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Sexy new Beetles for sexy new games: Why EA needs to make Beetle Adventure Racing a second time
by Andrew Testerman

At the 2011 New York auto show, Volkswagen created a bit of a stir when they announced that they will be releasing a new iteration of the iconic Beetle late in 2011. A million happy possibilities are brought about because of this announcement (the return of the Slug Bug game! Huzzah!), but for me, one idea stands above all others:

Electronic Arts should use the vehicle’s re-introduction to release another Beetle Adventure Racing! game.

For those that don’t remember, Beetle Adventure Racing! was a racing title released for the Nintendo 64 in early 1999. The game, which capitalized on the 1998 release of the New Beetle, featured a roster consisting entirely of different iterations of Volkswagen’s infamous li’l bug, with faster Beetles being unlocked as more races were finished. Similar to other then-current racing games, players progressed through the game one track at a time, unlocking new courses after old ones were completed.

What set Beetle Adventure Racing! apart from its peers (other than its unusually homogenous garage of cars) was its game and level design. The “Adventure” part of the title wasn’t merely for show: players could only advance through the game by collecting a certain number of points, and had to explore their environments in order to find all of the game's point boxes. This placed a large emphasis on pouring over courses for shortcuts and alternate routes in addition to shaving seconds off lap times in order to advance. The tracks themselves were huge, often taking 2–3 minutes to complete a single lap, making each level more akin to Super Mario 64 than Gran Turismo. Shortcuts ran the gamut of settings, from launching off of a ski-jump (Mount Mayhem) to driving through a lake to a replica of Stonehenge (Coventry Cove).

In short, the game was nuts. And it was awesome.

A name like "Beetle Adventure Racing!” all but promises some sort of Wii shovelware title, released to exploit brand loyalty for Volkswagen and anyone with affection for Herbie. Not so. The original Beetle Adventure Racing! was released to surprisingly solid reviews that made it the highest-ranked Nintendo 64 game of 1999 (according to The game sold around 600,000 copies, which, while not spectacular, wasn’t too bad for a third party, N64 exclusive racing game (the original Extreme-G sold less). I personally played the crap out of Beetle Adventure Racing! back when it came out, though I had to make due with playing only the first few levels, as I lacked the now ancient Controller Pak required to save the game.

Since the Beetle is getting a new facelift (again), now is the perfect time for the franchise to throw its hat back into the ring. The racing genre has shifted even more to the simulation end of the spectrum, and a new Beetle Adventure Racing! would make a great antidote for those who don’t care for tweaking gear ratios or worrying about tire wear. The emphasis on huge, explorable tracks would help set it apart from its other arcade peers, and could help it cater to players who don’t usually play racing games.

Moreover, the power of modern consoles could help enhance the adventure aspects of the game. Paradigm Entertainment managed to squeeze a series of huge environments out of the N64 hardware, complete with many, many shortcuts and scripted events (a T-Rex pops out of the woods to greet racers on Inferno Isle). The technical jump from the N64 to the Wii, Xbox 360, and PS3 means bigger environments, more scripted events, and even more shortcuts to take advantage of. Online gameplay could help round out the package, whether it’s an 8-player point race or Team Deathmatch-style Battle Mode from the first game.

The biggest, most difficult question to answer is how Beetle Adventure Racing! would be distributed; as much as I like to think that eight million people would pay $60 for a video game adaptation of The Love Bug, it’s probably not in the cards. EA could try for digital distribution, similar to the remixed version of Vigilante 8 that came out in 2008, but I think Beetle Adventure Racing! would perform better as a budget title, similar to last year’s cult hit, Deadly Premonition. The distribution costs would be higher, but EA would be able to take advantage of parents looking for a good, cheap family title, especially if it were released for the Wii. Throw in compatibility with Mario Kart Wii’s steering wheel, Kinect support on the Xbox 360, and put an enthusiastic review score on the box, and there’s a cool million sales right there.

It’s been a good twelve years since Beetle Adventure Racing! graced the shores of the N64, but a good franchise never truly dies, and EA would do well to capitalize on the hype surrounding the new Beetle and release another entry in the Adventure Racing! series. Volkswagen would get brand awareness, EA would get game sales, and gamers would get a quality title. Everybody wins.

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- Andrew Testerman

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