The Ill Communication

The King of Route 66

Developer: Sega AM2
Publisher: Sega
N.A. Release: March 18, 2003

Box Quote: "Drive it hard, drive it fast."

Of all the games for Sega to create a sequel for, 18 Wheeler: American Pro Trucker probably wouldn’t be listed high on anyone’s list. Where arcade games are generally fast-paced and action-packed, most would guess Crazy Taxi before 18 Wheeler in the genre of driving games. But in the wake of Sega’s bowing out of the console hardware business for good, an executive in the company must have been in a state of trepidation of losing their job than paying attention of what games to approve and reject. The result was them giving the okay to green light the project for the next installment to their wacky semi-truck driving game that blends both simulation and arcade style racing.

Okay, I’ll back down on the negativity a bit as this game isn’t as bad as I’m making it out to be (although it is still odd that 18 Wheeler got a sequel). The King of Route 66 was originally released in arcades running on Sega’s Naomi 2 hardware. Shortly after in 2003 it was ported to the PlayStation 2. Different from its predecessor, it is less of a slow simulator and more of a fast and furious arcade style driving experience. You know, the way an arcade game should be.

Route 66 includes three primary modes: The King of Route 66, The Queen of Route 66, and Route 66 Challenge. Rival Chase and VS Battle are the remaining modes that include two player gameplay. The King of Route 66 is the mode from the arcade version which features a new villainous company you’ll need to deal with called Tornado. Your adventure will take you across the US on the stretch of highway known as Route 66; going from state-to-state starting in Illinois and finishing at California.

The story in this installment is more involved compared to the original, includes more characters of both friend and foe, and contains branching paths based on the difficulty per stage. A good mix of minigames keeps things interesting instead for just driving from point A to point B and finishing before the competition does. In terms of gameplay, it’s much more arcade like and is completely ridiculous as trucks will be getting some serious air as they jump from ramps and busting through highway billboards. Turbos will be used often and are a definite plus for the game. In addition -- or should I say subtraction -- penalties for your trailer getting damaged are not as harsh as it was in 18 Wheeler and vehicle upgrades are not included in this mode.

The drivers for Tornado are an interesting bunch of characters, some of whom are crazy stereotypes. From a man with a thick Asian accent to a maraca wielding Hispanic to a hillbilly Texan with a taste for steaks, this game has them all! There’s even a driver that looks like Jeffry McWild from Virtua Fighter named Jack Hammer, but after he’s been off the fighting circuit for a while and grew a beard.

Graphically the game is both horrible and beautiful. Horrible because the levels are crammed to the max with texture wrapping to the point where basically all of the graphical details are sprite drawings stretched over polygons like buildings and structures. But it’s beautiful because of the same reason! All of those details make the environments looks very life like and give a gritty look to everything. At first I thought it was a shame to have a game with so much visual details all go to waste because you drive passed them so quickly, but then there are other game modes that allow you the opportunity to check out some of the finer details (if you care for that sort of thing). I also liked how the levels are chock-full of objects, buildings, and structures from their real world counterparts; with the exception of California, which is the most depressing level of them all. Most of that state takes place in the desert and does not go into the urban areas until the very, very end, making the last state, the Golden State, look like the gloomiest state in the union.

Another interesting mode worth checking out is The Queen of Route 66. With this, it’s a collection of minigames based on finding patterns and then using the earned cash to upgrade your rig. You travel to each state helping the represented queen from each state with a task. Resolving a queen’s problem will earn you a bizarre cutscene where your character is rewarded with goodies from her state, plus a song or dance from her. When you complete the entire mode you unlock the Route 66 disco where all of the queens dance -- complete with jiggle vision as they are all well-endowed. Yikes!

The last primary mode is Route 66 Challenge. This mode consists of 8 minigames where you can win bronze, silver, or gold for each minigame. This mode helps to hone in your driving skills which may prove to be useful with the other modes like The King or Queen of Route 66. Earning gold medals for all eight games will unlock a special treat for that Route 66 disco where all the ladies have the option of wearing bikinis. Double yikes!!

As a respectable development studio, this is when games from Sega AM2 seemed to have gone on the decline a bit -- where not every game was a triple-A winner-- with The King of Route 66 being part of that first wave of mediocre games. But even after saying all that, Route 66 is still a fun arcade game with just enough challenge to keep you from getting frustrated but simplistic in its gameplay for it to be enjoyable. Route 66 just doesn’t have that AM2 gold certified stamp of approval you’d normally get from its games. Rather, it feels more like an AM2 silver certified game.

Posted on: February 10, 2016