Long before the gargantuan masterpieces of the Forza world, and decades before the visual quality of DiRT took the racing scene by storm, the top down racer was king, seeing us batter and bruise our way through multiple tracks, and against a host of competitors, with one sole goal in mind… crossing the finish line first.
But as the advances in gaming technologies have taken hold, and the consumer base have constantly cried out for visual clarity above all else, the racing landscape has changed. In fact, it is only the recent brilliance of Voofoo Studio’s Mantis Burn Racing that has really been able to bridge the gap by cleverly combining the old top down racing genre with stunning visuals, with many others failing to even provide an exhaust note in return.
However, hot on the heels of that game comes a new retro racer; one that is promising plenty of content and some downright dirty fender bending. Does the arrival of Super Pixel Racers on Xbox One manage to bring another top down racer that is a proper podium contender, or is this retro themed arcade experience fighting with the likes of Rock ‘N Racing Off Road DX for last lap royalties?
Initial signs are pretty good for Super Pixel Racers and the development team at 21c Ducks with a massive Career mode playing host to the vast majority of the racing action. Earning money, upgrading cars, buying new motors and working your way through the multitude of leagues is what this is all about and for the most part – especially in the early stages – this works a treat.
We see this action taking place over a number of car classes, learning the ropes in the C Class before reaching into B Class and then trying to compete with the best of them, with the fastest machines, in A Class. Numerous events in each class will need to be taken down for your time with Super Pixel Racers to prove successful, whilst Plus variants add to the Career to see you race at night and across the tracks in reverse. Win enough races, taking down the leagues in the process, and you’ll advance to the next with Rookie, Pro and Master cups all in place for those who really deliver the goods.
An increasing amount of events in each series is also good to see and with the likes of Rally Cross, Time Trials, Takedowns (in which you need to destroy other cars), Drift events and more all running alongside the standard flat out racing, there is no-one who could ever complain about the amount of content found within.
Each of these events has a certain objective to nail too, mostly finishing first in order to gather up the most trophies, although the likes of Takedown work on a points basis so it is more than possible to pull a few dirty moves and utilise some disgusting tactics to win, holding back in order to really bash the living daylights out of any foes. It’s this mix of event types and strategies which ensures that boredom will rarely be able to take hold.
When in the racing, the action is pretty hard, pretty fast, and pretty hectic, especially as you battle through the first few corners. Depending on your skill levels though, you may well find yourself stretching off into the lead, but thanks to the fairly swift races coming to a reasonably quick conclusion, mindlessly rolling around alone, with the opposition in your wake rarely happens; for the most part this is close fought arcade racing that works well.
As you would expect in any arcade based racer, upgrades are most definitely a major part of Super Pixel Racers. In fact, without them, you’ll find yourself struggling to ever be able to compete with the other competitors. Cash is given out on a swift basis though and this means the opportunity to enhance your car’s Top Speed, Acceleration, Nitro, and Durability stats is more than doable. With each of these seeing a number of levels for each car class, knowing when to save your hard earned cash, or when to plump for a big upgrade is a huge draw. Get it wrong, and you may be left to grind away for a few more races.
As you would expect with any racer, the main Career is complemented by a Free Race option, letting you dictate the class of car, the tracks used and the overall difficulty, providing a great way of letting any would-be racing star earn their stripes. Further to this, a local multiplayer mode is present for a bit of split-screen Rally Cross, Takedown or Hunt events, all playable for up to four players. I have to admit to being pretty taken by what this delivers and whilst Super Pixel Racers is very much a racer that the solo player can get involved in, for those odd times when sofa-based mates are ready for action, it more than delivers.
The same could well be said for the online side of things too, or at least it would be if there were some willing opponents also looking to take this retro arcade racer to the global audience. The problem is that Super Pixel Racers has been hit by the usual online indie issue in that the number of players available is extremely small. Sitting waiting for a countdown to complete, before being told that at least 2 players must be in a room for it to start, is soul destroying at best, but unfortunately a way of the independent gaming life. Yes, if you’ve got some mates from around the globe who are all willing to invest a little bit of cash in purchasing a new racing game, then you are pretty much sorted, but holding out in the hope you will be able to find regular online racing with others will leave you disappointed.
Track wise and I have to say I’m very impressed with what Super Pixel Racers is doing. 15 circuits in total are in place and the majority of these can, in one way or another, be likened to their real-world F1 counterparts. It’s lovely to see the basic outline of Silverstone, Spa, Monza and other iconic tracks, and even though the gameplay doesn’t ever allow anything even remotely close to that F1 feel, it’s a nice little touch that petrolheads will enjoy seeing.
In terms of the gameplay and when out on those tracks, Super Pixel Racers works very well indeed. It comes with just enough of a retro hit to ensure that it will appeal to a range of gamers, and with the colourful yet blocky visuals accompanied by a cracking 16-bit soundtrack and old-school engine roars and tyre squeals, everything is in place for a good bit of racing action. The option to change up the control scheme to your liking is also very much appreciated and even though I’m at a loss to understand how and why the ‘classic’ controls of pushing left and right to steer your cars is classed as the ‘hard’ option, many may well find that the ‘easier’ Pointing Mode is to their preference. Personally I believe games like Super Pixel Racers should be played with the standard control methods that I’ve grown up with, but each to their own.
All the ingredients are in place for Super Pixel Racers to be a super smashing retro arcade racer, however, as good as the whole experience starts off, it doesn’t take too long for the odd bit of frustration to hit home. Most noticeable are problems in regards the levels of opponents you’ll find yourself up against and while the initial C Class racing is an absolute cinch to win, and B Class begins to provide a bit of a test, things really ramp up with the A Class competitors, meaning you’ll rarely be able to make a single mistake should you wish to come out on top. Yes you can amend the difficulty found in each class should you so wish, but I’d much prefer a more even playing field from the off, especially when amending that difficulty sees a considerable hit in winnings. Even with multiple car upgrades in place, it’s a shame to see such a huge spike in difficulty from the lower classes to this, and the need to grind many races in order to be able to compete in the higher classes is possibly a bit too much.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s never enough for anyone to want to ditch Super Pixel Racers from the off, and there is nothing wrong with a bit of a test of your racing skills being requested, but constantly having to attempt the same old races in order to earn cash so you can upgrade your standard car sufficiently, or attempt to buy a new one, is a task in itself. Trying to do the latter is tough as well, with the pricing structure meaning you’ll rarely be able to afford to both upgrade and purchase new machines – unless you’re happy to grind away forever more.
All that said though, the vast majority of Super Pixel Racers proves that there is still plenty of life left in the old arcade racing dog yet. It’s a shame that the online scene is totally dead and buried, but if you are looking for a new racer that delivers a huge career mode, or occasionally have some mates round for the odd gaming session, then I’m not sure you’ll find any retro racing that is much better than what is found in Super Pixel Racers.
It doesn’t come with the wow factor of Forza, but there are times when you just need to take in some old-school fun, and Super Pixel Racers allows for that.