The Nintendo Wii has been a system of many milestones, but one of the oddest is that it seems to be the system with the most games of the exact opposite genre you would expect it to be in. First came Soul Calibur legends, which shed its fighting routine for a hack and slash motif. Then came Castlevania Judgment, which turned out to be a fighting game. And now I have in my hand a copy of Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's Wheelie Breakers, a Yu-Gi-Oh kart racing game. The premise of the game is pure wackiness as you are literally playing a card game while racing on a motorcycle, but that’s beside the point. The question is: is Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's Wheelie Breakers a good game?
Based on the newest Yu-Gi-Oh animated series, (which I'll from now on be referring to as just “Wheelie Breakers” for the sake of my typing fingers) takes the series in a slightly different direction than previous Yu-Gi-Oh media. Yusei Fudo and Jack Atlus are the hottest new duelists in New Domino City and have taken dueling to the streets in a hot new motor sport called "Wheelie Breakers" that combines traditional card dueling with Duel Runner racing. Players climb upon their Duel Runner motorcycles and summon monsters from their decks to battle each other as they race the streets or track. You play the game as a nameless protagonist that you can customize to your liking whether it is his name or color and bike color.
The gameplay in Wheelie Breakers is initially similar to Mario Kart, until you scratch the surface of the strategy that the game holds. Instead of a handful of strict power-ups like most kart racers, this game employs a system where you customize a deck (and even multiple decks if you wish) from which all of your power-ups come from. Because of this, you can make a deck that consists mostly of monsters, or a deck that consists entirely of status altering attacks and speed traps. Once you are in the game, you gain access to these cards by driving over icons that look like a pack of cards, which give you a few cards from your deck to use as you see fit. Because of this layout for power-ups, no two races will be the same, as the power-up you need at the beginning of a race could be the very last one you get.
Most of the gameplay will consist of you controlling a monster that flies on top of the bike. You use the placement of your bike to line up the monster to position for attacks. Since the monster protects the rider, there are a few things that you need to do in order to not lose the race. If you are able to kill your opponent’s monster, or your monster is destroyed, damage is taken to the life points instead. Take too much damage, and your bike will either spin out, or in the case of the story mode, the race will be over. Some monsters have weak attacks, but really strong powers like being impervious to most attacks. Others are huge power monsters, but are slow to charge up.
Wheelie Breakers features two ways to control your vehicle depending on your gaming preference: Wiimote/Nunchuk or Classic controller. I mostly used the Wiimote/Nunchuk method, but there were pros and cons for either setup. As for Wiimote/Nunchuk, the controls are fairly simple. Basically you use the Nunchuck thumbstick to steer your Duel Runnner and the “C” and “Z” buttons to accelerate and brake. You then navigate your available cards with the Wiimote's D-Pad and select them with the “A” button. Aside from the basic movement and card systems, you can press “B” to have your monster try to attack, and swing the Wiimote in order to spin your bike around for a rear attack. If those controls sound rough, the Classic Controller offers a far more traditional controller setup. The face buttons control everything from braking to accelerating and weapons, and the two shoulder buttons are used to navigate your cards.
Wheelie Breakers features a large amount of solid content to keep fans happy. Not only do you have the completist task in trying to get all of the available power-up cards, but there are also four modes to have fun with. Story Mode is your main draw, with a multitude of one-on-one battles culminating with duels against the characters from the show. This mode will keep you occupied for four or so hours depending on how victorious you may be, and whether you have to re-race any challenges. The storyline is honestly a tad bit weak, but fans of the show will really enjoy seeing their characters pop up at various times. Multiplayer mode contains races for up to 4 players. The multiplayer races are a lot better than single player races, and keep the game exciting. Time attack mode is exactly what it sounds like and gives you races in which to try to gain the best time. Finally Grand Prix mode is basically what I would call an “arcade” mode, where a simple set of races are lined up with full access to all of the Duel Runners that you have unlocked in previous modes.
My real gripe with the mechanics of the game is in the handling of the Duel Runners. Since the controls are pretty simplistic, you really don’t have a lot of things you can do with the steering of the Duel Runner. This basically means that the Duel Runner, while fast, drives like a brick house sometimes. I had problems with keeping the cycle from suddenly wiping out like a piece of discarded lumber every time I took corners too sharply, or if I was hit by certain powerful attacks. The game could have really benefited from a more fine tuned racing system, but the one present works.
The other problem was one of the toughest rubber band A.I. systems in a racing game today. Wheelie Breakers seems to like to set you against the odds at all times, because it seems like there is no clear way to stay the dominant racer in most modes. In Story Mode, for instance, where the races are more one on one affairs, you will end up with frustrating races where cars keep a constant distance in front of you at all times, never gaining or failing. This leads me to believe that there is a lot riding on the value of your “speed” rating, or at least moreso than usual. There are other situations where you can utterly decimate the competition, then watch as they fall away from the view of your rearview, only to have them race up in front to the aforementioned constant distance. Most of these problems only pertain to the one-on-one races, and multiplayer fans need not worry as much.
For a licensed, anime-based game, Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's Wheelie Breakers really excels in the graphics department. The game features the now somewhat standard cell shading that most anime games seem to have, and the colors are just as vibrant as you would expect from the series. I will even say that the monsters have never been rendered as well in any of the 3-D Yu-Gi-Oh! Games. The sound isn’t too bad and features songs and voice acting from the 4kids dub of the cartoon that plays in the afternoon. Not being a huge fan of the 4Kids “style” of voice acting, I wasn’t super impressed in this department, but for fans wanting cohesion with the anime that they have probably watched, it was pretty spot on. The only real annoyance that irked me was the race announcer, and his tendency to say the same phrases way too often.
I’m going to come out and say that like most licensed games, the amount of love you have for a given franchise will directly change how much you will like this game. Because of this, Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's Wheelie Breakers is one of those games that most gamers will completely pass up, but fans of Yu-Gi-Oh! will totally love. The game isn’t as polished as other racers like Mario Kart Wii, and has a few problems with single player A.I.; but Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's Wheelie Breakers is a pretty solid multiplayer game for a budgeted price at $39.99. Because of this, fans of kart racers should at least give it a rent. For Yu-Gi-Oh! fans there is another consideration to look at; and the main reason that I have rated it relatively high on value despite the problems. For fans of swag, Yu-Gi-Oh! games usually come with a set of limited edition cards, and this game is no stranger to that. Working retail for a while, I know that promo Yu-Gi-Oh! Cards bundled with games are a huge draw for its fans.
So get out your bikes and Yu-Gi-Oh! cards and get to racing!*
* VG Chartz is not responsible for any injuries incurred by trying to play a customizable card game whilst riding a bike.