In our house, de Blob and de Blob 2 get played roughly once a year. They’re loved by pretty much everyone, and that’s down to the pure satisfaction of taking a completely pale, white city and painting it with colours. It’s such a simple idea, and it puts grins on so many faces. I dare not leave open paints in the house for the same reason. I suspect that there are other families that get that joy from Splatoon, or Crayola Scoot.
Splash Cars is in the same family of games. It gives you a blank canvas, and the ability to paint all over it. But while those other games have used a blob’s body, a gun and a scooter as the paintbrush, here it’s a car. What it proves is that the method of painting isn’t important: it’s making a royal mess that’s fun, as Splash Cars – at its heart – is a fantastic fun toy to play with.
As with those other games, there’s a thin premise to excuse the fun painting stuff. You are a rebel driver, bringing colour to the neighbourhood, and the cops aren’t happy about it. So they’re ramming you off the road, trying to stop you from being a mobile Banksy.
Playing couldn’t be easier. You’re dumped in a corner of something that looks like suburban, white-picket-fence America in your choice of car. There’s no accelerate button here: you’re auto-driving, and paint is sploshing out of your exhaust without you having to do a thing. It makes Splash Cars reasonably welcoming for younger players, as the only buttons are turning left and right.
As the paint layers onto the raid, a percentage ticks up. This is your coverage of the level, and it’s abundantly clear that success is determined by how much you can paint with the level’s allocation of fuel. So, you’re following where you haven’t been, a snaking trail of grey, and trying to spot larger-scale grey buildings that can be snapped to a different colour by lightly bumping them.
If Splash Cars kept it there, we likely would have been happy, but it’s got some neat, quirky ideas to pop on top. Fuel canisters litter the level, so you can extend your stay and get higher points. Power-ups, unlocked over the course of your career, begin to appear in the level, and they have wildly different abilities, like turning you into a micro machine, swapping your car for a tank, and turning you invisible so the rozzers can’t get you. Our favourite addition was a convoy of street-washer vehicles that would clean up your mess unless you get to them first, filling them full of paint so they do a lot of the level’s work for you. It’s so satisfying to watch your percentage tick up while you’re effectively doing nothing.
There are three stars for each level, and unlocking the next level will be attached to one of those three stars. One level might require you to get one star, another might require three stars. Alongside this, you can unlock cars, get tokens that act as a car-unlocking currency, and get coins. Layering on top of that, there’s a kind of overall levelling system, and this starts handing out power-up bonuses and general car improvements.
Our relationship with Splash Cars is a complicated one. It’s a game that is such incredible fun, that has a pure core that we love. But it keeps getting in the way of itself, putting up road-diversion signs when you just want to be enjoying the motorway.
The first problem is that it’s clearly a free-to-play title that’s had some light-touch improvements to make it a full-price console release. What that means is the balancing is off: it’s skewed towards the grind, and you have to play levels over and over to make meaningful progress. Want the next car? You will certainly need it, as the extra speed and fuel that comes with it is essential. But you’re going to need thousands of coins to purchase them, and – since you only get a few hundred coins from replaying a level – you will have to be grinding to get there.
Not content with that hiccup, Splash Cars ploughs down the same path. Car recolours are even more expensive, so they may as well not be there. At the end of the level, there’s also an offer that gets splashed across the screen: you can have a little more time in the level if you pay a lump sum of coins. Splash Cars has balanced this lump sum to be roughly double the amount you can get in the level on a standard playthrough, so you can bet on the chance of reaching a three-star clearance, but it will cost you two levels worth of grind.
There is a possibility that players will stay on Splash Cars’ upward skill curve, buying cars at just the right rate and ignoring the ‘extra time!’ offers to make sure they do very little grinding. But we fell off it, and the next cars were dozens of levels of grind away. Getting to the next level, where more grinding awaited, felt like some kind of almighty folly.
Which is where Splash Cars’ second problem comes in. It can’t find a way to make one level sufficiently different from another. One level might have slightly more farmy stuff in it, while another might be moderately more industrial, but there’s a sameness that pervades Splash Cars. When you start each level with the same grey colour scheme, that sameness hurts more. You are moving from one blank suburb to the other, and it makes the grind more pronounced. It’s a lot to ask of a budget title like this – and the presentation elsewhere is stellar – but if you’re going to invite grind, you better ensure that things change up. And they don’t.
I deeply want to give Splash Cars a high score. It’s managed to grab hold of a fantastic central idea, and it knows what to do with it. Drifting round corners, paint splashing out of your spoiler, and gas stations and lumbermills lighting up with the merest of touches, is undeniably brilliant. It’s an all-ages joy, and we were primed to love the levels that followed.
But Splash Cars kept putting blockades up. It can’t help itself, tossing free-to-play tire-spikes onto the road, knocking all momentum out of the game. Grinding for coins to make essential progress isn’t fun, it’s a speed-limiter.
So yes, our relationship with Splash Cars is indeed complicated. It’s largely a case of what could have been. This is a fantastic car to drive, a real joy to play around in. But it’s been stuck on some restrictive and repetitive circuits.
You can buy Splash Cars from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S
- A fantastic paint-pot premise
- Controls are on point
- Glamorously presented
- Feels like a free-to-play mobile port
- Too much grinding
- Levels are repetitive
- Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - Eastasiasoft
- Formats - Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS4, PS5, Switch
- Version reviewed - Xbox Series X
- Release date - 9 Mar 2022
- Launch price from - £5.79