Review: Boat racing, without the water
If it's easy enough to see that Shutokou Battle/Tokyo Xtreme Racer was heavily influenced by the Japanese manga (and now anime) Wangan Midnight, it's just as easy to notice that Kaido Battle ? Tokyo Xtreme Racer Drift in the US ? seeps in the culture of the huge anime hit, Initial D. Dangerous races in dark, desolate mountain passes, cars tuned for not only speed but also insane drifting, and dozens of colorful (if a bit weird) personalities; yeah, that's Initial D. And thus Tokyo Xtreme Racer Drift, a 2006 release based off the original Kaido Battle which released in 2003, is directed straight at that audience as well as the rabid, though small TXR following. In the form one expects from a Genki racing game, TXRD is a huge, lengthy title, but all the same it has that same quirkiness that makes it a love it or hate it experience, without much middle ground.
Tokyo Xtreme Racer Drift's main Conquest mode is highlighted by two distinctly different play styles that you alternate between. Unlike the Tokyo Xtreme Racer proper titles, Drift has daytime events. These are official events based around some weird story about Japan needing to make some money on the largely abandoned mountain passes of the country and thus opening them up to official, sanctioned races. Here, you win cash to upgrade your initial choice of vehicle, doing CA (cornering artist) races. They're not really races though ? no time limits or anything, but your goal is to drive through drifting zones and then fly around the corners as smoothly (and sideways) as possible without hitting and walls. It's unforgiving as even a slight bump against a curb or wall will totally cancel out any points you earn in that drift. In addition you can travel the passes and check out the parking areas, but rarely is there anybody around. Unfortunately, in order to see the other courses and compete there, one must tackle and conquer the evening events.
At night, the official races disappear, and the true nature of the game comes to light. That being the illegal and dangerous races between yourself and a couple hundred of your closest rivals. No money is earned, and only sometimes can you win a new part for your car, as this is all about respect and eventually earning the attention of the ?slasher? or leader of that particular circuit. To get the slasher out into the open, you have to beat every other rival for both downhill and uphill events and then accept the challenge on the confusing and cumbersome BBS (that would be bulletin board service for those who would refer to them more as forums or message boards) which is accessed through the garage. The races you can get into at night are far different from the daytime events ? there's a cornering artist race here and there, but it's combined with a time attack meaning you have to be both fast and efficient. Most races are SP, or Spirit Point battles, which fans of TXR should recognize as the fighting-game like races where the goal is to deplete their SP bar by getting ahead of them. The difference here is that there's a set finish line too, so merely beating them to the goal is enough.
TXRD's concept is clearly novel, like many of Genki's racers, but the question is whether someone has the patience to see it all. To say the least, most of the cars in the game don't feel like they're even touching the surface, and just float around the course. Sure, it's superbly easy to drift corners with this physics model in place (though many of the tighter courses are difficult to handle at first), but when doing a race where drifting isn't necessary, it makes most races harder than they should be (and this isn't even mentioning how dark some night races can be making things even more annoying than usual). How well one grasps this dictates the time they'll spend playing it, though this has always been the way of the TXR franchise. The AI is unforgiving and brutal, always able to round corners perfectly and get far ahead if you're a bad driver; sometimes they're too good and one wonders if the rubberband-style AI is wound too tightly. Those who master the floaty and touchy physics engine will be rewarded, but many will probably give up before reaching that point.
Also making TXRD a bit frustrating is the usual obtuse Genki Racing Project progression system. Like a lot of the TXR games (Import Tuner Challenge on 360 is one of the rare exceptions to the rule), there's a formula for unlocking new stretches of road, and even though it's a lot more obvious with Drift, there's still some guessing going on. To beat everyone on a stage, sometimes you have to have bad weather or some other unknown trigger in order to get them in the Parking Area, and there's only little hints here and there in the BBS to find whom you're looking for. Not only that but progression is very slow, with just one course opening up at a time, meaning you'll be hammering it out for hours and hours to see everything. This has been fixed with the recent US release of Tokyo Xtreme Racer Drift 2, but in TXRD1, it's one of those things that will annoy some people because it takes forever to make progress, especially when it's not always clearly defined.
As TXRD is from a 2003 release, the game is a little dated in the visuals department, but it does hold up a little bit. Either that or the new HD upscaler in my PS3 really does a good job with an old PS2 game like this. The mountain passes of Japan are beautiful, and you see it right away with Hakone and the cherry blossoms lining the road. Granted it's impossible to see any of this at night, with either pure darkness or simply headlights guiding you through. Every area of the game has its own charm to it when racing in the daytime as well. It won't wow you or anything but the style is noted. The soundtrack is really weird, especially the night-time menu tune which sounds like it came straight from the 1950's. This opposed to the J-Rock style daytime theme that one would think fits better in the nighttime races. The in-race music varies and has some differences in day and night to fit the more ominous races in the dark.