Marble Skies (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £7.19
Where To Get It: Steam

Way back, in the mists of time, I used to play a wee game called Marble Madness. Good lord, it was frustrating, and was my first experience with a trackball. Many twenty-pences were lost, and, honestly, I never finished it. But hot dang if I had a love-hate relationship with that marble. Loved the idea, hated the levels.

The years have been somewhat kind to marble based racing games, thankfully, and, while Marble Skies is somewhat minimalistic, it’s also got its charm. It’s also got… Some demoralising best times. We’ll come back to those.

I’m pretty sure I’ve managed to get this down to 21 seconds, but, on watching the best time replay… So many edge leaps… So… Many…

Okay, let’s back up. Effectively, Marble Skies involves, as most marble games do, controlling an unruly, heavy marble along an obstacle course (sometimes needing to collect gems, sometimes merely needing to get to the exit) as quickly as possible, without dying. Want to get in among the speedrunners? Well, prepare to get acquainted with this marble’s physics, and jump segments of the course. Lots of them. Hell, at first, I doubted the current leaderboard times, but then I managed to get close enough to see how it could be done on a couple of levels. (I still doubt some of them, though, to be honest. But much fewer than I did…)

Aesthetically, like I said, the game is minimalist. It uses Unreal’s glows and gloss fairly well, but what it treasures more over looking pretty is clarity. Simple menus, clear differentiation of features.. The worst I could say, aesthetically, is that the music is rare, and that some of the main features are not really very clear (like jumps or gravity switches.) The sound of the rolling ball is nice, as well, and customisation is alright, all using points earned via play.

Mere seconds away from bouncing forward, past the grippy tiles, past the pillar, and into space. Eep.

Mainly, the biggest turnoff for folks will probably be an actual feature, in that glass balls are actually quite heavy, and turn, generally speaking, like a heavy thing that rolls easily. They also bounce quite a bit, and so, quite a few times in trying to get a quicker time, all I’ve done is bounce into oblivion, and hit the restart button with a gusty sigh (as dying during a run will not reset your time, presumably for speedrunners who want to be faithful with their times to complete) The level design does ramp up moderately quickly (By the time gravity switches got introduced, near the end of the beginner levels, I was sweating), so I honestly wouldn’t say this was a beginner’s marble rolling game, but the level layouts are interesting and sometimes pretty cool.

Finally, there’s a mini golf mode, and, honestly, this is the weakest feature. It’s an alright mini golf game, if you like golfing with marbles, but, not gonna lie, marbles or other glass balls would not be my first choice of ball, and the control scheme for it is fiddly (hold left, then mouse up and down for power, mouse left and right for direction. Release to fire.)

Go in. It’s sloped, y’git, go… IN!

Overall, then, Marble Skies is mostly a “Does what it says on the tin” release. For fans of marble puzzle racers, it’s an enjoyable one, but it’s not really going to bring anyone who’s on the fence into liking this style of game.

The Mad Welshman was, alas, too young for marbles in the playground to be a serious thing. I mean, Pogs, sure. But not marbles.

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Team Sonic Racing (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £34.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Obligatory “Oh look, it has Denuvo” warning.

Ah, doesn’t Team Sonic Racing look pretty? Aren’t its tracks interesting, and its soundtrack gorgeous butt rock of the type we’ve come to love and expect? Solid voice acting, and a typically Sonic story with fourth wall breaking and silliness? Golly gee, this would normally make for a very positive review, wouldn’t it?

Exceeept… Team Sonic Racing, to me, feels like a case of “You had one job.” Because the racing… Is somewhat painful.

Oh dear. Knuckles got hit by something. Not my fault!

Not the team aspect. That was actually quite interesting and cool. After all, encouraging co-operation in a team racer is a good thing, and this, it does quite well, by giving benefits to those who slipstream each other, give each other little nudges forward, weapon boxes when they ask for them (The person heavily in first place rarely needs them, after all), and even for agreeing to use Team Ultimate at the same time. That is legitmately cool, so props where props are due.

No. It’s the rest of it. Let’s start with this whole drifting thing. If your drifting is painful, on both mouse and keyboard (and it was for me), then maybe, just maybe, it’s not a good idea to so heavily emphasise it. Or make it the star ability behind both the “collect things” challenge types that exist. Overall steering is, honestly, not terrible (not great, but not terrible), but, since the track design also has things for which a simple turn doesn’t suffice, er… That drifting is required. The same drifting that so badly gelled with me. Joy. It doesn’t help that the drift boost is… Disappointing, compared to the headliner team mechanics.

Attempted, a light drift: What I get… OH GOD WALL WHY.

And then… Customisation. Normally, I am a beast for customisation in racing games. I love me new parts. But when firstly, said customisation is based on gacha (That’s random drops, ala lootboxes), and there are a total of three parts of Speed, Technique, and Power type, along with gold versions of the exact same powerups… Well, that’s somewhat dull, especially as their boosts and maluses are… Middling, at best, not significantly changing play.

As noted, on an aesthetic level, it works just fine. Most things are clear (The only thing I didn’t find too clear was the quicksand v track segment of one track, but overall, it’s bright, with solid readability and good value shifts for clarity), the designs work well, and the music and VO are good, solid stuff. But this is, unfortunately, an at best passable racing game. At worst, its drift’n’collect stages are frustrating, and the online play… Well, it isn’t great. The ending animations become unskippable (and they are slow), reports come in of matchmaking problems…

AEAB. That’s all I have to say.

…Overall, TMW has definitely seen better kart racing. TMW has definitely seen better racing games overall. And this is a shame, because an otherwise glittering core element, and an otherwise shiny exterior sandwiches… Well, blandness and some irritation.

It is The Mad Welshman’s sad duty is to inform you that no, you do not, in fact, go that fast here.

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Horizon Chase Turbo (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49 (£17.53 for game+soundtrack, £3.99 soundtrack)
Where to Get It: Steam

Arcade racing games can be beautiful things. They don’t even have to be twitchy, they just have to feel twitchy. And the best of them appreciate that all you really need is steering, acceleration, brakes, and boost.

While the number of racers seems intimidating, there is some level of avoidance on starting, so with a little care, it’s fine.

Okay, that one’s subjective, but hey, less controls means more accessibility, and on the controls front, Horizon Chase Turbo definitely fits the bill. Everything is accessible on keyboard with one hand. And, while the game definitely has some twitchy sections, a lot of it is, essentially, the art of the overtake. Turning corners hard may get you round that corner for sure, but if you want to pass that car in front instead of bumping their rear end… Well, ease off on the turn a little, you can edge by ’em!

Now, the thing with Horizon Chase Turbo is that, apart from completionist stuff, mechanically, it is very much “Does What It Say On The Tin.” The most complex part of it is boost starting (Have your revs in the green, not the red when the count hits 0, you get a boost), and everything else is aesthetic and track design… And the base track design is good. Good aesthetics, and only a few nasty surprises in the form of a couple of high chicane tracks early on.

A lot of overtakes feel… Really close on reflection. But damn, they feel good…

No, where it likes to get challenging (sometimes downright nasty) is for the completionists among us. You see, there are tokens. Get all the tokens and place first, you get a super trophy. Get all the super trophies, and a gold in the Upgrade race (Permanent buffs for all your cars, two stats at a time), and you unlock a new car. But these tokens have been the biggest source of retries for me, as some are placed in such a way you have to get each row, each lap, some are placed so it would be very difficult to get both rows in one go, and one track in particular in the early game raised my eyebrow a little, as the tokens are on the inside of one curve to the outside of the next. In driving terms, this is basically the hardest kind of line you can try to follow.

But the thing is, apart from that, Horizon Chase Turbo is really enjoyable to play. Its simplicity means you’re paying attention to the race, its music is good driving tunes, from rocking synth guitars to instruments that remind me heavily of Amiga soundfonts (The Amiga had a lot of racing games), it’s visually pleasing and clear, and, for the devs among us, there’s the fun note that Horizon Chase Turbo mimics the visual style of outrun (Which used sprite scaling to imply distance) by… Scaling the models as they become visible, essentially doing a 2D trick that was necessary into a 3D trick that isn’t, but adds directly to the feel. That’s classy.

I dunno, random dialogue… There’s a certain… y’know, joo noo say kwah about lapping the person who was first…

For a good look at a good way of doing an Outrun style arcade racer, or if you’re looking for a racing game that doesn’t have you tearing out your hair, Horizon Chase Turbo is definitely worth a look.

The Mad Welshman enjoys good arcade racing so much, he forgets release dates. Ah well, it’s good stuff.

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SEQUENCE STORM (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £13.49
Where To Get It: Steam

When you’re a data daemon down on your luck, sometimes even the shittiest of opportunities is a godsend. So it is for Elijah Gale who, having blown his last paycheck on a data daemon race, gets thrown into the world of… Rhythm racing hacking?

Our Protagonist, about to make the mistake that changes his life…

Bloody techno-capitalism, making programs that make no sense to the uninitiated…

Joking aside, Sequence Storm is, as noted, a rhythm racer, in which you are juggling inputs that race toward you, hitting them (or holding them) at the right times so as not to damage your racer, and do jobs for corporations. Although the default keyboard layout is a relatively sensible one, controller is still recommended, as there are a total of 9 things you have to keep an eye on (four bars, four lines, and a jump… Not to mention having to steer when you boost), and hitting buttons and triggers feels somewhat more intuitive than “Shift up one key, quickly right one key, wait, two keys right, yada yada.” And, while the tutorial does a really good job of letting you know what’s what, it also lets you know that the gloves are going to come off relatively early, leading to hectic times. Helpful tip: The bars to jump seem to be at a slightly later point than either the lines or blocks.

Why yes, I am a coward who screenshotted one of the lighter stretches.

So it’s kind of nice, then, that the early tunes are among the most relaxing synthwave beats I’ve listened to in a while. Makes a nice counterpoint to my swearing when I inevitably screw it up. A good soundtrack, with intuitive beat markers, is a hallmark of a good rhythm game, and Sequence Storm definitely provides on that front, whether that’s the lighter tracks, or the grim saws and bass. Aesthetically, it also works pretty well, whether that’s the comic style story segments (In which Elijah is trying to make his way in a world where AI have taken all the jobs), or the race segments, which have a low poly, visually clear charm.

Now… The thing is, the gloves come off early, and the game is not forgiving. Jump bars, in particular, don’t give much room for error, and I very quickly found that anything less than good, long streaks is going to fail me a run. Although it doesn’t look it at first, it gets twitchy, and it gets twitchy pretty quickly. Does that make it a bad game? No. Its inputs are responsive, and you can, over time, build up that muscle memory, even with the track twisting and turning in an attempt to throw you off, but it’s definitely going to throw off newcomers. Add in a challenge mode later, and… Well, it’s a tough game, and I don’t think it makes any bones about that.

Elijah’s Rig, in all its beautiful, low poly glory.

Still, personally, I see myself coming back to it every now and again, despite finding it somewhat unforgiving, as the tunes are excellent, the visualisation is clear (and minimalist enough that there’s few distractions), and the story, equally minimalist though it is, is interesting. I would maybe like beginner mode to be a liiiiittle more beginner (Okay, a fair bit more beginner), but that is, honestly, me.

The Mad Welshman does not dance. Well, not often, anyway. But he does like a good tune.

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GRIP (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £24.99 (Assorted team unlock DLC totalling around £6)
Where To Get It: Steam

GRIP, spiritual successor to Rollcage and future racing game about cars that work equally well (or poorly) both ways up, remains a game where when it goes well, it goes very well, and when it goes poorly, you say rude words and hit the “RESTART” button. It also remains a game where the line between the two can be quite thin. As thin as a single ramp, or some inconsiderate driver you’ve just shot with a gatling deciding to get in your way after several high caliber reminders not to.

Pictured: Poor combat-racer etiquette, as demonstrated by a robot.

You’d think they’d learn after the fifth missile for getting ahead of me in a row. But such is life in the world of GRIP. C’est la guerre, as they say.

The thing with GRIP is that, although it’s undeniably cool, it is also harder and a little less accessible than other Future Racers. Breakneck speed, combined with the ability to launch yourself into the air, combined with less than stellar track signposting and some nasty corners… This is before we get into things like the entire HUD going screwy when you’re heavily damaged, or the less than friendly multiplayer interface (and odd segregation of race types.)

Does that, necessarily, make it bad? Well, no. It’s aiming for barely controlled chaos, and it gets barely controlled chaos. It’s also one of the first future racers where I felt obligated to use the brakes. And, to its credit, it does mention the difficulty of the tracks, and it’s not joking when it says “Hard.” To take one example, the aptly named Acrophobia (A mountain track set above some deadly drops) finishes with perhaps the nastiest brake trick I’ve seen, a leap from one track to another vertically opposite, then… Ah, then, if you don’t immediately slow down, you’ll careen off the side of a 90 degree hard turn, rather than quickly braking (or at least, taking your finger off accelerate) dropping from the second track, slowed down, but able to take that sharply angled corner. That one caught me out more times than I care to count.

I can’t deny, however, that it looks *awesome* when you pull it off.

On the plus side, beyond the track design, and the usual Future Racer tricks (Such as only hitting the accelerator on “GO!” to get a boost-start… Itself mainly useful if you don’t have a conga line of racers in front to ruin said boost), difficulty can be set in a moderately granular fashion. Don’t like blowing up mid-race? GRIP feels you, and lets you turn that option off. Want packs to be more cohesive, and to never feel truly safe in a race? Rubber-banding can be turned on and off. Don’t like Blue Shells (the Hunter missile)? You can turn that off in pickups. Well, in single player and online, anyway. In Campaign, the rules are mostly set.

Speaking of weapons, the game seems to be at its best when it’s sticking to traditional models. There, any flaws in the bots seem more natural. In Arena mode, for example, I never really felt challenged by the bots, only by other players, while in Ultimate race mode (which adds a stunt and combat scoring mechanism, as well as racing points), it felt like the more cohesive the pack was, the harder the time I had racking up those points. After all, you don’t get points for fucking up and losing seven places… Speaking of… A reset remains punishing in most cases, so occasionally, there’s the frustration of a second placer knocking you off the track (or going off the track due to a moment’s inattention), and… All of a sudden, you’ve lost several places, and, if this is anything after the 2nd lap, good luck clawing your place back. Combat is nearly all frontal, with some clever exceptions like the EMP field (also known as “Punish anyone coming close”) and the time slow powerup (Which slows everyone except you… Normally quite powerful, it can, however, aid some players through the more difficult sections, which makes it a bit of a gamble. But a clever one, as some distance is always gained.)

The Hydra Missile. Poor lock-on range, situational… Still like it because it’s a swarm missile.

Overall, GRIP is something I personally enjoy, while acknowledging it’s a bit of a mixed bag. The menu accessibility varies, the track signposting is iffy, the tracks can get hard pretty quick. But the powerups are pretty balanced, the granular difficulty is a good choice, the music and visuals overall are pretty, and the feeling of big, chunky jet-propelled cars careening around their chosen track or arena is pretty good, right up until it suddenly feels a bit frustrating. Probably not best for first time future racers, but at least alright overall.

The Mad Welshman will always, when customisation options are available, go for the most garish car imaginable. It’s basically like using missiles, but for the eyes.

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