May 29, 2024
Norwegian stop-motion classic Pinchcliffe Grand Prix gets the videogame treatment after 46 years. But is it the leader of the pack, or stuck on the starting grid? The Finger Guns Review.

It’s not often we get to review a game that’s IP is more than 45-years-old and largely unheard of outside its native Norway. The Pinchcliffe Grand Prix (or Flaklypa Grand Prix in Norwegian) was a stop-motion animated feature film that came out in Norway way back in 1975. It’s the most widely viewed Norwegian movie of all time, having sold more cinema seat tickets than the population of the country. Even so, it’s quite a niche IP to pull from to create a new video game on Nintendo Switch in 2021!

But pie in the sky or not, I’m glad they did. When this charming game came across our review desk, I immediately went into detective mode, found an old copy of the film with an English dub and watched it through before I even started the game. Not only has it opened my eyes to a gorgeous movie I’d never seen, but it’s also a fun and charming game for kids whether you know the source material or not.

Pinchcliffe Grand Prix the game is an homage to the original movie – it has a story mode that tracks with the film almost beat for beat and even goes so far as to lovingly recreate an almost identical English Voiceover to the one back in 1975. After having watched the movie, I was able to really appreciate little details like the cameraman at the start being introduced, just like in the film, but then his projector screen showing the development companies instead of movie companies.

Sonny the Magpie, Lambert the allergic owl, and Theodore Rimspoke run a cycle repair shop at the top of a massive rock formation in the centre of a village called Pinchcliffe. Rimspoke is also something of an inventor, a proto-Wallace from the Wallace and Gromit films. As they turn the TV news on after a long day of inventing, they see that an old apprentice of Rimspoke’s, a Mr. Gore-Slimey, has a new racing car he says cannot be beaten. Rimspoke recognises the design – it’s one of his own! Clearly there’s skullduggery afoot. Sonny is an excitable Magpie who takes afront at the audacity of this Gore-Slimey fellow and, spying an oil Sheikh in town, drops off blueprints for Rimspoke’s even better car design, the Il Tempo Gigante! What a name! Needless to say, the Sheikh is impressed, foots the money for the car to be built and then it’s off to the races to burn rubber in that Slimey thief’s face.

While the game sticks to the plot most of the way, it does miss a few things from the movie. For example, you don’t see Sonny actually leave the blueprint for the Sheikh, it just skips to the point where that’s happened. It’s also missing much of the later plot involving the car being sabotaged and having a part break during the race. A strange omission considering it’s the part that quite clearly inspired the pod race in Star Wars Episode 1.

Lambert and Sonny take the lead in the game, leaving Rimspoke far behind. It’s them you control and move about in the various scenes and minigames. Great care and attention has been taken to recreate the mannerisms and movements of the quirky cast of characters as if they really were stop-motion clay figures instead of modern computer models. This goes so far as to make them deliberately jerky, looking like they miss frames. The effect is quaint and nostalgic and wonderfully true to the original.

As inventors, the world of Pinchcliffe and its minigames are peppered with fantastical devices and contraptions; from a one-bird copter to a post-sorting machine, from a propeller tricycle to the Il Tempo Gigante itself.

Story mode takes the form of a nicely fleshed-out series of 3D rotatable point-and-click scenes to explore. These are full of fun facts about things you click on, almost all themed around Earth sciences, history, and energy. You can find jigsaw puzzle pieces, little animations for the characters to do, and minigames to play by clicking on items in the world. There are car parts to find that eventually lead to building the car later in the story. It’s pretty educational, and it’s also pretty stilted. It’s homaging a very charming stop-motion movie, so things are a little slow-moving and pedestrian. Think of those old maths and educational games your mum would buy for your old PC. It’s that with a 2021 paint job.

There are nine minigames to find and then play from the main menu, and they run the slalom from dull jigsaw puzzles, to exciting races and challenges. I’ll run through them all quickly. The jigsaw, Mahjong and cup game are the poorest, barely more than a Pinchcliffe version of a free App store game sans microtransactions. There’s a Pacman-like maze game featuring Lambert which is too slow and uneventful to be much fun, a letter-sorting game where you must put letters in the right bags against the clock, and a Game-And-Watch-like apple-catching game, moving Sonny from left to right catching apples as they fall out of trees, and then sending them to Lambert to make into pies.

Then comes the far more involved 3D games; an aerial copter game where you fly through balloons with Sonny, a factory game where you actually need to do the bicycle repair job Rimspoke is famed for, recycling parts of broken bikes and then putting the correct parts back on from an ever-depleting stock that needs to be constantly replenished. Finally, there’s the downhill Trials-like bike ride game on Sonny’s Trike, which requires jumping the bike and changing lanes at a moment’s notice.

Most of the games veer much towards the accessible-to-kids end of the spectrum, meaning they hold little challenge, and rarely have any exciting high stakes. They are fun for the most part and certainly will keep kids entertained for a short stretch. Even adults if you let them. There’s no real winning to a good bunch of them – just see-how-long-you-can-last type gameplay. They are all individual, none require co-op. There are trophies to win if you get past a certain score, and of course, the first time you play each one you often get a car part.

That brings us nicely to the final minigame. Once you’ve made it most of the way through the story, and completed lots of minigames, you’ll have enough car parts to build Il Tempo Gigante, the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang looking car that is going to propel you to victory. The game involves you picking up parts and literally putting them in the right place on the car frame. Its nice to see it come together, but from a gameplay standpoint its barely a game.

From then on, it’s time to race. The story features a plotted race, but the game itself has a dozen tracks and a handful more modes all built around the racing portion.

Saying the racing is like Mario Kart is a stretch – Mario Kart requires some driving skill, even if some people maintain its all luck. Pinchcliffe’s racing is really a kid’s version of a kart racer; it’s extremely forgiving, certainly doesn’t require drifting for example, and it’s generally pretty hard to mess up. Even if you do you can pick up repair drops and the game will restart you from where you totaled your ride with a small time penalty. The story mode race is scripted and hard to lose, and the rest of the racing is simple stuff. But nevertheless, it’s solid and it’ll entertain the kids.

There are some weapons to use, referred to as ‘dirty tricks’. Oils slicks, smog outlets and drawing pins across the road covers most of it. There’s certainly no offensive weaponry as such, nothing that would steal Pinchcliffe’s wholesome label. There are 8 tricycle training tracks for Lambert, a free roam and quick race mode for each of the main car tracks, and then 4 full-on tournaments. Each time you finish in the top three, you’ll earn the next thing on the menu. There’s also a handful or two of supercars to earn as you complete the tournaments. It’s plenty of content if you are a little person, but any interested adult would have everything finished in less than 3 hours.  

It is a shame that the racing isn’t a stronger feature in a game about a Grand Prix. Possibly with the care and attention given to source material, fleshing out the world with minigames and a full story mode, the racing wasn’t made as meaty as it could have been. It’s really just nit-picking – the intended audience will have a blast anyway.

The lack of touchscreen controls in the minigames is a lamentable omission. The Nintendo Switch is a perfect place for kids to play a little interactive story with minigames like this. However many of the minigames are made just that tiny bit more fiddly with a Joycon joystick. It’s not a deal-breaker by any stretch, but it would have been a good thing to include. That said, in my humble opinion, touchscreen controls for racing are never good, so maybe it was for the best.

Another issue is the controls in two-player mode. All the car racing modes can be played two-player – set the Switch to TV mode, or on its little stand and use the Joycons one each. The only trouble is that the acceleration is on the shoulder buttons – but on a single Joycon that’s the tiny little buttons buried inside the connection area. This is hard to press hard enough to accelerate for the length of time a race takes. At the same time the much larger ‘original’ shoulder buttons get right in the way, and are set to change the screen view, which causes you to constantly change it by accident during the race.

Pinchcliffe Grand Prix is a strange videogame to define. On one hand, it’s a minigame fest that might sit alongside Mario Party. On another it’s a kart racer, and plays like a simplified Mario Kart. On another (third hand) it’s a massively out of date franchise tie-in to a film that came out in Norway in 1975. That’s the oldest ‘modern’ property I think I’ve seen put into a videogame outside of Kingdom Hearts dredging through Disney’s dustiest vaults. It’s clearly aimed at kids, but the only kids (outside of Norway where the film is shown every Juleaften (that’s Christmas Eve)) who will know it are now in their fifties. So it’s aimed at kids now, and that’s fine, there’s enough going on, and its cute and endearing and wholesome enough that any kid would enjoy it. The trouble you’re going to have as a parent is sourcing a copy of the film for the little ones to watch once they’re interested. Not to plug another service but it looks like you can stream it on Apple TV for a small fee, and there’s relatively expensive DVD version knocking about.

The video game version of Pinchcliffe Grand Prix is largely successful, if a little pedestrian. It’s not going to win any points for originality in its minigames, but it makes up for it with spades of charm. It’s not a contender for the crown in the Kart Racing genre either, but it is a solid racer for kids, especially if those kids take a shine to Sonny, Lambert and gold-plated classic cars. Some do. Christian von Koenigsegg was so inspired by Pinchcliffe as a child that he went on to found and invent the Koenigsegg line of supercars.

Please be aware that Pinchcliffe is only available in Norway at the time of writing – requiring a Norwegian Nintendo account to purchase and download. You can set one up in a few minutes, but just a warning so that you are aware. The game is coming to the rest of Europe very soon.

Pinchcliffe Grand Prix is a charming collection of minigames and races built around a point and click for kids. You’ll get a lot more out of it if you’re familiar with the source material, but as a pickup and play, it’s a wholesome time sink for young children, just not one that pushes any genre boundaries.

Pinchcliffe Grand Prix is available now on Nintendo Switch (review platform) with a Norwegian account, and PC. it will release more widely in coming weeks.

Developer: Ravn Studio, Caprino Video Games
Publisher: Zordix

Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.

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