Wacky Races

Wacky Races, released for the NES around 1991, is actually a traditional run and jump platformer and not a racing game. This game is based on the Hanna-Barbera cartoon from the 60's with Dick Dastardly and especially Muttley taking center stage. The player controls Muttley as Dastardly sends him out on one mission or another.

The game is somewhat nonlinear, broken into three sets of stages (A, B and C). This might have been nice in a longer game, as it would let you jump to the part of the game that you were interested in, but Wacky Races is an extremely short game and you can run through every stage in about an hour.

Perhaps because of this "play any set of stages" mentality, and because they had children in mind, the difficulty is pretty minimal throughout and does not appreciably change when moving from one batch of stages to the next. The game's item system also allows you to be very overpowered quickly.

Your default attack is simply getting up close and biting an enemy, but there's really no reason to use this except to challenge yourself. As you collect dog bones, which are very numerous in every stage, you have the option of upgrading to a long range bark attack or to throw medium range bombs at enemies. Neither one has any ammo to use up, and they make the game a breeze to play through.

As a side note, the bark attack is rather funny because the animation is the word "Bow" (as in Bow- wow) flying across the screen as a projectile.

You start with three hearts, but again, that doesn't hold true for very long. By getting more of those dog bones, you can constantly increase your life bar to double that. This also restores you to full health. By keeping the heart powerup on standby (by not collecting any more bones) you can have it ready to go whenever your health runs low or during a boss battle. No enemy takes more than a single heart from you per hit.

As if all this weren't enough, the final powerup allows Muttley to glide when falling, just like in Mario 3. This negates whatever small danger existed from bottomless pits.

The bosses represent the greatest challenge in the game, but that isn't really saying much. Each one has a different pattern and environment in which to fight. One takes place on quicksand, another on ice, etc. and this helps to keep each one from blending together. But even if you find pattern memorization a little tricky, like I do, you'll find that the boss movements are laughably predictable. With a couple of attempts, it should be possible to beat almost all of them without taking a hit. If not, 1 ups are almost as plentiful as the bones.

On the plus side, the play control is top notch. You can't run, but the standard movement speed is quick. Jumping, aiming and dodging are super responsive and easy to learn. Like the early stages of a Mario game, it's really a pleasure to play, but it just never builds on that and is over before it begins.

The powerup menu could probably have used a brief explanation, but it just takes a little trial and error to figure it out.

The graphics are fairly generic, but the game is colorful, has no real slowdown to speak up, and has decent animation and a good variety of settings. I'm not very familiar with the cartoon this is based on, but it doesn't appear that the level design is based on anything that happened in the episodes, but rather on genre staples like desert world, snow world, cave, pyramid, etc.

The characters are all easily recognizable, even if you have only a passing familiarity with them. And there are a couple of short but amusing cut scenes to watch.

This game apparently had a fairly limited release and has become pretty rare, so I can't recommend purchasing the cartridge if you aren't a collector. But if you have access to it, you might want to spend a relaxing hour or so as Muttley.