Enthusia is one of those games that seems like a good idea, but fails in its execution. It's not that there isn't anything to like about the game, but some of things that tries to do in order to differentiate itself from other driving sims (namely Gran Turismo 4) just don't work.
Inevitably, comparisons to Polyphony Digital's Gran Turismo series are going to made when talking about Enthusia. There's certainly a decent number of cars that Enthusia offers players—more than 200, in fact. It's possible to make some adjustments to the car, such as gear shift ratios, but the degree of customization isn't nearly as deep as you'd find playing a Gran Turismo game. Instead of winning money after each race and using it to tune your car or to buy others, Enthusia employs a roulette-style system involving all of the cars that you race against; if the indicator stops on a car that you don't own, you win it. This is good in the short term, but after awhile when you've won a lot of the cars in the game, it can become frustrating trying to unlock those last few vehicles.
The meat of the Enthusia experience is called Enthusia Life. The object is to be ranked number one, but getting to that point can be confusing. For each race, there are odds that indicate your current vehicle's chances of winning the race. Weaker vehicles obvious have longer odds, while more powerful ones have tighter odds—and less of a payoff if you win.
During each race, lapses in driving skill eat away at your Enthu Points, which are best described as driving hit points. If your car skids off of the course, collides with a wall, or if your vehicle touches any other vehicle—no matter who was at fault in the collision—you lose Enthu Points. These deductions are factored into the end-of race standings and, combined with how you finish in the race, a final ranking point score is calculated which not only moves you closer to that #1 spot… but it also allows you level up as a driver and can also level up your vehicle so that it's capable of higher top speeds or better handling.
There's one other important thing about Enthu Points… if they run out, you're out of the next race. Since overall rankings are determined over a three-month (12-week) schedule, if you sit out too many weeks, it can adversely affect your quest to be the best. This definitely becomes a problem before too long as the AI racers refuse to yield at times and even if they hit you, you lose those valuable Enthu Points and they only refill a small amount from week to week unless you sit out.
Even if you don't hit anyone, Enthusia's controls are so touchy and occasionally unresponsive that you'll find yourself hitting a lot of walls and sliding off of the track a lot. Prepare for a lot of adjustment if want to excel at Enthusia, especially if you're used to arcade racers. This game isn't necessarily about speed, but rather speed management. You'll need to know when to brake, when to accelerate, and you'll need to learn how each car reacts to certain situations. Even seasoned vets of driving sims will find themselves grumbling at how some of the cars handle, despite the realistic physics modeling that is touted here. It's possible to find a groove after playing Enthusia for long enough, but only the most patient players will find that success.
One other area of note is that most racing fields tend to be unbalanced. If you fall behind in a race, it generally means that the race is over pretty quickly. Granted, players can still earn ranking points for finishing behind the leader, but it's still a bit of a downer to know that you're some 10 seconds behind the first-place car and that you're really not gaining any ground. Kudos to Konami for not including any sort of catch-up logic, as this is a sim… but there should be better balance between the cars in each field of racers.
Aside from Enthusia Life, there are other modes of play, such as Time Attack, Versus, and Free Racing. The most interesting extra mode is the Driving Revolution Mode, which actually gives a little something away in its title. In this mode, players must drive their cars through gates using the precise amount of speed, acceleration, or braking. As drivers pass through each gate, they receive one of several rankings which mirror the Dance Dance Revolution games: Perfect, Great, Good, or Bad (instead of Boo). As you finish each section, you are graded and if you score well enough, can move onto the next section. This mode is actually generally helpful for learning a bit about how Enthusia wants its players to drive, by showing when to brake, when to accelerate, and how fast you should be going. It's actually more fun and less confusing than Enthusia Life, but doesn't last nearly as long.
Visually, Enthusia isn't half-bad, although you won't be floored by how it looks. There's not really a decent sense of speed to be had here, which you'd think would be important to a racing game. Enthusia does sport some blur effects to try and help things when you're going "faster", but you never really feel like you're tearing up the track. The vehicle models are nice and detailed, although there isn't any damage modeling. Many of the game's courses are fantasy circuits, although the Japanese Tsukuba and the Nurburgring made their way into the cut. The fantasy courses look decent enough, and feature some variety to them, but there's nothing groundbreaking about the way they look. At least, to the game's credit, the 60fps frame rate is generally solid throughout.
The sound is unremarkable. You've got your engine sounds, your squealing tires, and other sound effects that all sound like you've heard them before. The music is really unappealing, featuring all original and relaxed tunes that seem to try and calm your frustration rather than raise the intensity level. There's some voice work in the game, but not enough to really comment on. All in all, you're more likely to pop in a CD of your own and race to that.
It's not that Enthusia is necessarily a bad game, but it's definitely an acquired taste that not all car buffs are going to appreciate—even after a few hours to learning to adjust and opening up more than a few new cars to try out. There's really nothing here that a game like Gran Turismo 4 hasn't already brought to the table already, and so justifying a purchase just isn't possible here. If you're looking for something a little different than Gran Turismo 4, then give Enthusia a test drive; however, don't sign on the dotted line until you've take her around the block more than a few times.