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Speed Devils is the Dreamcast port of a PC game called Speed Busters: American Highways which I think is a terrible name. In fact, the name “Speed Devils” and its box art is what caught my attention. It’s one of those games that I wanted to check out and have heard mixed things about. Some say it’s great and others say it’s just okay. Developed and published by Ubisoft, Speed Devils was released for Dreamcast in October, 1999. It’s an arcade styled racing game that features gambling, wacky characters, and diverse environments.
Speed Devils comes with multiple game modes and supports multiplayer which I didn’t get to try. There’s a decent amount of vehicles to select from, most of which need to be unlocked, and each one has different stats in speed, acceleration, and braking. Furthermore, they all come with a nice selection of skins or paint jobs.
The Championship mode is where you’ll probably spend most of your single player time. This is where you move up the ranks and will unlock new vehicles and tracks for the Arcade mode. You’re given you’re first vehicle and start in the Class D rank. Each class comes with its own season. Each season has its own tracks and the objective is to compete in races for money and points. After earning enough points, you can advance to the next class. The money you earn can be spent on vehicle upgrades and new cars.
I admit I was impressed with the Championship mode. You have a Garage that can store a limited number of cars and is where you can check the race schedule, buy upgrades, view your trophies, and take bets. You earn money by racing. To earn the most money you want to spend the most time in the lead, bust radars, and make the fastest lap. But you can earn extra money by winning bets. Opponents will wager money on tasks they don’t think you can complete and if you do, you win the money. But taking on the bet is also risky because if you can’t complete the task, you lose money. Some opponents will wager their own vehicles in one on one races. This is a great way to earn new vehicles or money because you can sell any unwanted vehicles. However, if you lose, you lose your vehicle.
Upgrades include increased speed, braking, and acceleration. You can also buy tires for different weather conditions which become more important as you progress. There are special upgrades which are earned by completing bets wagered by the Bet-Taker who basically guides you through the Championship mode. These special upgrades include things like nitro, armor, and radar jammers. Your vehicle can take damage and you can repair it in the Garage for a fee and it must be repaired before you can install upgrades. The upgrades do make a significant difference and it’s wise to buy and install them as soon as you can. You certainly want to make sure your fast enough to take on any kind of vehicle wager so you don’t lose your car and upgrades.
The tracks are one of the selling points of Speed Devils. You’ll race on tracks based on real world locations like Hollywood, Louisiana, Canada, Mexico, New York City, Nevada, and Aspen. Each track has different variations whether it’s a different weather condition, season, or events that occur while you’re racing. You’ll race in the rain and snow and at different times of day and there’s numerous obstacles to avoid and shortcuts you can take. What’s cool about the tracks is all the things that can happen. You’ll see a UFO crash in Nevada, a giant dinosaur in Hollywood, and a tornado in Louisiana. As cool as they are, they’re most impressive the first time they happen. They will occur every time you race on the tracks and in the same ways and they’re usually not hard to avoid. Plus, you don’t actually do anything that causes these events. So after a while they lose their luster. Cops act as radar points on the tracks and to bust a radar means you have to exceed a certain speed limit and doing so earns you money in the Championship mode. Each time you replay through a season, it will be on the same tracks and the game will mix up times of day, direction, and weather conditions. Regardless, it can become boring racing on the same tracks over and over again.
As you move up the ranks, things get more challenging. The higher the class, the faster your opponents. This can result in the Championship feeling like grind. I would recommend grinding for money to buy cars and upgrades early on because you’ll need them to take on opponents in the later classes. That means racing on the same tracks over and over until you have enough money and it can become boring. Speed Devils is an arcade styled game through and through. There’s not a lot of depth to the racing. If you have a fast car and all the upgrades, you’ll blow passed everyone easily. If you don’t have a fast enough vehicle, you’re just not going to win unless you get lucky.
The Arcade mode lets you race with any unlocked vehicle on any unlocked track. You can configure different options like the time of day, weather, if it’s mirrored, reversed, if you want to use nitro, and if you want to make it a Time Attack run. If you enable Time Attack, you wan to try for a record lap time and can race against your ghosts. Unfortunately, there’s no adjustable difficulty options and you can’t select opponents. This results in slower cars always faring worse than faster ones. If you drive a slower car, you need to hope the AI messes up because there’s good a chance you won’t win and that’s it. Drive a faster car or lose.
Visually, Speed Devils is vibrant and colorful. The vehicle models look good and damaged vehicles will show deformities. Each major location is unique and you’ll see a lot going on on the tracks. You’ll race through a Mexican jungle, towns, a movie studio, and aircraft will fly overhead. The soundtrack consists of different tunes for each major location and while I think most of them are okay at best, they do fit the game’s style. On the technical side, my vehicles would occasionally clip through parts of the environments during crashes and things like traffic vehicles or the train in the New York City track would stutter while in motion. Other than that, it was a smooth experience.
I feel like Speed Devils could have been better. Honestly, it’s the Championship mode that stands out the most. It’s working your way up the ranks, earning money to upgrade your car and buy new ones, and the betting that I found most enjoyable. If it wasn’t for these things, I think Speed Devils would be a very generic arcade racing game. The tracks really try to be exciting but because nothing is actually dynamic, you can easily become numb to the events. The actual driving or racing is nothing special. In fact, it’s a little janky. Speed Devils is not really a bad game but it’s not an amazing one, either. After grinding for money in the Championship mode to buy and upgrade a fast car, I became almost unbeatable. But in between the grinding and maxed out racing was a fun and somewhat challenging experience.
I would recommend Speed Devils if you can find a cheap copy. It’s a game with a lot of personality but I don’t think the gameplay reaches its full potential. I wanted to like it more than I did. It’s just one of those games that, when the flash wears off, you see it for what it really is. An average arcade racing game.