The first thing I must say about Heracles Chariot Racing is, don’t even bother playing it on your PS3. Yes, it’s one of the ones that works on it at the moment, but putting it on there will hurt your eyes and make you weep that your lovely HD console is suddenly looking like a PSOne.
Yep, it’s safe to say that while some games are actually enhanced when running on the PS3 (I’m talking to you, BreakQuest, you little time-stealer you!), others are best left to the PSP for which they were made, and that most definitely goes for Heracles Chariot Racing.
So, assuming that you’ll be mainly playing it on your PSP, what’s it like? Well for starters, the idea of a chariot racing game featuring characters from Greek mythology is actually pretty cool. It’s something a little different from the average cartoon racer, and characters such as Heracles, Poseidon and Medusa are really nicely animated with lots of fun little quirks to make you smile.
It also makes you feel really clever if you can laugh at mythological jokes such as being able to fling piles of manure at your fellow racers, especially on the Augean Stables circuit! I recommend a quick brush up on your knowledge of Greek mythology if you want to really get the most out of the jokes and feel super brainy at the same time!
The circuits are all based on the Greek legend of the Labours of Heracles, ranging from the icy Stymphalian Lake (complete with birds!) to the demonically red and fiery Hades (and yes, Cerberus makes a star appearance!), and the home of the gods, Mount Olympus.
They all look really good (on PSP!), with lots of nice visual touches, and there are also secret shortcuts to look out for which will take you directly to the front of the chasing pack, making you feel nice and sneaky!
One strange thing that has me a bit puzzled is the fact that the levels have slightly incorrect names, with the Augean Stables being called the Augias Stable and the Stymphalian Lake being called Stymphale Lake instead. Maybe it’s a translation issue as the game is made by a French company, Neko. Slightly bizarre, though.
There are three difficulty levels, Easy, Normal and Hard, although it has to be said that all of them seem quite unforgiving. Even on Easy, if you hit an obstacle or get hit in the head by a scarab, say, you’re dumped right at the back of the pack again, which can get frustrating.
There are three gameplay modes to choose from: Championship, Single Race and Time Trial. Single Race and Time Trial are pretty self-explanatory – in the latter you’re all alone on the track, racing simply to beat your own best times.
In Championship mode, you get to compete for Bronze, Silver and Golden trophies, although you must win Bronze first in order to unlock the others. You progress through the levels, racing against five other gods or mythological creatures, competing for top position on the Leaderboard.
In all modes you can choose which of the nine mythological characters you want to race as. They all have varying Speed, Acceleration, Road Holding and Weight stats, which seem fairly accurate and worth taking into account when choosing your racer.
For example, Leares has great Speed stats, but shocking Road Holding stats, and it really shows in his performance on the track, whereas Satyre has both great Speed and Road Holding stats and doesn’t weigh that much, making him a good all-round choice.
The controls are simple enough: use the analog stick to steer (left analog stick on PS3), press X to accelerate, O to reverse, and square to throw objects at your rival racers. The game handles much, much better on the PSP than it does on the PS3, incidentally.
Where the game falls down is in the lack of a multiplayer mode (forbidden in minis by Sony of course), or even any sort of ‘hot seat’ mode where you can best your friends’ race times. Once you’ve won a few races and unlocked all of the circuits, there might not be much challenge left, unless you just want to try to continue beating your own times.
It benefits, however, from the fact that it has no real competition in terms of racing minis, so if you like racing games there’s no reason not to pick this one up. It won’t keep you occupied for weeks on end, but it has a fair degree of charm, and it’s probably the best of the minis bunch released this week. Just don’t play it on your PS3 first!