Over the years, Rare has been known for games featuring not just their very own characters, such as Banjo and Kazooie, Kameo, and Conker, but also games based on existing franchises. Jeopardy, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and perhaps most famously, James Bond (Goldeneye 007) are among those licenses that have games that were developed by Rare. Between 1999 and 2001, Rare had the rights to develop games featuring the popular Disney characters, as well. The first title to result from this deal was Mickey’s Racing Adventure, released in 1999 for the Game Boy Color. This was a game that attempted to blend racing and adventure elements together. I am here to tell you why this game can be fun, but is also a bit difficult to get into until you are used to it for a while.
Racing games tend to be not very strong on story, when there is a story at all, and this game is no exception. Basically, Pete, one of Mickey’s greatest foes, has sent his look-alike minions to wreak havoc by swiping all of the parade floats in Mickey’s home town. The only way to get them all back is if Mickey and his friends succeed in defeating Pete and his crew in a variety of races throughout the land. I guess the story is there merely as an excuse to have several classic Disney characters go racing. Diddy Kong Racing likewise did not have a strong story, but at least it gave its characters an urgent motivation to go racing: namely, ridding Timber’s Island of the evil Wizpig before he could cause any further malicious trouble.
Throughout the game, you will go racing as various Disney characters on over twenty different tracks scattered throughout six worlds (five worlds of four races each, plus one world in which the final race takes place). Most of the worlds can only be visited by one character. At first, you can only control Mickey, but you can unlock Minnie, Daisy, Donald, and Goofy, and take them to their very own tracks. In most races, your mission is to beat three of Pete’s henchmen to the finish line in a three-lap race. It is not always that simple, and for those not familiar to racing in an isometric view, it takes a while to get used to it. Once you adjust to it, however, you can be sure that you are in for some frantic racing action. Each world ends with a single lap race against Pete himself, which gets tougher as you progress through the game.
As you race, you can find wrenches that, when collected, will give you a speed boost, which unfortunately lasts a couple of seconds and may not necessarily be enough to put you closer to the lead. Other than the wrenches, no other items can be found on the tracks. Instead, they are obtained another way, on which more later. If you manage to place first or second in a race, you can win Disney Dollars that can be used to buy upgrades and a Mickey token that acts like the Golden Balloons in Diddy Kong Racing in that they can unlock other tracks if you have collected the right amount of them. An interesting note is that the tracks will have you riding in a car, a boat, or sometimes, both, but unlike Diddy Kong Racing, you cannot choose which vehicle to use on any one track.
Just getting to the tracks is not that simple, as you will need coins to access each world. This is where the adventure portion of the game comes into play. In the game’s hub world, you will walk around with Mickey and his friends searching for the Railroad Pennies needed to board the train and travel to every world. Luckily, the pennies are mostly found out in the open, though each of them can only be obtained by a specific character. As long as you have enough pennies, you can buy a ticket and travel to a new world. There are plenty of other things that you can, and in most cases must, do in the hub world, as well.
For example, there is a garage in which you can purchase upgrades from Ludwig von Drake. The aforementioned Disney Dollars, which are earned from winning races and can also be picked up from off the ground in some places, can buy you some upgraded cars, and after purchasing those, you can also buy upgrades to improve their top speed, acceleration, and handling. Upgrading your car is imperative, as the later races are tough, if not impossible, to place first in without them. Obtaining the amount of money needed to buy each upgrade can take a while, and slows the action down quite a bit, which makes the game a bit monotonous as a result. What makes it more annoying at times is that Pete’s minions are running around the map, and bumping into them results in you losing one of your hard-earned dollars. It is best to stay out of your way, lest you find yourself one dollar short of affording a vital upgrade.
Remember when I told you that you had to obtain some items to be used on the track another way? Well, that way is with the aid of Magica de Spell, the powerful sorceress. She can sell you spells that you can then use on the tracks, from weapons to speed boosts. There are some catches, however. First, you will need to win races (new or old) before you can pick up the spell. Second, you can gain the magic to use them only after completing at least one lap. Once you get used to using spells this way, though, you can use them to your advantage as you attempt to win every last race.
In addition to the pennies, you will also find nuts scattered throughout the overworld. They can be given to Chip and Dale, who reside in a tree house. By trading nuts with them, you can gain keys that will unlock other buildings. One key opens up the Post Office, in which you can activate cheats and send Pluto to other lands (more on that later). Another key unlocks the Print Shop, where you can print out pictures of Mickey and his friends if you have a Game Boy Printer. The last key opens up Mickey’s Garage, but to win it, you must win various races within a certain amount of time. Inside the garage, you will discover the Hovercar, which has great acceleration and a high top speed, but somewhat lousy handling. Nevertheless, you will want to obtain the Hovercar if you wish to win the later races.
To progress throughout your adventure, you will also need to play a variety of mini games. The first time you travel to each world, you must slide panels across the screen so that the train can hit the switches needed to open the gate leading to the world. If the train falls off the track, you must restart the puzzle. With every switch it hits, it speeds up, forcing you to work a little faster to keep in on the tracks. Once you beat each train puzzle, you can simply travel to the worlds without redoing them. Also, prior to every race with Pete, you have to solve a slide puzzle and recreate his face. These puzzles get trickier every time, but they are quite manageable.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Pluto’s mini games. Unlike the other characters, Pluto cannot go racing. Instead, he must solve a series of puzzles (accessed by gaining items from Pete and using them at the Post Office or by digging in certain spots in the overworld) that involve digging underground to collect bones and, sometimes, defeat Butch the bulldog. Often, Pluto can cause rocks and other things to fall, and if they fall on top of him, or if he runs into Butch, the game is over. If, on the other hand, Pluto manages to collect all of the bones or defeat Butch and escape within the time limit, he will be victorious and, eventually, gain the golden bones needed to enter the final race. However, the controls can be unresponsive, as Pluto digs much too quickly and it can make it all too easy to get hit. Also, one little mistake such as having access to some of the bones permanently blocked can force you to restart the entire puzzle. All of this makes the puzzles tough and not much fun, and since most of them have to be beaten in order to access the last race, prepare yourself for a lot of frustration.
In fact, the times when you are not racing can tend to drag quite a bit. You find yourself solving puzzles and gaining money for upgrades, when all you really want to do is race and try to get first place. On the plus side, the racing action, when you get around to doing it, can be fun and challenging. I only wish that more emphasis had been put on racing…at least the overworld exploration in Diddy Kong Racing was mostly for the purposes of discovering entrances to new worlds. Subsequent racing games starring Mickey would get rid of the adventure elements and stick mainly to racing.
The best part of the graphics are the animation of the characters on the overworld. They move quite fluidly, and on an 8-bit system, that’s really saying something. Otherwise, the graphics strictly get the job done and are nothing to write home about. The music can be catchy and, in a nice touch, each character has his or her own theme song playing as he or she moves around in the overworld. Some of the music is quite nifty, and it is a shame that not very many videos of the game can be found on YouTube as of this writing, so you could hear the tunes for yourself without having to play the game.
Mickey’s Racing Adventure has its strengths, and can be fun if you give it a chance. Those who have the patience to bear with the slower sections and annoying Pluto mini games will find a nice racing game with some pretty neat courses. Again, the adventure elements should have been kept to a minimum, and racing should have been the main focus. As it is, this is one of Rare’s lesser-known games, and one of their weaker games…not the worst I have played, but not the best, either. If you like racing games and can put up with some of the slower portions, then you can track down a copy wherever you can find it. Just be warned that it is not for impatient people expecting racing action pretty much all of the time.