DISTANCE (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.49
Where To Get It: Steam

2018 continues to be a year of firsts for me saying words I never thought I’d say. In the case of Distance, spiritual successor to Nitronic Rush, those words are “Wow, I never thought I’d see a good horror game in the Future Racing genre.”

Grain, spooky thing in the distance, ambience? Yup, that’s… Waaaaaait…

And yet… Here we are. A Future Racing game involving a car that can fly, tumble, and make sharp turns without braking… Also being a game with horror stylings, unsettling the player with strange vistas of a world gone horribly wrong, shining hope transmuted to despair. Without a single human character, only a car, a road that inexplicably seems to want you dead, a teleporter, and a rogue machine… OR IS IT?

Okay, so it gets a little odd and ambiguous at times, and I’m not 100% sure I can give the game props for horror writing when I haven’t completely played through the second campaign, but moodwise, it definitely creates feelings I’d associate with horror: Uneasiness and dissociation, asking myself… What’s really going on?

It also helps that it’s a smooth game. While I would recommend controller over keyboard for Distance, if only because the control scheme is a little odd, the keyboard controls are, nonetheless, quite smooth, and I only ever felt a little put out during the quicker, more difficult segments by the aforementioned control scheme (Quickly hitting SPACE, A/D, and SHIFT in the right timings was a little bit frustrating. Only needed late in the main campaign, and I’m sure rearranging keybinds could help.)

While flying is relatively rare, the cold, deep depths of space aren’t. They’re breathtaking. Well, they would be if cars had lungs, anyway…

Aesthetically, the game is on point pretty much throughout. Good signposting, clear visuals, and a dystopian retrofuturist aesthetic that works well whether it’s ruined or not, I never felt distracted. Musically, it switches well from pumping electronic beats to more ambient, horror styled soundscapes, and the sound effects and voice work well.

So… So far, I’ve been pretty glowing about Distance. And it is a good game. It helps that it also has a track editor and Workshop support, but one thing I will say is that I don’t really feel like the campaign added a whole lot to flying before it’s taken away from you for the majority of the rest. Part of that, I get, flying is hard, and inverting the vertical controls is a bit of a shock if you aren’t prepared for it (My exact words were, as I recall “Friends don’t let friends invert on you.”), but it was somewhat disappointing to see flying under-represented. But other changes from the original formula, such as a “down” thrust (that’s “down relative to your car”) are definitely welcomed, and I did, overall, find enjoyment in doing some of the silly things you can do with your jumping, thrusting, tumbling electronic car before the end of its main campaign.

And that, honestly, is about all I can say, because the game is simple and tight, elegantly tutorialises, and is fairly accessible to boot. It’s got some interesting horror elements that feel natural, and is well worth a look from the Future Racing crowd.

Another improvement over Nitronic Rush… These spikes didn’t want to make me throw my control-device out of a window.

No, for reference, Twisted Metal doesn’t count, because it’s a Combat Racer. Small diff.

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All-Stars Fruit Racing (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.99 (With “Yogscast Exclusive DLC” for £1.69″ …)
Where To Get It: Steam

So… Cast’s still extremely white, then. Kind of a metaphor, really, for how the game has turned out, despite me being relatively nice last time I reviewed it. Perhaps too nice, as, over time, the flaws have become somewhat apparent.

This is the middle of the three skin tones on display, and poor Cora (Coconut) appears to stand alone in that midground.

Aesthetically, the game is mostly on point. There’s a lot of visual interest to the tracks, the UI’s pretty clear, the music’s good, and the devs have taken pains to ensure the tracks are part of their world, such as the snake from the first track of Papaya Island being a visual feature in at least one other track, and the like. And if it were just aesthetic, then I would be down for keeping this game on my Recommended list.

But it’s not. There’s a racing game in there, and, after time spent with it? It’s not that good. In fact, like the cast, it’s… Pretty bland. I had hoped, during the Early Access period, that it would get interesting, but there’s only so many variations of “This is a missile”, “This is a contact slowdown”, “This is a boost”, and “This is a trap” before it gets dull, and some of them last a long time. 5 or 6 places worth of time, which, when the AI preferentially targets you, can mean that you’ve just come out of a boost, somewhat ahead of everybody, when… BANANA, UNSPECIFIED ICE, PEACH, COCONUT, and bam, you’re last place, and not able to race for a vital second or two. Cars are cosmetic, so I’ve, unsurprisingly, been spending much of my time with Rebecca, whose special power is… A longish boost.

Started 1st, was made 8th by the AI ganging up, and, after this screenshot, I win by a nose *despite* being attacked a few more times.

The tracks are, for the most part, good, it must be said. Only a few exceptions exist, and most of those are due to arbitrary barriers. But… For all the unlockable characters, I have little incentive to pick them, because their special abilities… Are mostly eh. Some, like Amelia, have front firing missiles that auto target the next person along (and yes, there are shield powerups, so you at least have a chance of not losing five damn places to a Banana Rocket.) Many have mines of some description (with Gwendalyn’s Kiwi Mine being the most powerful, a slow field dropped onto the track.) One of the more inventive ones is Giselle’s Avocado Bite (A chomping, avocado coloured plant grows on the front, biting anyone directly in front of you.)

But all of them, in terms of pure competition, pale in comparison to being able to go faster. And that, honestly, is a problem. The karts themselves have no inherent advantages or disadvantages, so winning involves three things: Drifting a lot (preferably before a boost pad, as boosts stack.) A good racing line. And having boost abilities. Oh look, guess who’s the only character who has that? Strawberry Wings Awaaaaaaay!

There is multiplayer, and there are multiple game modes, but certain characters are a pain to unlock because, as is often the case with a racing game’s first outing, the time-trial gold times can best be described as “Race perfectly, and then some.” Which is decidedly unfun.

As such, despite having a visually interesting world and some good music, I can’t really recommend All-Star Fruit Racing, because it’s a case of style over substance, and, as a party racer, it has balance problems.

Obstacles, if hit, slow you down as if attacked by the weapons. Not, if you look in the bottom left, that it matters right now…

The Mad Welshman will always warn folks about giving one person a turbo nobody else has. Always.

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Hot Lava! (Early Access Review)

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

Saying the words “First Person Platforming” is, in the majority of cases, a phrase to make one shudder. It’s rarely replied to politely, and, while there have been good games with first person platforming and movement elements, they’re rare enough that, for the most part, they don’t go down well.

Not pictured: The fifteen other attempts to get the sub 5 minute star, the buckets of sweat dumped over me, the grunts of EFFORT and the Body English. Also that this is a still of the middle of a series of jumps that take about a second, maybe a second and a half.

So it’s perhaps a good start for me to say that the most shudderworthy part of Hot Lava, a game that entirely revolves around first person platforming, was its attempt at a Saturday Morning Cartoon theme, and the lampshady humour about SatAm writing. Also the really thin poles, but we’ll get to those.

From what I can tell, the story of the game, such as it is, is that you’re a child with a highly active imagination (Who, as in my childhood, seems to be going through an “Imaginary self” phase), who is playing “The Floor Is Lava” , that game where the whole point isn’t to touch the carpet or flooring, because if you do… If you doooo… You’re sooooo dead. Because the floor is lava!

Now add in a score mechanic, collectibles, fake loot boxes bought with in-game currency, character customisation of your Action-Man jointed avatars, time-trial leaderboards, a pogo stick for some challenges, and a whole host of tricks and traps that could conceivably be how a child would imagine the danker and hidden parts of the school (like the ventilation being filled with deadly fans and crusher traps), and you have Hot Lava in its present, Early Access state.

Guess who gets the Boy Aquaman(TM) Short End of the Stick? #GiveSueNamiAChanceHackWriters

Aesthetically and accessiblity wise, insofar as a game about, basically, speedrunning a first person platforming level is pretty good. I never outright failed to notice something I could (in theory) jump to, there’s a checkpoint marker that is, unfortunately, not often all that useful, but it is there, and clear to boot, I had no problems with menu options or colourblindness issues, and things that can be swung from or grappled are highlighted well. The controls are, at their basic level, pretty simple: Tap space to jump, WASD to move, you control your jump mainly by mouse direction, rather than strafing, and you automatically grab anything that you can grab and have successfully reached.

Of course, for the “Pros” (ARGH) , there are tricks like perfect jump timing, a variation on Quake Bunny Hopping (If you jump, and both strafe and turn in a direction, then jump with the right rhythm, alternating directions, your momentum increases. A lot), and other such shenanigans. Oh, and a hidden comic and golden pin somewhere in the level, further cementing that one of the inspirations here (Beyond the child-to-tween-hood of a 30-40 something) is the Tony Hawks series. Or maybe Dave Mirra Pro BMX…

Scratch that, I have very unfond memories of playing the latter. In any case, the game, overall, feels alright, and you quickly get into the rhythm, except for the times you’re lost (The game relies on replay, so that’s less of a sin than you’d think), the times the way forward is awkward (Such as in the Ventilation Tunnels Of Crushing and Fanblades) , and… Thin rods that you have to jump on. The first person equivalent of “Pixel perfect platforming”, I despise them so, and am grateful that their somewhat easier to deal with cousin, Thin Rods You Can Jump On And Run Across, don’t have a tightrope or grind balance mechanic to – that is not a suggestion, Klei Entertainment… koff… Just to clarify.

Unlike either 80s playsets or loot boxes, the playsets of Hot Lava don’t ask for your blood, soul, money, or grandparents. All you need is to play. Plaaaaay. Plaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyy!

As much as it feels odd to say this, Hot Lava… Looks promising. And this, funnily enough, is why I didn’t delay this review until the second area (Billed for about a week after the review hits) arrived… Because, even at this early stage, it’s oddly fun. With the exception of the SatAm theme… Sorry, folks, I know some SatAm themes were abominable, but that’s no excuse, dammit!

The Mad Welshman, overall, recommends this. The lava has told him it will eat all his favourite socks if he doesn’t. Joke’s on the lava, he likes the game anyway, and never mastered the art of wearing matching pairs.

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Antigraviator (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £19.49
Where To Get It: Steam

As Future Racers go, Antigraviator is an interesting, but slightly flawed one. It’s trying something different, and I appreciate that, but that doesn’t really change that it doesn’t, entirely at least, work well.

I would like to apologise for being good enough at Future Racing games that this is the only mid-pack screenshot I have.

So, it’s a Future Racer, so there’s gravity hovercraft wot go fast, a lot of tracks in varying locales in tournaments of increasing difficulty, a boost start (Gotten by holding accelerate just as 2 vanishes and 1 is about to count), and… No context for any of this. Nope, this is a racing tournament, just a racing tournament, and that’s all good, with no in-game lore. Interesting move.

But, make no mistake, the tracks are very pretty. Even in the first tourney, you go from a “standard” city setting, to racing over the ocean, through a canyon system, and in orbit. It’s lush, and it’s fast, and it’s here we start to see this minimalist future racing game fight with itself, design wise.

It’s fast, and there’s a lot, I mean a lot, of blind jumps and turns, sometimes quite hard ones, sometimes in quick succession. But don’t worry, because only grievous collisions slow you down more than a tadge, and, unless you’ve gone for a low armour craft (more on that later), getting blown up by anything short of leaving the track (an instant explosion if you don’t land on the track, followed, in most cases, by respawn and loss of all speed you’ve built up) is quite tough. Okay, cool, these design decisions appear to have cancelled each other out for an alright, if odd baseline. But then we hit the Deathmatch mode of races, and they’re longer, and harder to lose, precisely because you have so much armour (and so do some of the other racers.) So, how do you blow people up?

Well, instead of weapon pickups, you have, at pre-determined points of the track, traps. Some are near-certain killers (like the reverse controls/magnet trap) , some are, basically, weapons (the missile), and the rest vary between fitting and slightly silly, deadly and slowing. Most require someone to be in front of you to trigger, give you a temporary immunity that usually gets you through the trap yourself, and have the good feature of telling you whether they caught somebody.

The first time playing, it goes straight to the mandatory tutorial. Not sure how I feel about that.

Unfortunately, they also require you and the other racer to be in a specific set of ranges to trigger, which conflicts, somewhat, with the other main mechanic, boost energy. See, going fast by collecting boost cylinders, and then boosting with the up arrow (2 cylinders per boost, and you can chain them pretty quickly) means that, funnily enough, you can end up first very quickly, so most of these traps… No longer mean much to you, especially if you stay far ahead enough that traps mean nothing. Even if, due to the fact the AI racers are fairly good, you’re not in first, you’re going quickly enough that, by the time the icon on the back of your ship lights up to show a trap has gone off, by the time it tells you a trap is ready, and by the time you look away from your real visual focal point of the track ahead of the ship (because you’re going very fast) … You miss your chance. The better a racer you are, the less you get to see or use a feature.

I’m not going to lie, I don’t have good answers for alternatives beyond the traditional, and I can also see why the traditional is being turned down here: It democratises things, to an extent, as the traps are track dependent, not based on loadout, or pre-genned track items, or a semi-random weapon pickup. The higher armour definitely helps ensure you can keep your speed (mostly) in track design that just wouldn’t work if, for example, wall and other ship collisions seriously hurt you, so the developers can use all those blind, sharp corners and jumps that normally, I would be crying hatred for, from the word go… Indeed, the final track of the second tournament, Michael’s Bay, earns my ire for being more hostile than the tracks bracketing it on either side, a solid and frustrating difficulty spike in a game otherwise able to mitigate that.

Finally, we get to the customisation options, and my greatest mystification. Scaling costs, I somewhat understand, but they’re applied inconsistently. Non-body parts, for example, don’t have nearly the steep cost rises that the two other body types (one tankier, one the “hard mode” craft that’s supremely fast, but has far inferior handling and shields), and… The colour schemes?

Accessibility note: The cost of the item should not be below the stat bar, and should be bigger than it is. The cost is 100,000.

No, really… The final colour scheme costs almost as much as the hard mode body part, and each colour scheme is more expensive than the last, because… I genuinely couldn’t tell you. I have no answer here, and it both confuses and annoys.

In the end, with the odder exceptions aside, Antigraviator is actually fun. It manages to be fun despite its design decisions fighting each other like design decisions were a cage match. Its online play has rankings, but remains fun, and the quick race mode means, unless you want to buy from the somewhat limited part set, you don’t have to engage with the tournament structure, just… To have a good time. Doesn’t change the fact it confuses me greatly, but it does make recommending it for what it is slightly easier. Worth a go to see something different being done in Future Racing, a genre that, amusingly enough, has been highly resistant to formula changes.

Spaaaaace. <3

The Mad Welshman likes walls, so he’s glad he’s been given so much leeway to grind against them in racing.

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Slipstream (Review)

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

Slipstream is a bit of an odd duck, because your enjoyment of it depends on your mastery of precisely one thing: Releasing acceleration very briefly, tapping the brake and a direction, and then quickly holding accelerate back down so as not to lose much speed.

Be it in cities, in tournaments, or just going for a ride, drifting is the majority of what you’ll do here.

Welcome, in short, to an arcade racer where drifting, drifting all the time, drifting then suddenly shifting direction to drift the other way, is king, queen, and probably most of the hierarchy. In fact, I can pretty much guarantee you that not drifting will lose you every single game mode in this game, a certainty that, alas, came from my very frustrating fifteen minutes before giving up and going to the tutorial.

But once you get the hang of it… Ohhh, just enjoy the ride, my friend. Set a particularly strong fan to blow your hair so you can feel free, as the ride is gorgeous, and the tunes are pure 80s synthwave. Gorgeous. There’s a couple of modes to play, but, really, the main draw is Arcade, an Outrun style outing in which you race through 5 of the fifteen tracks, trying to beat randomly drawn rivals in each stage, choosing between your next stage via forks in the road, and not letting the timer run out. Simple, fun stuff. It’s also amusing that pretty much all the racers are references to something or other, such as Bob Ross, Daft Punk, and, yes, Tak, the protagonist of Initial D, is referenced as well.

“Little brakes… Happy little brakes, that’s what we want here…”

So, it’s fun once you get the hang of its core mechanic. It’s got a great aesthetic, faithfully reimagining the techniques of yore and with a cool soundtrack. But does it have flaws? In short, yes. For all that its epilepsy warning is a good idea, one of its biggest potential seizure inducers is the difficulty select screen on Arcade mode, which flashes both rapidly and obnoxiously. As an Outrun style game, its tracks do lack a little variety, with only a few chicanes, and mostly, sharp curves that require drifting (or heavy braking) to pass. And then, there’s the mechanic for which the game is named, which, unfortunately, is a mixed bag… Essentially, tail a car for long enough that “SLIPSTREAM” is spelt in the lower right, and you get a speed boost. Useful? Not… Terribly. Most cars are slower than you, and a slipstream at the wrong time sends you… Boosting right into a car or a corner, for a crash that seriously impacts your speed. It isn’t great.

Nonetheless, overall, Slipstream is engaging, atmospheric, and, once you get the hang of the drifting, fun. It’s a score attack game I can see myself coming back to a fair bit. Solid, aesthetic conscious work.

Oh, wait, one minor niggle… The facial sprites aren’t scaled well in the score screen. That’s small potatoes though.

The Mad Welshman has the special ability to drift in the a-h wait, no, that’s the crash animation. NEVER MIND.

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