Riddle time: what's red, laughs arbitrarily, and drives a car but should probably be under it rather than inside of it? If you guessed Woody Woodpecker, then you probably read the title of the review. Yes, it's our old buddy Woody Woodpecker, the maniacal avian brainchild of popular cartoonist Sir Walter Lantz-A-Lot. He was a staple of the animated circuit from the 1940s all the way to the early 1970s, with a brief revival in 1999 as part of the FOX Kids lineup on American television. Woody Woodpecker was basically a bird that didn't take any guff from anyone, similar to Bugs Bunny in nature but with a less cottonly tail.
It was during this temporary resurgence in popularity that several video games capitalizing on that punk surfaced, one of which was the absolutely epic Woody Woodpecker Racing, shuttled our way courtesy of none other than Konami. And when I say "absolutely epic", I mean "absolutely awful". And when I say "courtesy", I mean "disservice to humanity", although that doesn't quite fit grammatically into the sentence I just concocted. Woody Woodpecker is not the high quality product I would have expected from Konami back in 2000. It's shovelware, plain and simple, though shovelware has since become the norm for every console great and small.
Woody Woodpecker Racing is known in Japan as Woody Woodpecker no Go! Go! Racing, a name that is apt because once you start playing, you'll regret your decision and wish you had put more emphasis on the "no Go" part. With karting brethren such as Mario Kart 64 and Crash Team Racing already showing the world how kart racing can actually be fun, Woody Woodpecker Racing simply reminds us of how it cannot.
Beyond the hip-hop title screen music sits all of your options: single-player mode, 2-player (for that woodpecker enthusiast of a friend you supposedly have), options, and credits. The multiplayer mode is going to give you and a buddy the chance to race against each other, as is to be expected. But it's the single-player experience that seems to be more fleshed out, offering such opportunities as a Quest Mode, where you hunt down additional characters to unlock by racing in different countries, the World Championship which pits you against the others in a series of races, and time trials on tracks of your choosing. None of these modes are particularly unique, and they all make you race in the same places, just with different goals.
He puts the "Eck!" in Woody Woodpecker.
That might be fine if Woody Woodpecker Racing was the epitome of excellent track design and gameplay, but this isn't the case. The game boasts nine different characters in all, but that won't matter as they all control like pancakes on ice. Just attempting to turn is a highly unresponsive endeavour. The key to successful racing here is through powersliding, as without it, you'll never make a single turn successfully. But the courses are so ill-designed that you'll still end up smacking into questionably-placed trees and cliffsides frequently. And to make matters even worse, it feels like everyone is faster than you all the time and that they're better equipped to give you a hefty beating. You would be amazed how many times I lost a race simply because half my time was spent recovering from enemy attacks. Catching up with them isn't a viable option here; if you're behind, expect to stay behind for the duration of the race because the computer-controlled characters cheat. They just do. I felt like I was always at a disadvantage while playing, and even the slightest case of faltering will drop you right into last place and keep you there.
There are only six playable characters to start with — staples of the franchise, including Woody Woodpecker, Chilly Willy, and Winnie Woodpecker, Woody's girlfriend that looks a little too much like him — but by playing through the Quest Mode, all your dreams will come true as the well-named Dapper Denver Dooley enters the fray, among others. Not that they make a lick of difference other than fan service. You can also use a variety of karts, old cars, and ATVs, but they still won't make a difference if the game controls so poorly. But the racers themselves don't make as much difference as the items you pick up. And even then, your items will feel much less effective than those of everyone else. Maybe it's because the A.I. knows how to aim, whereas you can't. Items such as a bird dropping a bomb or a tomato had the potential to be useful, and they failed. Even the Rush Can (presumably a cola for your car), which mimics the turbo effects of the Mushrooms in the Mario Kart series, do very little to give you that boost you'll so sorely need. The only pick-up item that actually helped me was the Clock, which slowed down the other racers temporarily, giving me a much-needed opportunity to sprint ahead. But just as you think you're doing well, Winnie Woodpecker will sneak by, peck you right in the face, and zoom ahead, while you curse her name. Some girlfriend indeed.
Unfortunately, the presentation also leaves much to be desired. The tracks are supinely plain, with very little interest apparently taken in making the terrains or surroundings rich in any sort of character or local flavour. Perhaps they knew that you would be spending your time frantically grappling with the shame of last place, rather than sightseeing on a Brazilian racetrack. The racers are low-polygon, low-res, low-beauty turds. PlayStation games in 3D can look good if you try, but the developers stopped after about 10 polygons and said, "Eh, that's enough." Even the menus are bereft of flair. The audio doesn't fare much better, although there are plenty of voice clips from the cartoons to keep purists from completely dumping on this game. The soundtrack did not make much of an impression, as it's clogged with generic elevator music half the time.
Woody Woodpecker Racing... it's just not fun. The A.I. is way too crafty and unbalanced, the controls remind me of what the dog coughed up, and the game doesn't even want you to think it's cute. This is a cash-in, plain and simple, with probably a very short development time and a severe lack of love for the property and for racing games in general. If you find this, don't think about picking it up unless you are the world's #1 Woody fan. Then again, maybe this is the type of game that a rotten, loudmouth thinks-he-knows-it-all persona like Woody Woodpecker deserves.