This weeks review is kind of a special one since it’s the first time I’m reviewing an original Xbox game. I guess I sort of overlooked the original Xbox as a retro console because well, it still holds its own against today’s consoles. Yet, the original Xbox was discontinued 6 years ago and was originally released over a decade ago. Yup, I’d say it qualifies as a retro console.
The game I chose to play is Power Drome. A fairly common game for the Xbox even though I had never seen or heard of this game until just a couple of weeks ago. I’m gonna say it right now, this game made me feel old. I’ve played futuristic racing games like F-Zero, WipeOut, and Star Wars Pod Racer but Power Drome is on a completely different level. In what way you ask? This game is fast…really fucking fast.
Power Drome – Xbox, Playstation 2, and PC
Power Drome was released in June of 2004. It was developed by Argonaut Software and published by Mud Duck Productions. This game and it’s developer have roots that go back to a time well before the Xbox. Argonaut has been around since 1982 and Power Drome for Xbox is actually based on the original “PowerDrome” that was released in 1988 when the game belonged to Electronic Arts. It wasn’t until the early 2000’s when Argonaut took over the game and released the updated versions known as “Power Drome”.
The original EA version of PowerDrome
Argonaut mainly developed games for the Atari ST and Commodore 64 systems but in 1993, they partnered with Nintendo and shit got real. Argonaut developed the “Super FX” chip for the Super Nintendo which made all those fancy 3D graphics in StarFox and Stunt Race FX possible. Argonaut even developed the prototype game for StarFox, which was called “NesGlider”, and produced versions for both the NES and Super NES. StarFox is actually based on a 1986 game developed by Argonaut called StarGlider.
Starglider on the left and StarFox on the right.
Power Drome is a futuristic racing game where players pilot rocket powered sleds called “Blades”. Basically, it’s just like Star Wars Pod Racer minus the chariot aspect. You can compete in single player races or experience the full game in “Championship Mode” where you work your way through the ranks of the racing circuit.
At the start of the game, you can choose between two pilots but others are unlocked as you progress through the game. Pilots come with their own blades so you can’t pick a pilot and blade separately, it’s a package deal. Each pilot and blade have their strengths and weaknesses so picking the right combo is very important if you want to dominate the game.
Power Drome Game Play
At first, I thought not being able to pick a pilot and blade separately was a big draw back. This lack of customization was a little surprising since this is a more modern game. To make up for this though, the game allows you to change pilots at any point during “Championship Mode”, a nice touch. So, if you’re struggling on a track, you can try different pilots with blades that might be better suited for it.
The game allows you to choose a racer and you can even choose if you want an automatic or manual transmission Blade. Go with automatic until you get a hang of this game.
Now, lets talk about this games speed that I mentioned earlier. Races are extremely fast paced as it feels more like you’re racing fighter jets on a go-kart track. The Blades haul serious ass and the speed at which this game moves is truly impressive. While the insane speeds are pretty cool to see, it ends up being the only real problem I have with the game.
First, I’ve played a lot of futuristic racing games similar to this one and none of those games ever gave me motion sickness. Seriously, after a few laps in this game I was ready to break out the Dramamine. The game moves so fast that accurately steering your Blade requires some pretty intense focus. Your surroundings become a blur as you accelerate to insane speeds all while you’re focusing on what’s ahead of you. I had always thought that whole “eye strain caused by video games” thing was a bunch of B.S. but, after I finished a race in this game, I found myself looking for eyesight warnings on the case.
You can see here how your surroundings are starting to blur as you pick up speed.
Second, while some of the tracks in this game offer spots to lay on the gas, most are full of hairpin turns that, when traveling faster than the Space Shuttle entering orbit, are near impossible to handle. You end up blazing through the spots where you can build up your speed only to slam on the air brakes to try and make a turn. This wouldn’t be a problem if slowing down, even a bit, allowed almost every other racer on the track to pass you.
What ends up happening is that you lay on the throttle to keep up with the other racers which makes you go way too fast to make any turns. You end up slamming into walls which, not only brings you to a complete stop, but also damages your Blade. The Blades can only take so much damage before they’re wrecked out. However, you can repair your Blade while you’re racing by using power-ups you earn by, get this, going fast.
Filling up the gauge on the left will fill up the gauge on the right. The red pips below the gauge on the right is your Blades damage level.
Yup, that’s right, you can earn speed boosts and repair power-ups every time you max out the throttle on your Blade. Don’t get too excited about the repair-on-the-go feature though, every time you use one, it briefly slows you down. See, this is the thing with this game, it’s all about speed but almost everything in this game works to slow you down.
The tracks are full of tight turns which doesn’t make them ideal places to race vehicles as fast as these. The Blades are so fast, they’re tough to control and over-steering is nearly impossible to avoid. Earning any kind of power-ups requires you to go balls out which causes you to hit lots of stuff which then damages your Blade. You then have to go fast again to earn a power-up that can be used to repair your Blade, it’s a vicious circle.
A lot of the turns are banked so your Blade can slide through them but when you’re going full speed and you hit one of these, it’s gonna do some damage.
Despite all of this, the game somehow still manages to suck you in. You get a real sense of accomplishment when you win a tough race mainly because you managed to steer your rocket sled around a track without dying. This game may be too damn fast but it’s still fun to play.
This game looks great, period. Everything from the Blades to the tracks look amazing. The Xbox pulls off an impressive frame rate that allows this game to flow on your screen. One nice graphical touch I really enjoyed was the screen blurring and shaking when you reach top speed on your Blade. It definitely conveys a very real sense of speed. So much so that when a race is over, you exhale deeply because you didn’t realize you were holding your breath during the race.
This is one pretty looking game.
Aside from the speed, this is the only other problem with the game. While everything sounds pretty good, it’s the details that kill it. The background music is pretty generic and does nothing to contribute to the overall excitement in the game which leaves the sound effects to complete the overall package. The sound effects are good, really good. The sound of your Blade revving up to full speed sounds like a jet engine being throttled up to full power.
The bad thing about the sound effects is that the things your pilot says during a race become insanely repetitive. There’s lots of whooping and hollering and the occasional “Dammit” mixed in that gets played over and over and over and over and over again. I was on the last lap of a race that I was losing and I heard my pilot say “Dammit” at least 10 times before I crossed the finish line and then two more times after. It’s neat to hear a video game swear but this game goes over board with it.
Collectibility – Common
This is a common game for the original Xbox. However, this game is special in my eyes purely based on it’s history and the history of it’s developer. It’s fun to look at the Xbox version of Power Drome with all of it’s speed and fancy graphics and know that it was born from a game that was released over 20 years ago for a system that has just a sliver of the processing power the Xbox has. What this game lacks in actual value it more than makes up for with it’s history, if you’re into that sort of thing. If you see this game, pick it up. It will only set you back a few bucks.
Average Value – $3 Loose, $5 Complete in Box, $10 New in Box as of 3/13/13
Rarity – Common with a 30% rating on RarityGuide.com
Happy Gaming and Happy Collecting!
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