One of the long-standing issues with local versus multiplayer gameplay is that invariably, the person that owns the game is more than likely to win overall. Any win that comes from another player is a turn up for the books, and greeted with shock at the occurrence.
All this changes with Wheelspin Frenzy, a game that – either through meticulous gameplay tweaking or sheer dumb luck – levels out the playing field and offers an exciting racing game for up to four players. Judging from the menu design though, I am inclined to go down the sheer dumb luck option.
Wheelspin Frenzy is an old-school racer where up to eight vehicles – with a maximum of four that are player controlled – race around 20 tracks set across four vastly different environments. Played from an isometric point of view, there is no mini-map to show you where you are or – more importantly – where your opponents are. Thus, the game requires an understanding of the track layouts as due to the fixed camera, some corners are tricky to anticipate, particularly when driving ‘down’ the screen. Fans of Super Off Road, Micro Machines and R.C. Pro-Am will feel right at home with this set-up.
The tracks are split across four distinct areas that each offer unique challenges: The Countryside is where trees and buildings dot the roadside, Winterland sees most tracks set on frozen rivers where traction is at a premium, Mountain comes with the biggest obstacle – that of giant cliff edges you will fall off – and Racetrack delivers a course with tight corners and sweeping straights.
There are also a good variety of cars to drive, ranging from tractors to more traditional racing cars. With noticeable difference in speeds across the vehicles and different driving approaches necessary for the track variations, this is an arcade racer with the perfect amount of depth.
Gameplay is very much in keeping with an arcade racer too, with plenty of oversteer to allow you to seemingly drift round corners – but don’t be afraid to brake either because there is a big penalty to overall speed for going off track. And if you need to reset your car for whatever reason, there is a three second wait before your car is reset which can feel like an eternity in a close race.
No amount of depth can help you though when you and three friends line up on the start line. The game quickly becomes a free-for-all on wheels where crashes are not just accepted but encouraged, and you will spend more time drifting off the track or into other players than you will on focusing on speed. A fitting game design then for the name Wheelspin Frenzy.
Added to this depth is a lot of customisation in the tracks you play; there are 20 to choose from and you can set-up a tournament that lasts one race, all 20, or any number in between. There is also a randomisation option to leave it up to chance and you can even increase or decrease the number of laps using the shoulder buttons – though this is not made immediately obvious in the menu. Frame rate drops have been noticed though with the increase of drivers.
All this depth and customisation is welcome, but it can be a real pain to arrange; the menus are very confusing to get your head around. The analog sticks are annoyingly used to navigate the main menu, as directional buttons do not work. In the following menu where you choose your car and number of opponents, both the analog sticks and directional buttons work, but are used for different things and are seemingly counter-intuitive to what the analog sticks were used for mere seconds before. To top things off, the highlighted option only very faintly highlights anything, and isn’t the easiest thing to notice should you forget what you last selected. On more than one occasion I had to restart a race because the set-up wasn’t what I was hoping to achieve.
Once you are finally in game, you will notice an odd grainy-effect on the cars and the environments. Each car appears to have its own aura around it, where everything looks grainy. This can look particularly bad when the camera is focused in on your car, especially on the Winterland levels.
If that wasn’t enough, when the race starts your car will always be hovering just slightly above the track so that no matter where you start, you will end up being shunted out of the way because every AI car has gotten a better start than you.
And then we get to the achievements; there are 11 in total with four unlocked for winning every race in each area that are worth 125G each. The rest must be a doddle then, right? Wrong. Because most of the environments feature destructible elements, the developers want you to be more than aware of this and ‘destruct’ them. For the completion you will need to destroy 100 gas stations, 250 advertisement signs, 500 barriers and traffic signs, and 1000 crops and fences. And then to finish off, win a 20-race tournament that incorporates every track.
Yet, despite all the frustrations, this is an enjoyable little racer in both single-player and multiplayer. The achievements are unnecessarily grindy, the menus are confusing, and the graphics aren’t pretty, but the gameplay and driving mechanics are solid enough. And ultimately, that’s all that matters with the pros outweighing the cons with Wheelspin Frenzy.