The advent of the Pokemon series in the mid-1990s and the subsequent frenzy of popularity the charming Pocket Monster games have enjoyed ever since have spurred plenty of clones based on young kids battling with collectible critters for fame and fortune. Monster Racers' inspiration is obvious, yet embedded deeply in the game's carbon-copy presentation and revamped concept is a unique element that's strong enough to give the well-trodden genre some new life. Instead of engaging in lighthearted turn-based combat, the myriad beasties you capture and raise have a burning desire to race against each other when they come face-to-face. Pitting your best monsters against your opponents' gnarly critters in 2D platforming races is fun, and it's just the thing to liven up the adventure. Pairing this solid and seamless racing component with the some of the mechanics that make the Pokemon games so entertaining yields an addictive--if somewhat unoriginal--experience.
Monster Racers' setup will no doubt invoke some strong deja-vu for anyone who has ever booted up a Pokemon game. In addition to the bustling human population, the world is home to a cornucopia of exotic creatures that roam the wilds. Rather than fight, these curious beasts love to run, encouraging human racers to capture and tame them in order to compete for sport and glory. Each of the seven continents has its own champion racer, and annual tournament races are held to give newcomers a shot to win the titles. Playing as either a young boy or girl, you pick out your first monster racing companion and set out to obtain a highly coveted license that allows you to compete. From there, it's time to head off on a romp around the globe to capture and train monsters, race them in tournaments, and beat all of the reigning champs in order to become the top racer in the world. It's a tale that has already been told countless times before. The constant riffing off the Pokemon franchise is so blatant that there's even a Team Rocket-type group of no-goodniks that try to hamper your quest.
When you're not walking around the hub town areas to chatter with locals, progress the story, pick up important supplies, and dabble in fetch quests, you're roaming through dungeon-like wilds. Here you find other racers to battle, wild monsters to defeat or befriend, and lots of treasure to uncover. Instead of appearing in random encounters, the respawning wild monsters appear as round yellow stars that move in set patterns on the map field. Running into one triggers a race event, and you can select one of your three equipped monsters to compete with. These shorter 2D platforming races give you an opportunity to beat the wild creatures to gain experience toward leveling up your monster. They also let you use your monster to capture weaker creatures, if you can blast them with enough energy before the race is done. In contrast, races against other trainers you encounter during your travels are lengthier and more challenging and dish out a larger amount of experience. Larger tournament matches have four tiers of qualifying races, and you have to successfully win all of them in a row in order to wrestle a continent's title away from the current champ. These tougher matches feature longer races with four monsters racing at once.