Heracles Chariot Racing started out life as a PS2 game released in Europe by developer Neko and it shows in terms of medium poly-count 3D graphics and overall appearance. Of course on the WiiWare service this is actually quite impressive; even moreso when you consider the number of racers and tracks on offer and the low price of 800 Nintendo Points.
This actually feels like a full retail release in terms of content: there are 10 tracks (though 5 of these are repeats with some different sections) with 9 different racers (though this is mostly cosmetic) and 2-4 splitscreen multiplayer. You can race tournaments, individual tracks or time trials as single player and tournaments, individual tracks or Battle Mode in multiplayer.
The visuals are quite nice with colourful tracks and backgrounds containing static 3D elements like looming gods and animated obstacles to avoid such as giant rats in the Augean Stables and the 3-headed dog Cerberus spewing out great fireballs in the Realm of Hades. Chariot drivers are well-animated and turn to face the camera before the green light is given for the race starts; miss a turn and go off the track and they’ll look back again as if to ask what your problem was!
Sound consists of a dramatic fanfare whilst the camera does a quick run around the track before the race starts and some quiet in-game music that’s nondescript but pleasant. The characters driving the chariots make the odd exclamation after being hit with weapons fired from opposing racers or flying off the track after missing a turn. Chariots themselves make a rather pleasing sound of wood wheels rolling across various surfaces in place of the usual engine noise you’d associate with a kart racing game.
The chariots have colourful characters driving them like the titular Heracles; all of them introduce themselves with a little “hello” as you point at each in turn. There are differences between chariots in handling and acceleration, but you’re not likely to notice until rounding bends at high speed. There are bonus items which will give you a boost of speed or harry your opponents that vary according to the character such as homing projectiles like nasty beetles or Zeus Himself. None of them are very special, but they do add some spice to the race without feeling cheap like the infamous Blue Shells of Mario Kart.
Your primary offering as a solo player is the Championship tournaments. There are three tournaments creatively labeled Bronze, Silver and Gold. Achieving a top 3 placing in Bronze unlocks Silver and doing the same in Silver unlocks Gold, which is simply the Bronze and Silver tracks raced back-to-back. It’s unnecessary padding and really could have been left out; especially as there’s nothing further to be gained by getting a top placing in the Gold tournament other than signing your name up. The Bronze and Silver tracks have the same names, but parts of the tracks are changed about which keeps them fresh. The tracks are impressively large by any standards and well-designed except for the use of nearly 180-degree turns in the last two tracks of the Bronze and Silver tournaments.
The final Mount Olympus track is the worst with a series of hairpin turns linked by brief straightaways. The problem is not just the fact that the bends are at the top of hills or that the AI drivers rarely have difficulties with them, but more that the colour schemes are badly chosen. The track is often made up of light rainbow colours against a light sky background with gold railings; it’s often hard to tell you’re hitting the bend until you’ve come to a stop against a wall or flown off into space. Add the fact that the reverse control takes a few seconds to engage and you’re lucky to place anything other than dead last.
Wii Remote and Nunchuk are the only supported controls which seems an odd choice given this game was originally on a system using a controller similar to the Classic Controller. The omission of any alternative control schemes will make getting a 4-player game going (no online play is supported) more challenging, but the controls are well implemented. A on the Remote is the accelerator, B activates bonus items, Z is brake/reverse and C jumps (alternatively move the Remote upward) — though jumping is something I didn’t see much use for during the game. The Nunchuk control stick steers and, in a great implementation of motion control, tilting the Nunchuk allows for a “drift” manoeuvre that’s intuitive and makes racing the non-Olympian tracks a lot of fun.
There’s no camera control, but you can change view by pressing down on the D-Pad to see behind your chariot and up for another alternate view, but if you can press up on the D-Pad whilst accelerating I’ll shake your hand! As with the lack of controller options the lack of configuration options is strange in its omission, though the game works well enough with the default button layout.
If you want a change from going up against other racers you can also go for high scores in the Time Trials which features the full selection of unlocked tracks. It’s missing a 1st place ghost racer to spur you on towards a better result, but if you want to simply see how fast you can run through a given track it does the job. There is selectable difficulty, though opponents offer a decent challenge at the Normal difficulty setting. It’s a bit annoying that the high score tables simply present initials and times regardless of difficulty chosen; taking away from score attacking a bit.
The main multiplayer addition is Battle mode where up to four players can fight it out in one of five themed arenas based up on the tracks. Bonus items are scattered about with which to dispatch your friends/foes. Each match is a last-man-standing affair where each player is knocked out after taking three hits and the last one remaining wins. A nice extra if you want a change from racing.
Neko has done a great job in bringing a retail PS2 title to WiiWare and the game stands out as a result. There’s nothing really competing with it on the service presently, though that will change when Super Mario Kart eventually gets released to the Virtual Console outside of Japan. Noted issues aside, it’s a fun racing experience on the Wii at a great price and definitely worth a punt.