Review: Ride that crotch rocket, baby
In this era of safe sequels and terrorizing fear over original projects that wind up commercial failures, Tourist Trophy is as close as you may ever get to a truly 'safe' original game. After all, Polyphony Digital has proven their talents with the Gran Turismo series, and taking their renowned racing engine into the realm of motorcycles is a logical, albeit less lucrative, step. While automobiles are a worldwide love affair that almost everyone gets mixed up in, motorcycles are a far more enthusiast-driven form of transportation and thus the possible audience for TT isn't quite as automatic, not even in Japan or Europe where racing leagues like Moto GP are extremely popular. For a time there was even doubt that this side project would even find its way to North America, simply because of the lack of interest in bikes unless they say Harley Davidson on them. But it did, and fans of racing games should be pleased, even if they couldn't care less about real motorcycles. It might not be the most ambitious or innovative game to come down the line, but it arguably does more for this sub-genre than any other motorcycle-based game had previously, and that counts for something.
There's one aspect of Tourist Trophy that might be a bit shallow but it's definitely an issue; even with over 100 bikes to choose from, none of them really have the same 'recognization factor' that a car might unless you're a huge fan of motorcycles, especially Japanese bikes, as the bulk of the bikes come from Kawasaki, Yamaha, Suzuki, and Honda, with only a few non-Asian makers such as BMW. Many of them look the same so it's difficult to care much about them from a purely visual perspective, and it's also somewhat difficult to pick out proper bikes since they usually go by the kind of names that resemble secret codes and don't roll off the tongue. But this unfamiliarity is countered by familiar courses to race these anonymous bikes on; there's exactly one new track, the famous Valencia. Otherwise, every other of the 30+ tracks came exactly from Gran Turismo 4, with only the dirt-based rally tracks excluded. Which is sad because it would be hilarious to race these things at the Grand Canyon. Some of these tracks have minor alterations such as the adding of an extra chicane at Suzuka, but short of that, it's the same familiar courses. But due to the stark change in gameplay mechanics, these well-known courses, such authentic circuits like Infineon or Laguna Seca, become all new challenges since you simply can't race these things the same way as you would a Skyline or Evolution. Thus it's like toppling these beasts all over again.
Like Gran Turismo, Tourist Trophy is by and large a solitary affair. Yes, there's a split screen multiplayer option, but that's generally been tossed in previously just to be there and this is still the case. There's no online options, but that's hardly a shock seeing the fate of GT4. What's left is the same sort of concepts you've seen before: an arcade setup where you can just hop onto a bike and race, and the Tourist Trophy mode that is better known as your career. However, this career is very much streamlined from what you'd find in GT4 ? there's no currency to earn from winning races, and thus there's no purchasing of bikes or even parts to upgrade them. Instead, motorcycles are acquired in 'Challenge' events that are won by either playing an overtake challenge or completing a time trial. What bikes you can earn are dictated by your license; you can enter any event you want without getting one but to get the bikes require to actually win, you better hit the tests. Thankfully these tests aren't quite as grueling as the ones from Gran Turismo and thus should be easy to complete. Clearly influenced by the accessibility of Forza Motorsport, Polyphony has taken many steps here to make sure people don't have to fool around with races again and again just to progress.
Almost every single racing event has some sort of requirement to compete, usually based upon the displacement of the bikes or even the make or origin. The initial set of races are all 'street', so you can't use a racing modified motorcycle, relying purely on a stock bike with some limited tuning options like adjusting suspension, gear ratios, and the like. Some bikes can use a sports exhaust upgrade to boost horsepower but that's about it. These initial races are purely one-on-one duels, and winning each and every race nets you a brand new bike that may or may not come in handy - but since there's no cash, there's no real need to ditch them anyway. Once you escape these, the real racing events begin, with completely stock bikes that can still be tuned but there's no upgrading options, to keep the playing field level. In these races you get 3 competitors, and that turns out to be the maximum for the entire game, which is a serious disappointment since it's a major step back from the 6 of Gran Turismo 4, and obviously there's enough hardware power to add 2 more bikes and 2 more generic rider models. The PS2 isn't that
Though Polyphony has mastered the art of a car racing simulation, the motorcycle side of things is a different animal entirely. Racing a bike requires more precision; you can get away with mistakes in a car that might in reality lead to your place inside a casket. Tourist Trophy recognizes this and it's easy to tell they took the time to make this game stand out from Gran Turismo. Many of the old GT tricks aren't possible; there's no brushing up against walls to make up for poor braking, or you might get thrown off your bike which wastes valuable seconds. If a corner is instead guarded by grass, poor cornering might lead to simply slipping off the bike because you're putting too much emphasis on leaning downwards, and eventually something has to give and that something is usually the body of your rider. Thus even moreso than Gran Turismo, Tourist Trophy requires mastery of braking and how to properly shift your weight around corners. Bikes don't quite have the same braking abilities as cars; at a very high speed these beasts take much longer to reduce their speed to a level where you have legitimate control. You'll realize this the first time you go over a hilly, uneven stretch of track and watch helplessly as your bike flies out of control and ejects its rider unless you take the time to slow down a tad and maneuver through it.
Because these bikes are raced in their stock builds, TT doesn't really allow for the same kind of brutal domination that's been possible in GT games. You can't just spend thousands of dollars upgrading your bike and then smoke everything on the track ? some skill is required. And surprisingly enough, Tourist Trophy demands some skill. The game eases you in gently, knowing their audience will be half motorcycle geeks, half Gran Turismo fans playing the latest from their favorite developer, and thus take the time to help you learn how to play this game simply because of the differences between a car and a bike. But it isn't long before the training wheels need to come off, and thus TT offers a surprisingly challenging experience. Much of the time you play catch-up, as the AI cars get a jump on you and it's not possible to avoid this unless you're in a championship series where you're able to qualify in the first position with a best lap time ? which does generally guarantee victory since you have that jump start. While it's always good to have a bike with the highest horsepower, it also might depend on how your bike is tuned, whether it's setup for a high speed course or a technical circuit.
The computer opponents are capable and often, you can learn from them on how to take corners and rough stretches of track. They do, alas, follow the same sort of robotic AI schemes that haunt the GT games; when repeating a Challenge event to win a bike, I saw my opponent run the exact same route over and over until I finally won; the pattern was the same right down to the little brush with the grass they had on the same turn. It's a whole lot easier to notice when it's this tiny motorcycle. This artificial intelligence can be dangerous as well, as they once again make little regard to your presence and will bump you around to stay in their pattern, and unlike cars where recovery is quick, they could possibly knock you off your bike. This might get the job done in that there's a healthy challenge, but at times things can get frustrating when dealing with up to 3 annoying robots on wheels.
Tourist Trophy was built on the Gran Turismo 4 engine, and it shows. And not just in the design of the courses or environments, but in the menus, the presentation, and the options. Everything looks like GT4 with cars swapped out for motorcycles. This is both good and bad, since it lends a hand of familiarity but might be deemed repetitive at the same time. This has also allowed for TT to support both 480p and 1080i, even though 1080 really isn't that much different. A whole lotta smoke and mirrors there. Due to this heritage Tourist Trophy appears exactly like GT4, so if you've played that you know what to expect, but if not, you can expect very realistic takes on famous locales and very nicely redesigned takes on the classic original circuits, with stands full of spectators cheering you on, or hoping for flying people after being tossed from their bike because they suck. The one year difference shows some age, but not too much seeing GT4 is one of the top visual showcases for this older, wiser PS2. Because the bike models look largely the same there's no attachment to them unless you're big into the scene, but the bikes do look realistic and even though doing a racing game means you never really have to create a human character model, the generic rider model looks decent enough...until you get thrown off the bike, as they tend to not really roll away but instead slide, with their body movements paralyzed. Pretty amusing.
Like Gran Turismo, much effort has been put into how these bikes sound. Everyone knows that motorcycles are much louder than a car, buzzing and revving to deafening levels if you get stuck next to one on the road. Tourist Trophy captures this very well. These suckers are loud
and drown out everything else around the game. When you're side by side with another bike, they hum in harmony, and if they're the same bike, it's like hearing a barbershop quartet or something, they sing in tune so well. They might all sound the same but there's only so much you can do, as most engines do sound similar. No huge loss there, it's not like anyone actually plays for engine noise. Or maybe someone does. Anyway, these engines are so loud it actually drowns out the music. While the soundtrack isn't the same mega-licensed affair that you've come to expect from the US releases of GT, the tunes here aren't any more memorable, comprising of bland techno-rock or generic dance music. It perhaps fits the scene as many other motorcycle games have used this soundtrack style before, but man is it boring. But seeing that the loud roar of engines drowns it all out, it can be dealt with.