Monday, June 29, 2020

Racing Game Round-up

While it's never been my number one favorite genre, I've always had a soft spot for racing games. They make great side games when playing something more involved like an RPG (in fact, one of my favorite games last year was Forza Horizon 4). Since this year's community game-along calendar happened to feature a month devoted to racing games, I decided to prepare a little sampler platter for myself and tried out 7 different titles on my Twitch channel!

Here's a quick round-up of mini-reviews:

Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing
This Mario Kart competitor from 2006 features characters and race tracks based on Sonic the Hedgehog and many other Sega franchises (e.g. Shenmue, House of the Dead, Jet Set Radio, etc).
  • The courses make good use of the themes from their respective Sega franchises (especially for a game of this age).
  • The game features an announcer that gives dynamic commentary on your race performance during each event. Some of his lines are pretty funny.
  • The game's controls feel very smooth. The very drift-focused mechanics remind me of Mario Kart Double Dash.
  • While the game offers six cups of races, many of the courses are just minor variations of the same thing.
  • The game only features local multiplayer, which is kind of a bummer.
  • Despite being over a decade old, this game did not run smoothly on my PC. The options to adjust resolutions, graphics, etc are extremely limited as well for a PC game.
Verdict: Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing is a solid Mario Kart-like but has been more than surpassed by more recent games in the genre, including its own sequel.
Score: ⭐⭐⭐

Garfield Kart
Thanks to a "generous and wholesome" donation from one of my Twitch viewers, I ended up with this racer based on the Garfield comic strip.
  • While not as good as a Mario or Sonic racing game, the controls felt surprisingly good for a cheap licensed game.
  • There are few interesting items that stray from the typical kart racer mechanics. For example, there's a magic missile that changes your position with whoever you hit. Several items can also have different effects depending on whether they're deployed forwards or backward.
  • Despite being labeled a "beta", Garfield Kart's online multiplayer works well. The downside is that you'd somehow have to convince multiple people to play Garfield Kart in order to use it.
  • The course designs are very boring and don't make much use of the Garfield license.
  • The game's content is very minimal: 4 cups comprised of very similar racecourses
  • Unlocks of new courses and characters are handled via collecting coins rather than progressing through Grand Prix. I would have had to play through each cup many times just to unlock the next one. I ended up just using cheats to spare myself from having to grind.
  • The implementation of items is very unbalanced. All it takes is to get hit by a single item to be dropped back to last place with little chance to recover before the end of the race.
  • Collision physics feel a little off. Sometimes slightly grazing an obstacle can bring your cart to a sudden dead stop.
Verdict: Garfield Kart checks off the absolute bare minimum requirements of a kart racer. There's no reason to play it with so many other better options available.
Score: ⭐⭐

Desert Child
This indie racing RPG caught my eye during an E3 presentation several years ago. In Desert Child, a hoverbike racer tries to race his way to wealth and stardom in a dystopian sci-fi world.
  • Desert Child has a very striking visual design. Both the town and racing scenes look really cool.
  • Similar to the graphics, the music in both towns and races stands out for its great style.
  • The use of RPG elements introduces some interesting mechanics, like changing out parts of your bike to modify its performance or help you earn more money.
  • The game's racing is fun, at least initially. Races take place in a side-scrolling perspective and have players using weapons and dodging obstacles while trying to stay ahead of the opponent.
  • This game is very grindy and features a very unfavorable economy. Bike repairs and food for your driver eat heavily into your race winnings and all progress in the campaign is gated by money. Similar to Garfield Kart, I used to cheats to bypass the excessive grinding.
  • The player character walks very slowly through town, which makes navigation a pain after a while.
  • Desert Child's gameplay is very repetitive; it sports minigames and jobs for your character to do between races, however, all of these are basically just races with a slightly different coat of paint.
  • The late-game races often seem to involve just as much luck as skill thanks to the procedurally generated courses.
Verdict: Desert Child's strong sense of style make it worth taking a look at either via a quick play session or checking out some YouTube videos. However, playing through the whole campaign was not a satisfying experience.
Score: ⭐⭐

What The Golf
Not quite an actual golf game, What The Golf ended up being deemed a racing game by an esteemed panel of judges from the Chic-Pixel community, so here it is. This game starts out as simple putt-putt and then rapidly heads toward a series of surreal challenges that are only loosely tied to anything resembling a real sport.
  • This game is funny. Whacking golf balls into explosive barrels, ricocheting balls off planets, and hitting random household objects with golf clubs can be pretty amusing.
  • There is a lot of creativity and variety here. Each golf course introduces a unique mechanic or idea.
  • With each course offering something different, the overall package is a bit of a mixed bag. There were some mechanics I wished the game would expand further upon and others that I felt were funny as a one-off joke but not particularly engaging from a gameplay standpoint.
Verdict: "Amusing" is definitely the best word I can think of to describe What The Golf. It's a fun game to play in short bursts, but don't come to it expecting much depth.
Score: ⭐⭐⭐

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed
This game takes the strong foundation established in Sonic All-Stars Racing and expands upon it with the introduction of boats and aircraft. The "Transformed" in the title references the dynamic nature of the races, each lap on a course involves some sort of change in the environment that creates new routes and obstacles. 
  • Transformed doubles down on the Sega references. I was excited to see courses based on Dreamcast and Saturn games like Skies of Arcadia and Panzer Dragoon. Each course looks great and is clearly crafted with admiration for Sega's history.
  • Unlike most other kart racers, this game features a structured single-player campaign that offers various types of races.  Progressing through this mode unlocks new characters and tracks.
  • The cars, boats, and aircraft all handle differently from each other but each feels good to control.
  • The transforming racecourses provide a great visual spectacle but also make for more engaging gameplay. They serve as a good way to have a single course accommodate multiple vehicle types (for example, a section of the course may flood mid-race causing your car to transform into a boat during the next lap).
  • The online mode works well but is very limited in terms of features. You can only do one race at a time (i.e. no online multiplayer grand prix) and some modes feel half-baked (e.g. battle mode doesn't allow you to add bots, making the arenas feel very empty).
  • During single-player races, the AI racers have a knack for hitting you with weapons on the last leg of the final lap, causing you to finish in 8th place in a race that you had been leading for 90% of the time. This is true of a lot of kart racers, however.
Verdict: Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is a great kart racer that gives Mario Kart a run for its money. If you enjoy this genre of racing games or are a big Sega fan, this game comes as an easy recommendation.
Score: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Earlier this month, released the massive Racial Justice and Equality bundle; a massive bundle of over 1000 indie games with the proceeds going toward civil rights charities. From this huge collection, I picked out a couple of racing games to include in this round-up.

Daemon Detective Zero Racing
Daemon Detective Zero Racing is a low-poly sci-fi racer featuring characters from various indie games. It is very clearly heavily inspired by the F-Zero and Wipeout games on N64 and PS1. I can't really split this one into "pros and cons"; it's a very fast, barebones, and somewhat janky 3D racer that was a fun little nostalgic diversion for me.
Score: ⭐⭐⭐

Rock n Rush Battle Racing
This game plays somewhat like a hybrid of Mario Kart and Twisted Metal. It also features a great rock-n-roll soundtrack. I found the gameplay of this one to be much more polished than Daemon Detective Zero Racing; however, the game only features 4 tracks. While each of these tracks has a day and night and mirror mode version, there's still not much content here. That being said, I enjoyed my short time with it and it's definitely worth the download if you bought the bundle.
Score: ⭐⭐⭐

While the games I played for this round-up varied considerably in quality, I had a lot of fun digging into a genre that I enjoy but often tend to neglect!

Note: This post is part of the Chic-Pixel community's #RacingGameMonth event. For more info and their full list of events, check out this page: Community Game-Along Master List 2020