So Close, Yet So Far Away
Sony and Q-Games ask PS3 owners to take a double dip of PixelJunk Racers in this new slot-car-inspired downloadable arcade title. Can 2nd Lap get gamers’ engines roaring, or is it merely a clunker stuck in traffic?
If you didn’t sign on for the first PixelJunk Racers, the concepts in this slot-car game have less to do with actual racing than they do true arcade action. There are, indeed, a few challenges in which crossing the finish line first is the ultimate goal, but the bigger focus here is on everything between the starting and finishing lines.
The package includes four main gameplay components, along with an online leader board. Solo Tournament is where individual players can take on challenges one by one, earning bronze, silver, or gold medals in order to unlock additional challenges, á la Excitebike. It’s a tried-and-true, attractive way to progress the single-player experience, though it can also prove quite frustrating when you simply want to get at everything hidden underneath the game’s hood, so to speak.
Solo Tournament has a surprising amount of variety in terms of its challenges, and each of the challenges is polished and mechanically sound. Unfortunately, not all of the challenges are actually fun, and when forced to retry courses upward of ten to fifteen times in order to unlock a new batch of challenges, tedium soon turns into loathing.
Some of the early challenges are straightforward and, though simple, they offer a bit of fleeting enjoyment. For instance, In The Zone tasks you with keeping up with circles moving along the track in order to explode nearby racers, and it’s a fun and simple way to teach the player how to properly regulate their speed. Sunday Driver, on the other hand, forces you to wade through an ocean of slow-moving vehicles, and as its name implies, it’s about as much fun as navigating rush-hour traffic.
To say the challenges are hit and miss isn’t necessarily the best way to describe 2nd Lap. It’s obvious the team at Q-Games took many cues from Nintendo, and the game has cleverness to spare. However, there’s a certain spark missing from PixelJunk Racers that keeps the game from ever becoming an entertaining raceway experience. The vehicles are tiny, and the time it takes to switch lanes, though relatively fast, still feels plodding when your goal is to reach and maintain top speeds while blurring past a congested track full of other cars.
On the plus side, the controls are extremely easy to master, almost too easy, and there’s some nice, tactile feedback as well. There’s no real handling to negotiate in 2nd Lap, since your vehicle stays locked into an invisible slot until you switch lanes using the D-pad. Maintaining an optimal speed, however, plays heavily into many of the challenges, and it’s an element that takes a bit of getting used to. The cars move with a momentum akin to electric Hot Wheels racers, and there’s no breaking system other than simply letting off the gas.
In addition to the Solo Tournament, you can play through quick races with up to seven other players locally. As you play through tracks in Solo Tournament, you’ll unlock those challenges in other modes as well. Party Races is the other main multiplayer mode where players can compete in mini tournaments. Both modes are fine additions to the package, though bringing additional players into the mix doesn’t do much to ramp up the fun factor of 2nd Lap. The track design is often pedestrian, and there aren’t many opportunities for Mario Kart-style mayhem to flourish.
For me, the game does most of its shining in Ghost Attack, a mode that allows you to compete against ghost runs of other players around the world. What makes this mode unique is that once you pick a challenge to compete in, you’re matched with the ten closest players to your rank. The matchmaking makes sense and seems to work smoothly, and though you’re not playing with players live, it’s still a great way to scratch that competitive itch.
On the production front, 2nd Lap is completely solid. The visuals are a bit plain, and again, the cars are just a bit too tiny. The framerate, however, is smooth, and everything about the game looks clean. There’s little offered, though, in the way of customization, and the graphical variety is also quite sparse.
Aurally, I wasn’t terribly impressed with PixelJunk Racers. As a matter of fact, one of the first things I did when starting up the game for the first time was find the options menu and lower the music. The sound effects work well alongside the gameplay, but I wasn’t a fan of the music, to say the least.
Though Q-Games has seen much success with the PixelJunk series, PixelJunk Racers has to be my least favorite of the bunch. It’s perfectly competent and polished to a fine buff, but when it comes to straight-up fun, 2nd Lap doesn’t pack much of a punch. Most challenges are over in seconds, yet that often feels like too long. When you’re playing through what is essentially a mini-game that overstays its welcome, you know there’s a problem.
If you purchased the first game, 2nd Lap will be completely free, making it a no-brainer. For everyone else, the game’s a hard sell at roughly $7. Between the, tiny cars and the ho-hum courses, the PS3 feels like the wrong platform for this arcade-action game. Were it a Mini (with more appropriately sized cars) priced at $2-3, I might wave the green flag on 2nd Lap. As it stands, however, you may want to try before you buy.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
I enjoyed the look and artistic concept of the game, but the vehicles are just a tad too small. 3.5 Control
The controls feel good and tight. Switching lanes, however, isn’t smooth enough to jive well with having to speed through gobs of traffic. 3.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The sound effects sit well alongside the gameplay, but the music is lackluster, if not slightly annoying. 3.3 Play Value
There are quite a few clever ideas underneath the hood here, but the courses feel almost more like micro games, the fun factor is so fleeting. Setting aside the presentation, 2nd Lap feels more like a Playstation Mini and should probably be priced as such 3.4 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.