Note: The Playstation Network version was played for review. TNT Racers is also available on Xbox Live Marketplace and the Wii Shop.
I stopped caring about casual racers that put an emphasis on in-game items when I realized that those games are made with quirky chaos in mind instead of refined and balanced fun. Developer Keen Games’ TNT Racers comes close to balancing both of these sides of the scale to make something special.
Rather than have players race from a traditional behind-the-car perspective, all four players in any given race view the game from the same overhead camera. TNT Racers makes this design choice significant by having anyone who falls behind out of the camera view eliminated from the race. This keeps the rounds in any given game mode short and hectic, and also encourages the racers at the head of the pack to cut tight corners around the track to move the camera that extra inch ahead. This is a big relief for players of other racing games where a few mistakes can lead to several minutes of being out-lapped in last place before the next race.
Cutting tight corners with precision, or even driving with precision at all, becomes a bit of a frustrating challenge later on in the game. Without any sort of drift function, the snappy handling can’t keep up with the turbo-speed single-player challenges, and neither can it keep up with multiplayer matches of the same speed. This leads to a lot of lost races because of accidental and all too easy collisions with the levels’ many walls, ramps, and obstacles. This can be remedied with a good deal of patient practice with subtle movements of the analog stick, but it’s a weak solution to such an obvious shortcoming of the controls.
Being eliminated from a race doesn’t leave players behind. Eliminated racers take on the role of “shadows,” who are free to drive straight through other players and take their items in order to humiliate them. Ground shaking mallets, slowing tractor beams, and mini whirlwinds are uniquely available to shadow players, and are fun to use without being completely unavoidable and frustrating for the players still racing for the first place.
In fact, all of the items in TNT Racers are balanced and are handed out according to how far you are in the lead. Even the heat-seeking missiles of the game can be avoided with some deft driving, while landmines can be removed with weapons fire and any item can be avoided with a shield pickup. Only being able to hold one item at a time makes for a lot of quick decisions of whether to hold on to that repair kit instead of trying your luck at getting a steam engine to fog up the paths of players and projectiles behind you.
This refined chaos makes multiplayer a ton of fun to play, and the game provides four-player on and offline play with bots. Unfortunately, I was only able to play a few online matches as there was only one room open during the weekend after the game’s release. Granted, that match was full of rowdy players intent on turbo speed matches, where everyone would end up laughing at the smoking wreck of whoever was lucky enough to survive long enough to get first place. I doubt those online lobbies will ever fill up again, but it speaks to how fun the game can be if you grabbed three other buddies around the television.
There’s also the ’30s soundtrack, but that’s best left turned off. At first, it’s a funny juxtaposition to the psuedo-micro machines racing around a track and shooting candy at each other, but it gets tiring and abrasive after about half an hour.
- Balanced and creative array of items.
- Simple controls and smart game design keep things approachable and bite sized.
- Endearingly cute artistic design of vehicles and tracks.
- Multiplayer is incredibly fun, but…
- No-one is playing multiplayer online.
- Music gets irritating fast.
- An e-brake would’ve made the quickly paced “turbo” matches more approachable.