Kaido Battle is Genkiís next generation take on a mountainside drift racing game, a genre that has seen remarkable growth in popularity in recent years, due in no small part to the Initial D manga series. Gamers across the globe eagerly awaited the home conversion of the Initial D arcade games whereas the earlier Genki title was ignored by many, possibly due to their previous 128-bit racing titles which managed to polarise the opinions of the gaming public like few other games ever have. However, Kaido Battle is similar enough to Initial D to appeal to a wider group of gamers than the Shutokou Battle series, whilst remaining different enough to warrant consideration on itís own merits.
On the main menu there are four options that allow quick access to racing action. The obligatory Time Attack and VS Battle are similar to those found in most racing games. CA Attack has the player driving a section of road and being awarded points for executing drifts when prompted. In Category Challenge the player races a series of opponents on both uphill and downhill courses. During these races both competitors have SP meters which will be instantly familiar to anyone who has played any of the Shutokou Battle games. During the race the SP of the driver in last place decreases, whilst any collisions knock chunks off the meters. Once one driver loses all their SP the race is over, or if neither runs out of SP then whoever is first to the finish line wins.
Conquest mode is the main section of the game. You begin with a small amount of money, buy a car and then enter CA Attack races during the day to win more money to spend on upgrade parts or new cars. At night you can race against other street racing rivals in a variety of different challenges including CA, Time Attack, Category or combinations of these. Kaido Battle is a relatively complex game offering several different styles and criteria for racing and it is not possible to concentrate on only one of these when in Conquest mode, so variety is forced on the player. Very rarely in this game will the player be required to race an opponent with the simple objective of crossing the finish line first. This can be considered as a good idea to add variety into the game, or annoying in that it forces the player to develop different styles of driving depending on the challenge being played. Factor in extra considerations such as Tyre Wear and Brake Fade (both of which are present during races) and Kaido Battle sets itself up as a game with almost unmatched depth and a challenge to test the most determined of racers.
There are four courses in Kaido Battle, each based on real mountain roads in Japan. Four courses may sound disappointing, but the courses are long and most races take place on only a section of a course rather than playing the full route every time, which helps to limit repetition. All courses can be driven uphill or downhill, and the difference between the two directions is great enough to almost seem like there are eight courses in all.
The opposition AI in Kaido Battle is good, with many rivals willing to try and nudge you into trouble, force you off the road or block your attempts to pass. This creates a real pressure to overtake as soon as possible, particularly when the SP meter is present, and then block like crazy to prevent being overtaken in return. Genki really seem to have got to grips with the physics of power sliding and in th
is game the handling of the cars has been developed wonderfully, with a distinctly individual feel to every car. The drifting has been handled so well that once a powerslide is initiated it becomes possible to steer most cars on the throttle, although this is made significantly easier when using a wheel and pedals rather than on the PS2 pad.
Genki seem to be one of the better developers to manage upgrades in racing games. With a vast array of cars (including several western manufacturers in addition to the usual Japanese brands) bonus items and upgrade parts available, no matter how far you take your tuning options there are still opponents that will present a real challenge to your driving skills. As there are so many tight corners, Kaido Battle encourages you to drive cleanly and develop a well-balanced vehicle which makes a welcome break from so many other recent racing games where brute force and outright speed seem to be a valid substitute to driving skill.
Graphically the game is excellent. Each course has a distinct style due to the wide variance in scenery and settings. The car models are superior to those in Initial D, with a particularly fine degree of detailing present. The lighting and weather effects (rain and fog) show a level of competence that seems to be lacking in many modern racing games and the game runs at a smooth 60fps throughout whilst suffering from almost no slowdown and only minor distance fogging to hide popup. Aurally the game doesn't disappoint, with all the usual distinct engine sounds being present and the music is a surprisingly eclectic mix, which is uninspiring yet adequate and certainly not annoying as it could have been judging by past Genki efforts.
Despite the solid game engine, there is a lack of any real sense of speed during play. Obviously the technical style of driving thatís dictated by the large number of corners mean itís quite a slow game by itís very nature, but even the in car view at 200kph+ doesnít create the same impression of speed that one would expect. Overall it's a minor gripe given all the things that this game does so well, but possibly worth bearing in mind for gamers who crave speed.
There is quite a lot of Japanese text present for a racing game. Most of this can be ignored or skipped and the use of symbols for rival challenges makes comprehension easier, but race descriptions can be important in Gamble Races where youíre expected to stake spare parts, money or even licenses on the outcome of particular races. All menus are in English and where there is Japanese text, the similarity to numerous other racing games helps to create a familiar environment that is relatively easy to navigate.
The level of skill that it's possible to gain in this game is by far its greatest strength. The excellent physics model allows a very fine degree of car control and this gives the player an opportunity to hone their techniques almost to perfection. Compared to Initial D, it is an in-depth game that many will feel is too involved to appeal to all but a few dedicated gamers. Although it is restrictive in some ways, perseverance is rewarded by an excellent racing challenge that is sure to last for many hours of gaming pleasure. Kaido Battle should definitely be considered by anyone who was interested in Initial D, especially by anyone who bought the Sega game and thought it was too arcadey for itís own good.
- Excellent physics engine
- Novel mix of racing styles
- Only 4 courses
- Minimal sensation of speed