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Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds Wheelie Breakers

Score: 70%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Konami
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: Action/ Card Games/ Racing (Arcade)

Graphics & Sound:

My six-year old knew everything there was to know about Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's Wheelie Breakers before I even popped the game into the Wii. He's seen the show on television and coached me through the first hour of gameplay, even though he's never played a full round of the Yu-Gi-Oh! card game. So here is the conundrum, which we'll return to often in this review: Can the collectible trading-card game genre really mesh successfully with the racing genre? It looks great on the cartoon series and there is no question that the spirit of the show is intact in this new Wii game. The cut-scene animations are pretty, the characters and Duel Racers are well drawn, and the racing action looks good. Picture an older, cel-shaded style of design and you'll have in mind what Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's Wheelie Breakers looks like in action. The battle and summoning effects are decent, but stay in the Wii's comfort zone, graphically. You won't be blown away by the track design, or your surroundings, which may be okay since you will have eyes on your cards most of the time. There is some good spoken dialogue to move the story forward, and even an announcer during the races that can be briefly entertaining before becoming humdrum. The worst part of the interface is trying to decipher which card is cycling (no pun intended) through in your hand, as you try to maintain your position in the race. A smarter design choice would have been to have the cards' names called out as you flipped through them, so you could keep your eyes on the road. A more prominent place for the cards' names or images might also have solved this problem, but the problem raises questions about the focus of gameplay for Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's Wheelie Breakers. Is this 80% racing, with Yu-Gi-Oh! power-ups, or 80% card game with some light racing elements? Our opinion is the former, which is disappointing for longtime fans of the traditional card game, but which may not matter to younger gamers coming to Yu-Gi-Oh! after watching a season or two of Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's.

Gameplay:

The game doesn't spend a lot of time recounting the backstory of Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's, but plunges right into your story as an aspiring dueler, working your way up the chain through a series of virtual battles with established "riders." Fans of the traditional storyline will find many unfamiliar elements, such as changes in cards and characters, and the focus on Duel Runner races instead of throw-down card battles. The game doesn't unfold so much as it plops you down into the character, gives you your first Duel Runner, and starts the racing action. It's too abrupt, even for kids that have followed the show. Learning the controls of your Duel Runner is simple enough, but applying the card-battle mechanics adds another layer. Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's Wheelie Breakers does an equally poor job of leading players through the content outside of races, such as deck building and editing. Reading the manual is fine and well, but taking full advantage of features like swapping cards, summoning monsters, and battling during the race is left to trial-and-error in the actual game. The experience for players is a bit disconcerting and frustrating; it doesn't help promote the cool features that are actually here.

Cool features include a battle-racing system that incorporates Yu-Gi-Oh! cards, but not really in the way you'd expect. Instead of battles based on ATK/DEF in the traditional mode, summoned monsters become equipped weapons you can use to attack by pressing the (A) button on your Wii-mote. It's like Wipeout meets Yu-Gi-Oh!... The other cards, Spell or Trap, are used to trigger effects during the battle, similar to a power-up in any arcade racing game. The difference is that most games only allow you to have one active power-up at any point, where Wheelie Breakers lets you maintain your monster while using Spell/Trap cards. You can swap out monsters or acquire new cards as pick-ups on the track, using them as long as you have sufficient Action Points. These points are scattered as pick-ups around the track, but you'll also find spots to avoid, where your opponent has left a "power-down." All of this is very much in line with any battle-racing game, but only mildly flavored with the essence of Yu-Gi-Oh!. Perhaps the option to play against friends, or up to 8 CPU-controlled opponents, in Grand Prix and Matchup Mode, has sufficient appeal for racers above and beyond the card action.


Difficulty:

We obviously found the ramp to be too short and too steep as we were trying to get into Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's Wheelie Breakers. Even after mastering the controls and learning the ins and outs of gameplay, we found the racing experience to be clunky and unforgiving. Thinking back to the frustration gamers felt with the first Wipeout game, where hitting a wall meant instantly coming to a halt, we found a lot not to love here. The Wii's strongest racing moments continue to be when using the Wii-mote and its NES -style control scheme, versus the options here for using the Nunchuk's analog stick or the Classic Controller. Everything you need in terms of basic control is here, but the Duel Runners aren't very responsive. Upgrades are available, by combining cards with open slots on the Duel Runner, and there's no question that learning the twists and curves of each track improves performance. In the end, you'll just have to accept the foibles of Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's Wheelie Breakers and make the best of the racing experience to get to any of the card-playing fun. Learning the cards isn't nearly as challenging here as in previous games, since most of the complexities of effects and ATK/DEF have been denatured.

Game Mechanics:

Considering how many things need to happen simultaneously during a race, the controls are probably implemented as well as they could be. Slipped down the track, you'll control the action on your Nunchuk, using the (Z) and (C) buttons for accelerating and braking. The controls on the Wii-mote are mostly about manipulating the cards, after you pick them up by driving over them on the track. The concept of a starting deck is really just a series of cards you begin with, but you can't use some of them until you collect a certain number of Action Points on the track. Attacking with summoned monsters works in a similar fashion, and the (A) button controls these attacks. The (B) button does a look-behind, which is a useful feature because of how important attacking players behind you becomes as you progress. There's a weird but somewhat cool feature where shaking the Wii-mote flips the Duel Runner around and lets you attack behind. Watching races in progress can be exciting when there are multiple racers on the track, flipping constantly and positioning for attacks.

At the same time, all these control options makes Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's Wheelie Breakers daunting at first for new players. If there were more depth in gameplay or stronger racing action, we'd be fans. Giving up the deep strategy of the card game caused some pain, but the pain got worse when we realized that there wasn't much of substance left behind the cards. Maybe as a two-player game where one player controlled the racing and the other controlled the cards, and both the racing and the card action were much better, this would work. Fans of the show eager to get behind the wheel of a Duel Runner may fund this entertaining, but not for long.


-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

Microsoft Xbox 360 Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen Nintendo DS Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds Stardust Accelerator: World Championship 2009

 
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