude with adjustable levels of the Anti-lock Brakes System, Traction Control, Stability Control, and even a suggested racing line. When lowered, the first three can add bonuses to the credits payout at the end of a race. There are no upgrades to worry about, each car is a stock model to ensure each racer has a fair chance.
Opponent AI seems to drive on rails and they rarely make a mistake, it may seem to add a sense of professionalism but only if seen that way. When they do make a mistake, such as improper braking or taking a corner too wide, they're programmed to just get back on track and keep driving. Some moments opponents will actually get out of your way to let you pass rather than trying to block you, and on some rare occasions they aren't afraid to try and push you out of their way. Aside from these moments they can come off as lifeless.
Challenge cards, which are akin in-game achievements, are awarded for completing specific goals within the game such as getting a record lap, driving a certain number of miles, etc. These cards can be used in an in-game card game simply called "Challenge Cards." In this mode, you're given a random card of a Ferrari with several stats displayed underneath. These stats are compared against your opponent's card and whichever card has the better stat wins their opponent's card. Its not fun or interesting at all since the computer seems to know what you're selecting and will take several of your cards before you even have the chance to select again. Quite honestly, its a useless thing to play because you will lose every time.
Sadly Ferrari Challenge on the Wii is a single-player only game with couch co-op nowhere in sight. It probably could have benefited from having some special modes with multiple players and something else to do besides Challenge Cards because racing alone isn't very fun after a while.
The overall feel of the game has an air of professionalism with a sense that if you want to push the track's limits you will get bit. If you want to push your car's limit just to knock off a few milliseconds from your total track time then you will find a way to do it. 

Graphics are a weak point and could have used a lot of sprucing up. There are reflection problems on the car surface when near the corner markers, such as track borders reflecting on top of the car, and the full extent of the damage is limited to the bumpers and hood falling off. The cars, both in the menu and during play, look plastic with dull surfaces and inaccurate light reflections. Any vinyls added in the custom vinyl editor are badly muddled during racing, but the fact that the game has a vinyl editor should make that forgivable. Regardless of these faults there is a great sense of speed with track recreation being very accurate. No breaks, glitches, invisible walls, or disappearing walls shows that care was put into some parts of the game's graphics more than others, its not hard to notice these errors but it shouldn't detract from the racing.

A licensed soundtrack featuring 20 songs from E.S. Posthumus, Deerhunter, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and more span several genres so you won't have to worry about listening to an orchestral score the whole time. If the music does get irritating, you can always turn the volume down and enjoy the roar/buzz of the engines. Each engine sound was replicated directly from the real world counter-part and each car produces their own distinct tone of power. Gear heads and Ferrari fans should appreciate the extent of the effort that went into making each individual car sound as it should. Crowd announcers on each track speak the native language of the location; crowds cheer as you pass by and there's always some moron blaring an air horn whenever you approach. It gives you a feeling of "It's race day!"

Regardless of its shortcomings, Ferrari Challenge remains a double-edged sword. On one side you have a great sim racing game with depth, a sense of speed, and great attention to Ferrari details. Real effort was put into this title to make it stand out on a console that's not familiar with sim racing games. On the other there's not much challenge to it with no permanent and performance-altering damage, no heavy penalty system, and a brainless AI that leaves a hollow feeling of accomplishment that's only quelled by the fact that System-3 knew what console this was going to be on, so they held back on putting any interesting game mechanics into the mix. Its hard to compare Ferrari Challenge against the other sim racing games on the Wii when there are only two or three others out there. Its not the best racing game ever made, but it is one of the better ones on the Wii. It is steady, honest racing between cars of a world-class level. It doesn't need gimmicks to stand out and the Ferrari name is handled with care. So if you've been looking for a reason to play your Wii again, Ferrari Challenge Trofeo Pirelli is worth your time even if you're not a die-hard sim racing fan. 

Keep Playing.

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