Jimmie Johnson's Anything With an Engine Review (Xbox 360)
Jimmie Johnson’s Anything with an Engine feels like a throwback. It’s a budget cart racer with "crazy" characters, and a game that would feel right at home on the original XBOX, circa 2002. That’s not to say that it's a game devoid of value or fun. In fact, the game features some innovative mechanics; unfortunately, it’s all wrapped in a pretty bland theme.
Anything with an Engine is a straight cart racer, full of genre tropes like over-the-top weapons and tracks, "humorous" characters and a series of races organized into “cups.” However, three unique elements are notable for their added innovation and fun.
First, Anything with an Engine replaces the traditional weapon pick-up system with one that features a leveling mechanic. As you race, you’ll earn “votes” from the crowd that will unlock various stages of four consistent weapons: mines, missles, “blast waves” and nitro. This “voting” system is a little ambiguous for my taste, but does fit the realty show theme (see Presentation section) and is a refreshing change of pace for the genre.
Next, a damage and pit-stop mechanic adds a strategic element to the procedings, as it does in more serious racing games. Entering the pit and mashing the Y button removes damage and refills your weapons, but also slows you down. Knowing the right time to pit can be crucial to winning races.
Finally, some unique racing modes change things up as well. My favorite is “Matador,” which splits the pack into two smaller groups, each racing the opposite direction. An elimination mode is also fun; Endurance not so much.
Again, I find the theme (a realty show based on home-made cars) entirely disappointing and surprisingly bland. What seems like a good opportunity for customization (build your own car?) is instead just a vehicle for uninteresting and stereotypical characters: Sports mascot in an easy chair, farmer riding a lawnmower, etc. Their limited amount of spoken lines help bump them from boring to slightly annoying.
Visually, the game is a mixed bag. While racing, Anything with an Engine features nice bright colors, but hardly pushes the console’s limits. Many of the obstacles on the track are 2D; I’m not sure if it’s for technical/budgetary reasons, or if the designers were trying to carry a theme.
You see, the cut-scenes feature completely frozen 2D characters and lots of zooming. It’s almost like a motion comic, if motion comics were poorly drawn and featured uninspired voice-overs.
The single player mode features a number of “cups,” or series of races. Finishing a cup grants you the ability to race a boss version of Jimmie Johnson. Depending on which character you chose (each has slightly different stats), these cups can be surprisingly difficult. I suspect the AI is doing a fair bit of cheating -- or at least rubber banding -- but that’s not entirely unexpected in a cart racer.
Local multiplayer is predictably fun, especially considering the over-the-top nature of the races. There’s a certain joy found in getting a buddy to play in a Matador contest without telling him why cars are flying directly at him. Also, because items like the mines are themed to each racer, it’s a pleasure to take credit when he complains that he ran into a discarded nuclear bomb. Of course, be ready for whatever his cart is spewing all over the track.
Online features are present and surprisingly fleshed out -- too bad there’s nobody plays online.
Jimmie Johnson’s Anything With an Engine took me back to a simpler time, when these types of cart racers seemed to come out just about every month. If anything, it reminded me of the “ultra-budget” racer, Burger King Pocketbikes, though with much better handling and those unique concepts mentioned above.
Certainly, this isn’t a great game; I would hesitate to call it good. However, if you like cart racers (and there are surprisingly few on the 360), the low price is worth the risk.
Learning Curve: Not a lot to grasp, though you’ll get better as you familiarize yourself with each track
Control Scheme: Weapons are mapped to the face buttons, which makes sense. Other than that, it’s a basic racer.
Visuals: Not bad in-game, but everything else screams “budget title.”
Audio: Annoying characters are about the only notable aspect, other than Johnson himself.
Value: You are getting what you pay for. This game can be found for under $30, and will probably go down in a hurry.
Score: 4 (below average)