In the space of a couple of weeks, OutOfTheBit Ltd have become one of my favourite indie game developers. Their ‘Super Arcade’ brand, which they’ve slapped on Super Arcade Football and now Super Arcade Racing, sounds about as unremarkable as you can get. But what it does mean – at least from the two games we’ve reviewed – is a classic game genre, refined and perfected, given stacks of content and game modes and, the cherry on top, a full story-driven campaign. Oh yes, and it’s all bundled up and sold for a bargain price.
Super Arcade Racing has got me forming a wishlist for what we’d like them to attack next. A Super Arcade Bubble Pop would be nice (it feels like we haven’t had a good, new Puzzle Bobble for an absolute age), or maybe a Super Arcade Desert Strike (or any other isometric shooter). You’ve probably got your own ones to add to that list.
The people at OutOfTheBit Ltd are clearly supremely talented. They have an unerring ability to understand what makes a game genre great and purely joyful, and buff it to an almighty sheen. Then they slip into Santa Claus mode and deliver generous amounts of stuff. They’ve done it once with football in Super Arcade Football, and they’re doing it again with the top-down racer in Super Arcade Racing. Once is a chance, twice is a coincidence, three times is a pattern, as they say. It will be fascinating to see if they can keep this up with a third game.
Super Arcade Racing will be immediately familiar to anyone who has played Super Off Road Racing, Micro Machines, Circuit Superstars and more. It’s the top-down racer, with vibrant pixel art, a pumping midi soundtrack, and four-player co-op out of the box. Better still, it’s got four-player online match-ups too, so you can crash into randoms from the internet. We don’t take the wealth of player-options for granted, and certainly not from a game that costs eight quid.
Super Arcade Racing can’t quite match Super Arcade Football’s sheer number of game modes. In that game, the campaigns and quick matches were supplemented with some bizarre scenarios and cups. Here, you’ll have to make do with custom quick races in multiplayer, and a campaign in single player. It’s more than enough for the price, but I’d have loved some elaborate tracks and cups to complete, or variants on what’s already here, like mirror modes and track editing.
But I’m still smitten. The campaign is more serious than Super Arcade Football, but has a similar talking heads approach. Your kid has been kidnapped, and ‘The Judge’ seems to be the perpetrator. He oversees the Super Arcade racing tournament, and you’re forced to slip on a racing helmet and enroll so you can find out where your kid’s gone. So, you’re winning race after race in the hopes that it puts you closer to The Judge’s goons (they’re an imaginative bunch, with names like The Rock and The Shark), and the clues they might hold. There are some twists on the way, too.
The campaign consists of sixty races, split into groups of five. The first four races in each of these groups are simple enough: it’s you and three other racers, completing three laps of a track, and you need to come in the top three to progress. The better you do, the more stars you get, and the more stars you get means more cash. After each race you can spend that cash in the Garage, unlocking improvements to your engine, gears, tyres, exhaust and aerodynamics. It’s a reasonably lightweight little upgrade system, and you’ll only get an improvement every two races or so, but it absolutely feels like it makes a difference. We had great fun returning to old tracks, only to find that we completely outpaced everyone. We felt like we were cheating, and it felt good.
The fifth track in a group is the boss battle. This has you in a head-to-head with one of Judge’s lackeys, and it’s less about laps and more about beating them to the finish line. These are tense encounters, mainly because there aren’t any laps to help you memorise the track. You’re just reacting and hoping you can keep a nose in front.
It’s impossible to talk about Super Arcade Racing and not talk about the nigh-perfect controls. We’re in Micro Machines territory: the controls are that good. Super Arcade Racing adopts an incredibly simple one-button approach to racing. You accelerate by holding A, and taking the finger off A doesn’t dramatically brake: it initiates a drift. So, you’re speeding into corners before lifting the finger off the acceleration, and then sidling into the racing-line on the other side. It’s intuitive, simple as pie, and an absolute joy to master. We were hugging corners like a boss.
A common pitfall with this kind of game is how twitchy and reflex-testing they can be. Often, you’re rewarded by how quickly you can react to an incoming corner, since the camera isn’t zoomed out enough to allow you to react. Super Arcade Racing’s answer is to slap a giant arrow on the track, and consistently abide by what that arrow means. You soon learn that an arrow on the track means a turn in exactly a second’s time, and the arrows are extremely clear about what kind of corner it is. It’s like having a co-driver in the car with you, laminated maps on their lap.
Props go to the props, too. The tracks are nice and all, but it’s the stuff on the tracks that really make them feel varied. You can slam into mountains and rocks will avalanche down on the players behind you. You can plough through trees and scatter police cones, hydroplane through oil slicks and jump over gaps. There are alternate routes and booster pads. In another game, these would be obstructive and a pain-in-the-ass. In Super Arcade Racing, the hazards are minor inconveniences that add on milliseconds, while the benefits shave off whole seconds. It’s all super-generous, and never once makes you want to rage-quit.
It’s got some minor kinks, but they’re far from dealbreakers. Other racers have a habit of jostling and ramming you, which can make the opening few seconds make-or-break. If you are not a beneficiary of this initial Royal Rumble, then you’re going to find it hard to catch up with the leader, at least in the latter races. The campaign’s story isn’t all that great, and it steers close to cliche: we were more impressed that it even had one in the first place. And as we mentioned, the multiplayer options are a tad limited. That’s if you can get an online game, as we were never able to find someone in the sessions we played.
Super Arcade Football was the Sensible Soccer successor that we’d been waiting patiently for; now, Super Arcade Racing meets precisely the same need, but for Micro Machines. We’re eager to see what comes next with that Super Arcade prefix, as – from what we’ve seen – it means pin-sharp controls, joyful simplicity, and a boot crammed with things to do. Super Arcade Racing is a blissful nostalgia-overdose.
You can buy Super Arcade Racing from the Xbox Store